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Doc, Is It Time?

December 5, 2013
by Jami Stromberg, DVM
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Sadly, there comes a time in most pet owners’ lives when they need to make a decision about putting their pet to sleep. And by “put to sleep”, I mean to euthanize, which, by the way, means “good death”. For most pets, euthanasia is accomplished with an intravenous injection of high doses of the anesthetic pentobarbital.

I am writing this blog now because, as happens every year, we have had a seasonal (meaning around the holidays and with winter approaching) increase euthanasia appointments. Last week our clinic lost 16 patients due to death or euthanasia, whereas our average is around three to five a week.

Anyway, I am often asked by owners of elderly or sick pets when they will know it’s time. My usual response is, “When both you and your pet are ready,” because I would not want an owner to make the decision without having processed through it and therefore have regrets about it later. As far as the pet, here are some questions to ask if you are considering euthanasia:

  1. Is your pet mobile? Can he or she climb stairs if needed, and walk to the food dish and to wherever he/she goes to the bathroom?
  2. Is your pet able to eat and drink enough to maintain weight? Does he or she seem to enjoy food, or do you have to coax every bite?
  3. Is your pet having any trouble breathing?
  4. Does your pet recognize you?
  5. Is your pet in pain? Most pets will try to hide or mask pain, so they generally do not cry out or otherwise vocalize if they are in chronic pain. Many will hide, not move around much, have a hunched posture, seem to have trouble getting comfortable before lying down, or hiss/growl when touched.
  6. Is your pet happy? Does he or she find pleasure in toys, food, companions, or even just watching birds out the window?

More detail regarding those questions, as well as other information regarding the euthanasia process and grief, can be found on our website by clicking this link to Services: End of Life.