Euthanasia – Saying Goodbye to a Beloved Pet

McLean Animal Hospital celebrates senior pets and raising awareness about this very unique life stage. However, it dawned on me we have yet to discuss a very important topic; the subject of euthanasia.

Over the years, I have watched many loving pet owners kiss and pat their beloved pet for the last time. I have shared their thoughts, held their hands and shed tears with them during these final moments. It is sometimes tender; often times gut wrenching, and occasionally frustrating. The most difficult part of the experience for me is watching many loving owners go through tremendous emotional pain during the process. By sharing some of my thoughts on euthanasia, I hope it will help you the next time you have to euthanize a beloved pet, or help you heal from a recent loss.

Is it the right time?

This process often begins with a phone call from an owner of an aging pet asking me if it is time to euthanize their pet. In cases where treatment options are at an end, the decision may be clear, but for animals that are having a progressive decline in their quality of life; the decision is not as easy. I have always felt that the patient’s parent is in the best position to evaluate his or her quality of life. The simple fact that an owner is asking the question usually means that the time is close and they just need reassurance from their veterinarian. The right time to euthanize will be different for every person and every animal, so a discussion with your veterinarian will help clarify your own unique situation. If you wait until you are certain it is the right time, there is a good chance you have waited too long. It is important to make the decision prior to a pet becoming unnecessarily painful or debilitated.

It is unnatural.

Booking a euthanasia procedure is really difficult. Even when we know it is the right thing to do, it is still extremely unnatural to pick a time and a place for what should be a natural event. For many people, this creates the potential for feeling guilty when you have to be the designer of this final experience. However, I think it is important for pet owners to understand that the process of euthanasia is another part of taking care of a pet. Some responsibilities are hard, but it is out of love that we can provide a comfortable passing for an ailing animal, so try to accept this responsibility with a firm resolve and remember to be kind to yourself. 

There is no room for guilt.

The saddest part of the process that I see is when a loving owner develops feelings of guilt after euthanasia. In most cases, the pets I have euthanized come from very loving homes, where they were well cared for and given a very happy life.   This is not a time for guilt. You should feel proud that you provided such a wonderful home and was brave enough to recognize suffering and not prolong needless pain. Try not to let the recent traumatic experience of euthanasia be the representation of your entire relationship with your pet.

Find a way to celebrate.

Losing a pet can be as devastating as losing a human family member. The lack of opportunity to communicate with an ailing animal can prevent us from attaining emotional closure. Grieving is necessary but as time passes, I encourage you to move from this feeling to a sense of peace where you can enjoy the beautiful memories you have built with your pet. A relationship with an animal is a special gift and you deserve to celebrate that. Find a way to honor their memory with happiness and gratitude that you had shared a wonderful life together.

Please feel free to contact McLean Animal Hospital at 416-752-5114 if you have any questions regarding the euthanasia procedure, or whether it is time to make this decision for your pet.

If you or a family member is experiencing significant difficulty with the loss of a pet, there are support centers that can help. The University of Guelph has a pet loss hotline that can be reached at 519-824-4120, x53694.

Dr. Eva ChungMcLean Animal Hospital, 1659 Victoria Park Ave., Scarborough, ON