Euthanasia and Bereavement

Euthanasia and Bereavement

Euthanasia of pets

For those of us who are privileged enough to have a pet, there will unfortunately come a time when we  are worried about our pet’s quality of life, and this may lead us to consider asking the vet to bring our pet’s suffering to an end. We appreciate that it is very difficult to make this decision and we are here to offer you support and guidance.

Should I have my pet put to sleep?
This can be one of the most difficult decisions a pet owner may ever have to make. When a pet’s quality of life has become so badly affected, it can be the most compassionate decision to make on their pet’s behalf. There are no real strict guidelines and often there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ decision in such circumstances. Each case is individual. We will offer as much guidance as we can and make sure that as the owner, you understand your pet’s condition and what options are available, but the final decision to have a pet put to sleep will always rest with you, the owner, unless there is a welfare issue.The decision to opt for euthanasia is most often made when pain or disability is preventing an animal having a reasonable quality of life, and where the problem either cannot be treated or where a decision has been made not to give treatment. With long-term disease or when a pet is very old, the decision depends very much on the individual animal as much as the medical condition and in such circumstances we recognise that you may well know better than we do when the time has come. When it has become evident that your pet’s condition will lead us to putting him or her to sleep, we can help by arranging visits either to the surgery or to your home to help you through the final days, to help you adjust to what needs to be done, to provide pain relief for your pet and to help guide you on the “right time”.After the decision has been made, we ask the owner to sign a consent form to allow us to put an animal to sleep.

The Quiet Room

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At Portchester Vets, we have a Quiet (Family) room away from reception and the consulting rooms, where you and your pet can have peace and quiet. Because this is away from the busy “working” part of the Practice, this means that you can spend as much time with your thoughts as you wish. You can be alone, or have the whole family – whatever makes you feel comfortable. We really don’t mind. Some owners prefer not to be present and to leave their animal with us in our care. This is a very personal decision and it is entirely up to you. We won’t push you either way, and we will treat any animal with kindness and respect whether the owner is present or not.

Alternatively for our registered clients, a house visit can be arranged if an owner feels that this will reduce the distress for everyone involved. Due to other commitments at the surgery, this needs to be arranged in advance, but we can usually find a suitable time if we are given a day or two’s notice. As a practice, we do not have any problem with providing this service as long as we are able to leave the surgery safely. It is worth mentioning that some animals are more defensive in their own environment which can be a little distressing for all involved, but overall, this does not seem to happen very often.

What happens when a pet is put to sleep?
The actual process of putting an animal to sleep is painless and involves the injection of an anaesthetic overdose. This is usually given into a vein, just as a normal anaesthetic would be, either via an intravenous catheter which we place just before the procedure, or via a needle, which is placed at the time. If a catheter is placed, this means that should you wish to cuddle closely with your pet, we can give the injection while you do this with no problems. Animals quickly fall asleep and usually pass away while the injection is still being given.Sometimes an injection into a vein is not possible, either because the animal objects to being held or because the veins cannot be accessed (e.g. due to circulation problems, or in small animals like hamsters where veins are too tiny). In such cases, we will either give a sedative injection into the skin or muscle which allows an animal to relax and become sleepy first, or will give some anaesthetic gas before we give the injection. We always, always try to minimise any stress for the animal to allow a peaceful passing.Some animals will not move at all after they have been put to sleep, but it is perfectly normal to see some muscle movement or even something that looks like breathing or gasping a few minutes after the heart and brain have stopped working. These are just normal automatic muscle movements that can go on for a few minutes after death. We always make sure that an animal has definitely passed away by feeling the pulse, listening to the heart and checking reflexes.
What happens after the animal has been put to sleep?
There are several options to consider after a pet has been put to sleep.

  • Your pet can be taken home for burial in the garden.
  • Your pet can stay with us and we can arrange cremation at a pet crematorium. Usually pets are cremated together.
  • We can arrange an individual cremation at the crematorium. In this case the pet is cremated on its own and the ashes are returned – usually in a wooden casket with a name plate, or in a Scatter-box or tube to allow scattering of ashes at home. Ashes are returned to the surgery, and it can take 10 to 14 days for the ashes to be returned.
  • Some owners prefer to make their own arrangements with a pet crematorium or pet cemetery.
Grieving for a pet
We understand that you will feel upset and emotional when your pet dies. It can be devastating to lose such a close member of your family. All of us at the surgery have lost pets; everyone will know what you are going through and will be sympathetic and so please don’t be afraid to grieve. To be honest, we expect it, we’ve experienced it ourselves and we are trained for it. Different family members of the family may react very differently from you. They may cry, they may go silent, they may even be angry, they may feel guilty, especially after sudden deaths or accidental deaths. Try to understand, as the process of acceptance is often slow.For children, this may be their first experience of death. It is part of growing up. Depending on their age, be as honest as you can and explain how you feel about it. Recounting good times with the pet can help, as can a burial process. Expressing themselves in art can be a good outlet: a scrapbook, a picture for the fridge door, or something to bury with the pet.If you are overwhelmed and feel you cannot cope, there are organisations such as the Pet Bereavement Support Service (PBSS) and the Ralph site which can be contacted at such times. Sue, our Animal Nursing Auxiliary, is trained in Pet Bereavement and will be happy to talk with you, but any of us will be happy to discuss any worries you may have, before, during or after the passing of your pet. It’s often a very difficult time, and if we can help, we will.

Rainbow Bridge

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The Rainbow Bridge is an idea based on a number of poems written some time between 1980 and 1992. The author is unknown. The theme of the poems is of an other-worldly place to which a pet goes upon its death, eventually to be reunited with its owner.

The story tells of a green meadow located “this side of Heaven” (i.e., before one enters into it). Rainbow Bridge is the name of both the meadow and an adjoining bridge connecting it to Heaven.

According to the story, when a pet dies, it goes to the meadow, having been restored to perfect health and free of any injuries. The pet runs and plays all day with the others, there is always fresh food and water, and the sun is always shining. However, it is said that while the pet is at peace and happy, they miss their owner who had to be left behind on Earth.

When their owner dies, they come across the Rainbow Bridge. It is at that moment that their pet stops what they are doing and sniffs at the air and looks into the distance where they see their beloved owner. Excited, they run as fast as they can until they are in their owner’s arms, licking their face in joy while their owner looks into the eyes of their pet who was absent on Earth, but never absent in their heart. Then side by side, they cross the Rainbow Bridge together into Heaven, never again to be separated.

Harvey’s Law e-petition – Created for domestic pets who don’t survive the highways. Click here for more details…
The Ralph site is a not-for-profit website that provides support to pet owners around the loss of a beloved companion. Click here for more details…
We find homes for unwanted cats, dogs, small pets and horses across the UK. Click here for more details…