Euthanasia means “good death”. With pets, it refers to the ending of life by a painless medical intervention that provides death to the pet within minutes (American Veterinary Medical Association 2013). It is usually carried out to relieve pain or suffering that cannot be managed sufficiently by other means such as palliative or animal hospice care. Sometimes euthanasia is carried out for reasons other than illness. Unmanageable and dangerous pet behavioural problems can lead to euthanasia; sometimes it is carried out where an owner can no longer provide for their pet or afford to pay for necessary treatment, and there is no option of financial support or rehoming.
Whatever the reason, deciding on euthanasia is one of the most difficult decisions that a pet owner will have to make. Whilst in time, the decision will likely bring comfort in having given you the ability to end your pet’s suffering, at the time, it can raise many emotions, many of them upsetting and conflicting. Feelings of guilt can surface both for the pet that you are going to lose, but also for your family, if the decision is one you alone have to make.
Ultimately what can cause us the most pain, is also one of the kindest and loving things we can do for our pet. And choosing to have your pet euthanased rather than to ignore or deny suffering shows courage and commitment to the best care of your companion.
The Right Time
Deciding when the time is right to have your pet euthanased is very personal to you. You may find that you are influenced by previous experiences of pet loss, or, if this is your first pet, you may be given lots of well-meaning, but often conflicting, advice.
When making your decision, remember that there are many people who can help support you. You do not have to face this alone. Your vet will be able to help guide you through the decision-making process and advise you on Quality of Life and other physical needs that might mean the time has come. The Blue Cross operates a Pet Bereavement Support Service by telephone 0800 096 6606 or search on www.bluecross.org.uk/pet-bereavement-support. There are also pet owner forums such as The Ralph Site, where you are able to talk online with other pet owners who are going through or have experienced pet loss themselves.
You might want to read our pages on Measuring Quality of Life to help support your decision. There is further information to help you prepare on our Preparing for Euthanasia: Considerations page, as well as in our section Saying Goodbye.