When to Consider Euthanasia

What is Euthanasia?

Euthanasia is the humane termination of life. There are times where veterinary science has exhausted all of its capabilities and euthanasia is the only way to alleviate an animal from suffering. The decision regarding when to euthanise is fraught with medical, financial, ethical, religious, moral and sometimes legal considerations. Euthanasia is therefore a medical procedure that needs to be discussed, however painful that discussion may be, and thoroughly considered before a final decision is made.


When to Consider Euthanasia

The decision regarding when to euthanise is never an easy one – not for you and certainly not for your veterinarian. This is partly because there are very few times when euthanasia is the only option available. It can therefore be very difficult to know with certainty when it is absolutely time to terminate your pet’s life. Many resources are available through your veterinarian and the veterinary team to help you with this impossibly difficult decision. Most owners struggle with the decision to euthanise since while they do not wish to see a pet suffer further, at the same time; they do not want to deprive a pet of any remaining “good” days. Here are a few points to think about when making a decision of when the "right" time is:-


When this time approaches for you and your pet, be sure to keep the lines of communication with your veterinarian open. Consult with your veterinarian closely about your pet’s medical status and learn what to expect in the days or weeks ahead. Monitor your pet closely for signs that he or she may be in discomfort, and discuss these signs with the veterinary team. 


How is Euthanasia Performed?

Your veterinarian may be able to offer you the option of being present or stepping out of the room as the injection is given. Some veterinarians may recommend the administration of a sedative to calm the pet before the euthanasia solution is administered. 

To perform euthanasia on a pet, most veterinarians use a concentrated solution of anaesthetic, given as a direct injection into a vein. The medication enters the circulation immediately, stopping the heart and brain function rapidly. Most pets fall into a quiet “sleep” in less than a minute, followed quickly by their heart and brain function ceasing before they pass on.

Some animals may experience an “excitement” phase when the euthanasia solution reaches the brain cells – during this time; they may vocalise (rarely), gasp, wriggle about or exhibit other behaviours which may be distressing to owners. The excitement phase is not painful in any way; it is merely a reaction of the pet’s brain to chemicals in the medication – therefore, please do not be alarmed if you witness any of these reactions during the procedure. The excitement phase usually lasts for a few moments, after which the pet becomes calm and falls asleep, followed by the brain and heart ceasing to function. This is when the pet passes on, and the euthanasia procedure is complete.

After the pet passes on, he/she may have froth coming out of the mouth, urinate, pass stools, have a “last breath” or muscle twitches. The latter two are the body’s natural way of getting rid of energy after the pet passes on.

What Happens After the Euthanasia?

After your pet has passed on, you may choose to arrange cremation through our clinic or to take your pet home for burial. Clay paw prints, name and photo plaques are also available upon request; these are beautiful memorial tokens to remember your pet by. Please enquire at our reception for this and we can provide you with a brochure on options for cremation. You may also find out more about your options here


Last Notes

The decision to euthanise a pet is a serious decision that should not be made in haste or without careful thought. Even though euthanasia is a very personal and private decision, talking with with friends, family members and others for support can be very helpful. Ultimately, as a loving pet owner, you must trust yourself to make the best decision for your pet. Finally, do make sure that you find out from your regular clinic what options are there for an urgent euthanasia, both during business and after hours, if your pet suddenly takes a turn for the worse.


Parts of this article have been adapted from the Vetlearn Compendium Care Guides.


Published by Cahill Animal Hospital on 21 April 2016
The team at Cahill Animal Hospital is here to provide you and your pet with the best possible medical, surgical and supportive care. Our motto "We care as much as you do" is a very important part of our day to day work. We are committed to providing you and your pet with the best options for care.

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