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Pet Euthanasia: Making the Difficult Decision

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Making the decision to say goodbye is one of the hardest decisions a pet parent will face. Our pets are beloved family members and knowing the “right” time to euthanize can be an overwhelming prospect. As you weigh the options and assess your pet’s quality of life, we want to provide some insight on the pet euthanasia process in order to provide comfort and assurance as you consider your pet’s final care.   

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Knowing When It’s Time to Consider Euthanasia

There is not an unequivocally right or wrong choice in end-of-life care. Ultimately, you know your pet best and are better equipped to make the decision to say goodbye than anyone else. Consider the following factors and discuss them openly with your veterinarian:

  • Your pet’s underlying disease process, how much suffering it may induce, and how it may progress
  • Your pet’s current symptoms and quality of life
  • Your family’s personal beliefs, fears, or questions regarding euthanasia 

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Determining Quality of Life 

Quality of life can be subjectively determined by considering daily if your pet is doing the things they love to do. This may include eating, going for walks, playing, or socializing with your family. These joys will vary for each pet, but it’s important to track them every day to help establish a pattern of good versus bad days to help you recognize when the time may be approaching. Objective scales evaluating quality of life have also been developed and can provide further measures to help guide decision-making.

We recommend the following quality of life scales:  

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Emergency Situations 

There may also be instances in which making the choice to euthanize needs to occur quickly. Your pet may have a condition that requires immediate, life-saving intervention at an emergency clinicThe emergency veterinarian will help you understand your pet’s diagnosis and prognosis, as well as the available care options. If proceeding with aggressive intervention is not in line with your goals for your pet, ask if palliative care is an option. Sometimes, if your pet’s condition permits it, discharge for home care is possible, allowing you to spend time with your pet and make the decision to euthanize in a more controlled fashion. The veterinarian can determine if this option is reasonable and safe, as well as explain what to expect. If this is not a good option, the emergency team will make the difficult experience of unexpectedly needing to say goodbye as comfortable as possible for both you and your pet.  

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Understanding the Pet Euthanasia Process 

Regardless of when or why you may choose it, euthanasia is focused on being pain and fear free. A sedative drug is typically administered first. This allows your pet to rest quietly and comfortably. The euthanasia solution is then delivered, working quickly and painlessly, with death coming peacefully in a matter of seconds. 

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Euthanasia During COVID-19 

Due to the pandemic, many clinics are only providing curbside services right now. For this reason, final care experiences may vary, depending on your veterinary clinic’s current protocols. Some clinics may allow you to be present with your pet while others may have you say goodbye before your pet is escorted into the clinic. If you have questions about your family veterinary clinic’s current euthanasia process, contact them directly to learn more. At Animal Emergency & Referral Center of Minnesota, we are allowing up to two family members inside the clinic for their pet’s final care only.  

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Making the decision to say goodbye is one of the greatest responsibilities of a pet parent and providing a peaceful death is a final gift we can give to our furry loved ones. Although the associated grief can certainly be devastating for families, your veterinarian can help you navigate through this difficult process and can also suggest other resources and pet loss support groups that may help after you say goodbye to your furry, scaly, or feathered pet 

Visit Animal Emergency & Referral Center of Minnesota’s Pet Loss Support Group website to learn about our group, as well as pet quality of life tools, hotline numbers, and other helpful resources.   

Kayla Hanson, DVM, DACVECC, cHPV, cVMA, Animal Emergency & Referral Center of Minnesota

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