Saying Goodbye to your Pet by Dr. Clayton Greenway

I’ve watched so many loving pet owners kiss and pat their beloved pet for the last time.  I’ve shared their thoughts, held their hands and shed tears with them in these final moments.  It’s sometimes tender, sometimes 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 the subject, hopefully it can 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 starts as a call from the owner of an aging pet asking me if it’s time that they 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 can be difficult.  I have always felt that the patient’s parent is in the best position to evaluate its quality of life and I just end up drawing the right information out of them to confirm the decision.  The simple fact that an owner is asking the question usually means to me that the time is close and they just need reassurance.  The right time to euthanize will be different for every person and every animal, so a discussion with a vet will help clarify your own scenario.  If you wait until you’re certain it’s the right time, there’s a good chance you’ve waited too long.  It’s important to make the decision prior to the animal becoming unnecessarily painful or debilitated.  Try to make their last day pain-free rather than pain-full.

Its unnatural.

            Booking a euthanasia procedure is really difficult for people.  They are often conflicted even when they know it’s the right thing to do.  It’s extremely unnatural to pick a time and a place for what should be a natural event to occur.  This creates the potential for feeling guilty when you have to be the designer of this final experience.  It’s important that people realize that performing euthanasia is part of taking care of their pet, just like they have all of its life.  Some responsibilities are hard, but it’s out of love that we can provide a comfortable passing for an ailing animal, so try to accept the responsibility with a firm resolve and be kind to yourself.

There’s 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’ve euthanized have come from very loving homes where they were well cared for and given a full life, even if it’s been cut short by illness.   This is not a time for guilt.  It’s a time to feel proud of yourself that you provided such a wonderful life for this special creature.  Don’t 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 animal will prevent us from attaining emotional closure that we often get with people who may have a terminal illness.  Grieving is necessary, but it should give way to a sense of peace where you can enjoy the beautiful memories you built with your pet.  A relationship with an animal can be such a special gift in life and you deserve to celebrate that.  Find a way to raise a glass and honor their memory with happiness and gratitude that you had shared a wonderful life together.

Clayton Greenway, DVM, B.Sc

West Hill Animal Clinic, 5528 Lawrence Av East, Scarborough, ON

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.