Your relationship with your dog is special. You are responsible for its care and welfare. Eventually there comes a most difficult life or death decision for the welfare of the animal and for you and your family.
The decision is a personal one but it need not be a solitary one. Your vet and your family and friends can assist and support you. Consider not only what is best for your dog but also what is best for you and your family.
Quality of life is important for pets and people alike.
If your dog can no longer enjoy the things it once took pleasure from or if there is more pain than quality in its life, you may need to consider euthanasia. Likewise, if your dog is terminally ill or critically injured, or if the financial or emotional cost of treatment is beyond your means, euthanasia may be the only option.
Your vet understands attachment to pets and can examine and evaluate your dog’s condition, estimate your dog’s chances for recovery and discuss potential disabilities and long-term problems. A vet can explain the medical options and possible outcomes. But he cannot make the euthanasia decision for you.
It is very important that you fully understand your dog’s condition. If there is any part of the diagnosis or the implications for your dog’s future that you don’t understand, ask to have it explained again. Rarely will the situation require an immediate decision. Usually, you will have time to review the facts.
Eventually you may wish to discuss the disposal of your dog’s body with your family and vet. You have several options and your vet can provide information about burial, cremation or other alternatives.
Euthanasia might be necessary if a dog has become vicious, dangerous, or unmanageable. However, some undesirable and abnormal behaviour can be changed with a qualified behaviourist. Economic and emotional problems together with changes in lifestyle may also force an owner to consider euthanasia of a dog. Obviously it is better to find another solution or an alternative home for these pets.
How do you tell your family?
They are usually aware of the problem. However, you should review with them the information you have received from your vet. Long-term medical care can be a burden that you and your family may be unable to bear emotionally or financially, and this should be discussed openly and honestly. Encourage family members to express their thoughts and feelings. Even if you have reached a decision, it is important that family members, especially children, have their feelings considered.
Children have special relationships with their pets. Excluding or protecting children from this decision-making process, because they are thought to be too young to understand, may only complicate their grieving. Children respect straightforward, truthful, and simple answers. If they are prepared adequately, children usually are able to accept a dog’s death.
Euthanasia is almost always accomplished by injection of a death-inducing drug. Your vet may administer a tranquillizer first to relax your dog. Following the death-inducing injection, your dog will immediately go into a quiet and irreversible deep unconsciousness. Death will come quickly and painlessly.
The act of saying goodbye is an important step in managing the natural and healthy feelings of grief, sorrow, and sense of loss. Your dog is an important part of your life and it is natural to feel you are losing a friend.
Once the decision for euthanasia has been made, you and other family members may want to say goodbye to your dog. A last evening with your dog at home or a visit to the dog at the hospital may be appropriate. Family members who want to be alone with the animal should be allowed to do so. Farewells are always difficult.
After your dog has died, it is natural and normal to feel grief and sorrow. The grieving process includes accepting the reality of your loss, accepting that the loss and accompanying feelings are painful, and adjusting to your new life that no longer includes your dog.
There are many signs of grief, but not everyone experiences them all, or in the same order. Even before death has occurred, your reaction may be to deny your dog is sick or injured when you learn the extent of your dog’s illness or injuries.
Anger may follow denial. This anger can be directed toward people you normally love and respect, including your family and vet. People will often say things that they do not really mean, perhaps hurting those whom they do not mean to hurt. You may blame yourself or others for not recognising the illness earlier or for being careless and allowing the dog to be injured.
You may also feel guilt and depression. This is when you usually feel the greatest sense of loss. The tears flow, there are knots in your stomach, and you are drained of all your energy. Day-to-day tasks can seem impossible. Sometimes you may even ask yourself if you can go on without your dog. The answer is yes, but there are times when special assistance may be helpful.
Once you and your family come to terms with your feelings, you can begin to resolve and accept your dog’s death. When you have reached this acceptance, the feelings of anger, denial, guilt, and depression may reappear. If this does occur, the intensity of these feelings will be much less, and with time, these feelings will be replaced with fond memories.
Although the signs of grief apply whether the loss is of a loving dog or a human loved one, grieving is a personal process. Some people take longer than others to come to terms with it. If you understand that these are normal reactions, you will be better prepared to cope with your own feelings and to help others face theirs. Family members should be reassured that sorrow and grief are normal, natural responses to death.
Often, well-meaning family and friends may not realise how important your dog was to you or the intensity of your grief. Being honest with yourself and others about how you feel is best. If despair mounts, talk to someone who will listen about your dog and the illness and death.
The death of a dog can upset you emotionally, especially when euthanasia is involved. Some people may feel they would never want another dog. A new dog may help others get over the loss more quickly. Just as grief is a personal experience, the decision of when, if ever, to bring a new dog into your home is also a personal one.
If a family member is having difficulty accepting the dog’s death, bringing a new dog into the home before that individual has resolved his or her grief may imply that the life of the deceased dog was unworthy of the grief that is still being felt.
Family members should come to an agreement on the appropriate time to acquire a new dog. Although you can never replace the dog you lost you can get another one to share your life.
The period from birth to old age is much more brief in pets than in people. Death is part of the life cycle for all creatures. It cannot be avoided, but its impact can be met with understanding and compassion. Try to recall the good times you spent with your dog. By remembering the pleasure of those times, you can realise your dog was worthy of your grief.