Many pet parents will eventually have to face pet euthanasia. It is difficult to know when is the right time to make that very difficult decision. I share with you my personal experience of pet euthanasia and a few tips to help you face the process without fear.
On Monday 14th December 2015, my husband and I had to make the heartbreaking decision to put our 15-year-old rescue dog, Toby, to sleep. We knew euthanasia was the best thing to do. It would be our final act of love for our rapidly deteriorating dog. Nevertheless, we were grief-stricken at the thought of not seeing Toby again.
We adopted Toby, a Maltese Terrier cross from a rescue organisation when he was around nine years old. Toby was a feisty, happy, affectionate boy. He trained me well… Toby would knock on the bathroom door to say it’s time for me to finish my shower. I loved him to bits. We were a bonded pair, sometimes my poor husband would feel like the third wheel!
In mid-June 2015, Toby was suddenly crying out in pain. We took him to the animal hospital in the middle of the night. Unfortunately, the vet couldn’t work out what was wrong with him. In the morning I took Toby to our local veterinarian, Chatswood Vet Clinic in Sydney, hoping they could do something for him. Toby was given medication that gave him comfort and a good quality of life for a while. We were immensely grateful but in the back of our minds, we knew this was bonus time for Toby. In mid-December 2015…he suddenly lost interest in eating and became restless. We took him to our vet who tried an injection of antibiotics but sadly he did not rally. After a few conversations with our vet, we knew the next visit to the vet with Toby would be the last.
Toby was too old for invasive surgery. It might sound strange but euthanasia was an easy decision for us. Our wish was to assist Toby’s journey ‘over the rainbow; that is, give our dog a pain-free and dignified death. Our wonderful vet took us through each step of the euthanasia process so that we knew what to expect.
Pet euthanasia process step by step
Firstly we signed the consent form.
- Next, Toby received a sedative to make him sleepy. The vet said this will take around 10 minutes to take effect. During those precious minutes, we were stroking Toby and telling him that we loved him.
- The vet asked if we wanted to be present when he received his lethal injection, which is an overdose of anaesthetic. She said around 50% of pet owners want to be present and 50% do not. We said that we would like to be present.
- The vet shaved a small patch of fur for the injection to go into a vein in his front leg. We continued to stroke him while he received the injection.
- Unconsciousness followed within seconds and our vet checked to confirm that his heart had stopped beating. In the few minutes after death, Toby had a couple of involuntary gasps. We were prepared for this by our vet who had explained earlier that Toby may gasp but it is not a sign of life. In fact, they are reflexes denoting that death has occurred.
- Our vet offered to cut a few strands of his fur for us to keep. We gratefully and tearfully accepted. We cried buckets that day.
Toby had a gentle and easy death with dignity and lots of love.
The last words from our vet were: ‘you will still see him’. I wasn’t sure what she meant but…late that night, I was lying in bed half asleep in the dark when our bedroom turned white, I looked up and saw Toby’s little face. I said ‘I will miss you’ and within a couple of seconds he was gone and our bedroom returned to darkness. Perhaps my grief was playing tricks on my mind.
Tips to help you face pet euthanasia, grief, and loss
- Ask the vet to explain the process of pet euthanasia and what to expect
- It is up to you about being present for the final injection
- Don’t hold back your emotions before, during or after your pet’s euthanasia
- Be prepared for the house to feel empty on your return
- Talk to family and friends (I posted about Toby’s passing on my personal Facebook page and I received many comforting and heartwarming messages)
- Don’t dismiss your feelings of grief and loss, it is no less than any other grief
- There are ways to celebrate and remember your beloved pet
- People and Pets have information on pet loss support including a national pet loss counselling service