When the time comes…
Part of the family….
Choosing a new pet is an exciting time and with that choice comes the knowledge that we, as pet carers, are responsible for these little lives. Along with the responsibility, comes the knowledge that their lives are very much shorter than ours. However, that knowledge does nothing to ease the pain when the time comes to say goodbye. This is a clear indication of the love and emotional bond we hold with the pet.
How will I know when the time is right?
No one knows your pet better than you do; when quantity overtakes quality of life, we (as pet carers) are faced with the difficult task of making the decision to euthanise our pets in order to save them from suffering. Sadly for many pets there can be much suffering related to illness or injury, and this suffering is not just related to elderly pets.
Suffering should not be confused with pain and it is not specifically related to illness, but can be attributed to your pet’s quality of life. The first signs may include a loss of appetite, change in behaviour or excess sleeping. If you notice these signs, please get in touch with us, as we can offer you support and advice on the best way forward.
What is euthanasia?
This word can often strike fear into everyone, but when translated it means “easy death”. You will sometimes hear it being referred to as “put to sleep” or “letting them go”.
It is a very straightforward procedure carried out by the veterinary surgeon. It involves an injection, normally into the cephalic vein in the front leg. Placement of a catheter in the front leg aids the delivery of the agent and prevents pain from subcuticular administration. The agent we use is called phenobarbitone, which was originally used as an anaesthetic agent. Once the agent is delivered, your pet will slip away very quickly and peacefully. Occasionally, they may take a few big breaths or whimper before finally passing away.
Aftercare of your pet
It is very important to know what you like to do with your pet after the euthanasia. There are many different options, some of which will not be suitable for your situation and all will involve some degree of financial implications.
If you own your property and wish to bury your pet in the garden, you should ensure the area you choose is free from any underground utility pipes or cables. The grave should be a minimum of 3ft deep, as this will prevent any unwanted interest from foxes or other urban wildlife. Your pet should be wrapped in a natural fibre blanket, such as wool or cotton, to allow it to degrade naturally. Alternatively you could have a wooden coffin specifically made for your pet. Your pet should not be placed in any form of plastic. The site can be marked with a memorial rose bush or memorial stone.
Unfortunately home burials can be difficult during winter months, when ground frost makes digging a deep enough hole, impossible.
This is where your pet is individually cremated and you will receive their own ashes back in a suitable container. These can either be urns, scatter boxes, wooden or garden ornaments. This can either be arranged through the practice or by yourself, although we will support you throughout the decision.
There are very few pet cemeteries available in Scotland, however if you contact the Association of Private Pet Cemeteries and Crematoria, they will be able to tell you where the nearest cemetery is.
With a pet cemetery burial, there are fees for the initial burial and plot and then maintenance fees for up to 25 years. Unfortunately, there are no laws controlling pet cemeteries, so it important to understand that the land used in these sites, may be taken over by a third party and used as something different.
Routine cremation is where several pets are cremated together, by a licensed crematorium. No ashes are returned.
If two or more pets have lived together, it is occasionally a good idea to let the surviving pets see the body of their deceased companion. Pets have emotional links to each other and they do understand death. Pets who have seen the body tend to cope better afterwards, than those who are not given the opportunity. A surviving pet may act strangely for a few days or weeks afterwards, perhaps looking for more attention from you. If is important that you do not lavish too much attention on a surviving pet at this time, as they may be stuck in this behaviour pattern.
When the times comes….
Ideally, we would all like our pets to live a happy, healthy life right to the end, and when the time comes, they slip away peacefully in their sleep. Sadly this doesn’t often happen and instead we see deterioration in our beloved pet’s health to such an extent they lose their quality of life.
We are here to support you in this difficult time, and we can offer help and advice if we feel there is no further veterinary treatment or if your pet is suffering. Ultimately, the decision of euthanasia is left to you, as your pet’s main carer.
Stages of Grief
Shock & Denial – This initial stage of numbness or rawness can begin on discovering your pet is terminally ill. This stage can be exaggerated by the urge to “do everything we can” – searching for treatments or cures which have not been offered. This stage happens again when a pet dies.
Guilt – Feelings of guilt can run very deep when a pet dies. Pet owners always ask themselves if more could have been done to save them, or if the right decision was made to euthanise your pet. Guilt often leads pet carers to blame themselves for the loss.
Anger & Blame – It is natural to be angry or want to blame someone for the pain, which we feel after euthanasia. This stage of grieving should be managed carefully as it is easy to become trapped in an anger or blame phase. It should be accepted that these are normal stages of grief and it is important to find a safe outlet to work through these emotions.
Depression – It is natural to feel depressed after we lose a pet, however we need to realise that this depression will lift, given time. No two people cope with grief the same and coping strategies which work for one person, will not always work for another.
Children & Bereavement
The loss of a pet may be a child’s first experience of death and a lot will depend on the age of the child, as to how they will react. It is very important to be honest with a child, and not to make up a story as to why the pet is no longer there. Children are far more resilient when it comes to dealing with the death of a pet, providing they have been told the truth. Children also cope better with bereavement if they are actively involved in funeral arrangements or making a memorial for their pet.
The responsibility of telling the child that a pet has died lies firmly with the parents or carers. We can offer support to the family if necessary or can explain the situation to the child, if the parent requests this. However, being truthful is the most important part of discussing euthanasia, although many inquisitive children will want specific details of their pet’s death. It is important to be honest with children, whilst maintaining a balance of sensitivity.
Avoid euphemisms such as “put to sleep” as this may lead tot the child believing that the pet may, one day, wake up. This phrase could also lead to the child become afraid of sleeping or never waking up.
Occasionally, noticeable changes can be apparent in a child’s behaviour and some children may seek more attention from the parents, during this phase. Some children may resort to aspects of their childhood that they had outgrown, such as sucking their thumb or taking a toy to bed.
Points to Remember
ü Take time to discuss the pet’s needs with the child and talk openly and honestly.
ü Explain the difference between how quickly a pet matures in comparison with that of a human & thus leading to a shorter life expectancy.
ü Explain the difference between suffering and pain.
ü Don’t make up stories about where the pet has gone.
ü Don’t discourage children from asking questions.
Ages for Bereavement
Under 2 years old – Infants and very young children are unlikely to react to the loss of a pet. However they are very aware of the tension or change in parental emotions. Reassure them by hugging or holding them.
2 – 7 years old – Children in this age bracket often don’t realise death is a permanent state. Do not try to hide a pet’s illness or death, as they are often the first to sense something is wrong. Let a child ask questions or express their emotions.
7 – 12 years old – Children of this age will ask specific questions about the pet’s illness or how the pet died. They understand death is a permanent state and will often want to be involved in the aftercare of the body, for example requesting a home burial.
Teenagers – Many teenagers will have a difficult time working through their grief. They may not be open and honest about how much emotional pain they are experiencing, which may be compounded by peer pressure.