Millions of animals are handled each year by animal shelters in this country. Of these, approximately half are never adopted or reclaimed. Crowded conditions prohibit most shelters from housing unclaimed animals until they die of natural causes. These animals are candidates for euthanasia. Another use of euthanasia is to put down aggressive pets that repeatedly attack humans and other animals.
Compassionate euthanasia is also available for your beloved pet if it has an untreatable condition that causes pain, distress or disability. The best course of action is to discuss your options with your veterinarian. Obviously, euthanasia is the final alternative and must be considered with the utmost seriousness.
The Humane Society and the American Veterinary Medical Association agree that an injection of sodium pentobarbital is the most compassionate method of euthanasia. The injection must be administered by a trained professional to avoid mistakes that might cause the animal to needlessly suffer. The drug is usually injected into a leg vein. Other methods are not recommended, including:
heart injections into conscious animals
These methods may not result in the instantaneous and painless death of the animal and therefore cause the animal to suffer. Some drugs, such as strychnine, are lethal but can cause cardiac arrest, convulsions or muscle contractions. It can also be painful for your pet if a lethal drug is administered too quickly or in too high a dose.
Poison gas, such as carbon monoxide, can cause horrible suffering and is outlawed in several states. Unfortunately, this method is still used by some animal shelters. Physical methods, such as shooting and electrocution, have the potential to cause traumatic pain, especially if botched. Decompression is equivalent to suddenly subjecting your pet to the thin air pressure of tens of thousands of feet of altitude. The fluids and gases in your pet’s body can rapidly expand and cause severe pain.
Your Obligation to Your Pet
Many people become very attached to their pets and find it very hard to say goodbye. However, keeping a pet alive who is in pain or discomfort without the prospect of recovery may only prolong the animal’s suffering. Your veterinarian can help you recognize the proper stage of your pet’s decline in order to help with the timing of this decision, if appropriate.
If your pet has a nervous disposition or finds travel distressing, ask your vet for an animal tranquilizer that you administer a couple of hours before your visit. Alternatively, your vet might be willing to make a house call or come to your car to administer the injection. In any event, you should consider having someone with you for moral support. Some owners can’t bear to witness the event, while others hold their pets during the process — this is strictly a personal decision, of course, some pets might have an easier time if you stay with it until the end. You should remain calm and talk soothingly to your pet so as not to alarm it. The vet should monitor the pet’s heartbeat until it passes.
Your veterinarian can handle the disposition of your pet’s remains. Burial, cremation, and other options are available.
Grief Is Normal
Sometimes, owners are surprised by overwhelming emotions following the euthanasia of a pet. Like any loss of a loved one, you need time to come to terms with the event. Another concern arises if you have other pets who were bonded to the euthanized one — they may be upset by the loss too and might require comforting.
Some owners quickly replace a deceased pet to fill the void, while others wait for a while or even indefinitely. There is no right or wrong, but it’s wise not expect a different animal to behave just like the deceased one, even if it’s the same breed. Your new pet will need time to get to know you and its surroundings, and of course, each individual animal has its own personality. If you do decide to adopt a new pet, consider getting one from an animal shelter. You just might rescue such an animal from an early death and give it a loving experience.
Dr. Paul has a strong interest in avian and exotic animal medicine and surgery, as well as small animal internal medicine and surgery.
He has provided services for numerous breeders, kennels, aviaries, and mini zoos.