Discussing euthanasia is not easy.
As a veterinary technician, I know that euthanasia is a gift to your hurting pet, but I also know it is an extremely difficult decision to make. My hope for this post is NOT to make euthanasia more difficult for the pet owner BUT to provide education on HOW to make the process emotionally bearable for the family and easier for the pet.
Having been a vet tech for over 20 years, I have had the honor of being with many pet owners in the euthanasia process. Here are some things I want all pet owners to know:
People apologize to me all the time for crying. I want you to understand I GET IT. Many of us who work in the veterinary field (myself included) are totally neurotic, hypersensitive, and obsessive when it comes to our own pets, so as vet techs, we understand completely how you feel. Cry, cry, and cry some more. IT'S OKAY! And for our men readers, let the tears flow. I promise… you are not the first man I have seen tear up and you will not be the last. IT'S OK TO CRY. At Taylor Crossing Animal Hospital, we have nothing but respect for you. We respect how much you care, we respect your ability to make such a difficult decision, and we respect your bravery. Please leave any shame at home.
Be There, If Not For Your Pet, For Me
I am lucky to work in a hospital where the vast majority of pet owners stay with their pets for the euthanasia process. If possible, please be there for your pet. Why… for me. Yes, you read that right I need you. One of the absolute most difficult things I do as a veterinary technician is to take on the role of comforting and loving a pet as they pass knowing they wish their owner was there.
Second, for some pets, the hospital is a scary place. The office smells different, has strange noises, and is filled with unfamiliar people. Your pet doesn't know what we are doing or why - they only know you are there- you said it's ok- and you love them. If you can, please let your pet feel your love, your touch, and hear your calming voice. I know euthanasia is difficult and I know you would rather someone else soothe your pet, but don't. If at all possible, your pet and I need you there.
Keep Things Normal
If your pet always wears a bandana or a collar, by all means, let that baby wear this piece of security. If your pet travels with a special blanket, bring it. If you always say a special phrase when leaving the house, say it. Your pet's comfort should be the number one priority, and that means not making any changes to the usual routine when leaving the home.
Pets are smarter than we give them credit, and they pick up on the smallest of cues. The unknown is scary to your pet, and the idea that something is new and strange or out of the ordinary is enough to cause a sense of anxiety. So, keep the collar or bandana on, bring the blankie and keep the familiar phrases rolling.
Make Euthanasia A Celebration
Tell stories, laugh and cry… all at the same time. It's ok to celebrate the many great years of joy you shared together! I love when pet owners tell me they did all their dog's favorite activities before she got so sick. Or, they just napped in the sun with their kitty before bringing him to our office. I promise, the more you celebrate your pet's life, the easier it will be to continue your own. Celebrate, reminisce, hold dear to your heart all the great times shared together.
It is ok to cry in front of your pet, to tell him how much you will miss him, to let him see you absolutely beside yourself. I'm sure your pet has seen you at your worst before - I know mine has. But remember to celebrate, no matter how grief-stricken you are. I promise it will make it easier for both you and your pet. What's more, it will allow you to reflect on the euthanasia process with positivity.
Prepare Before The Euthanasia Appointment
I want this moment to be entirely about you and your pet. In order for that to be the case, several things must happen. First, understand the euthanasia process. If possible, make a consultation appointment, without your pet, prior to the actual euthanasia. If this is not possible, at least get an understanding of what will happen before the euthanasia takes place. Most veterinarians will walk pet owners through the steps of euthanasia so the owner knows exactly what to expect. Ask as many questions as you need to in order to feel comfortable.
Second, take care of business ahead of time. Find out what paperwork is required. Make the decision for regular burial or cremation. If cremating, will the pet's remains be returned to you, or will the crematory discard them? Would you like the collar, bandana, blanket, or other items brought with your pet returned? Pay the bill. Also, consider preparing your next meal ahead of time, arranging a ride home, renting a movie, inviting friends over - whatever you think might help with coping when you return home without your pet. The less you have to deal with during and after euthanasia, the better. I want you to be able to focus entirely on your pet during euthanasia and then entirely on yourself afterward. Do whatever is needed to make that possible.
Over the past 20 years, every euthanasia I have experienced has been different. Some are planned, some are sudden, some happen in the pet's home, and some at the hospital. Regardless of the circumstances, they are always difficult. My hope with posting this information is to make this difficult process as beautiful as it can be for both you and your pet.
Amanda is the Hospital Manager at Taylor Crossing Animal Hospital and a practicing Veterinary Technician for over 20 years. Amanda has been a part of the Taylor Crossing Animal Hospital team since 2010.