I recently had to take a dog to the vet to be euthanised. Not my own dog, but a much-loved Pitbull who has been part of my family for 11 years.
Everyone who has ever had to do this will know how hard it is. It is difficult from the moment when you realise that the time has come to make the decision. We tell ourselves it’s the best thing for the dog, we tell ourselves that it’s a decision made out of love, but we are humans dealing with the death of an animal we love: there will always be emotions involved.
In my case, I suffered an overwhelming sense of betrayal. Upon my arrival this incredibly sweet-natured dog greeted me with a wiggling bum. Happy to see me, happy to interact with me – not knowing what I was there for. But I knew. I knew I was there to end this dog’s life. It was the right thing to do, but it didn’t feel good, as is often the case when we deal with euthanasia.
Your emotions are NORMAL
The loss of a dog sometimes comes with conflicting emotions. You are sad, but you feel it would be a bit crazy to mourn – the people who surround you are after all questioning your sadness: “What’s wrong with you? It’s just a dog!”
NO. You are not crazy.
Mourning your dog is the healthy thing to do. Now is not the time to care about what anyone else thinks. The dog was part of your life, possibly for a very long time.
He was there, putting on his best begging face when you had food in your hands.
He was besides himself with joy seeing you when you returned home from work, every single day.
He was there, contentedly snoring away every night.
Just being by your side was the happiest moments of his life, resulting in such a special friendship. How can anyone tell you that your sadness at losing this is strange? It is not.
Euthanasia: should I stay with my dog?
Various articles published online will tell you that you have to stay by your dog’s side until the very end. I beg to differ. This is already a difficult situation – you have to do what’s right for you. Here’s a little secret about life – you have the right to defend your own emotional wellbeing. No one else is going to do it for you. How often do we do things because it is expected of us, only to end up miserable?
Let’s take a look at both sides of the coin:
Reasons to stay with your dog
- Going to the vet is already stressful for many dogs. Research showed that dogs were considerably calmer when their owners stayed with them during the consultation. In this scenario it’s even more important for your dog to be calm, as the memory of a stressing dog will be so much more painful.
- Being there at the time of euthanasia can help you to achieve closure. Also, you will not be haunted by thoughts of exactly what happened during your dog’s last moments, as you will experience it with him.
- You can find comfort in knowing that your dog spent his last moments with the people he loved most in the world.
- Dogs are known for their unwavering loyalty. Your dog loves you unconditionally. Being there for him as he goes to the rainbow bridge is a way of acknowledging and thanking him for this loyalty.
Reasons NOT to stay with your dog
- Staying with your dog during the process is a highly personal decision. Pay no attention to other people’s opinions. Remember, people differ greatly in the way they handle grief. What works for someone else will not necessarily work for you, and that is okay.
- Choosing not to stay with your dog does not mean you are letting him down. You made the decision to end his suffering and let him go in a dignified way – this is an act of love, difficult as it may be.
- Not being present for those last moments will enable you to remember your dog how he was in happier times – those special personality traits that made you smile. This is especially true if you are not comfortable with a clinical, medical environment.
- As your dog can pick up on your emotions, being there while you are highly emotional, likely crying, can add to his stress.
Euthanasia: what to expect
A good idea is to get the admin out of the way before your appointment. Pay the vet bill and decide what you want to do with your dog’s remains – there are various options available.
During the appointment your vet will start by explaining the process to you. Certain physical reactions may occur after your dog has passed on – the eyes remain open and the vet will close them, changes in breathing can occur, sometimes the bowels and bladder empty, etc. Knowing that these are normal and not causing your dog to suffer will help you to cope with what is happening.
Most vets will start by injecting the dog with a sedative. This helps the dog relax and lets him sleep. Ask your vet about this if he doesn’t mention it – it makes the process so much easier as the dog is already asleep when the euthanasia takes place. Remember, you are your dog’s voice!
Your vet will then shave some hair off your dog’s leg and inject an intravenous solution. Your dog will become unconscious, and within seconds breathing will stop and cardiac arrest takes place. This happens quick and the dog is not aware of any of it. After breathing has stopped, the vet will listen to make sure that there is no heartbeat anymore, and then inform you that your dog has passed on.
In my case, I chose to stay with the dog. Sad as it was, the process was peaceful, and handled by the veterinarian with professional empathy.
It is likely that your vet will now leave you alone for a short while – giving you the privacy to say your final goodbye.
- Part 2 of this article will look at ways to help your children cope with the loss of a beloved dog.