Pet owners often ask me how they can know it is the right time to “put to sleep” or euthanize their beloved pet. I am asked this question regularly because one of the needs I serve in our community is going to people’s homes to carry out what is called at home euthanasia. I only do this after people are sure their pet no longer has an adequate quality of life.
Because animal lovers often bond very deeply and intensely with their pets this decision about whether the time is right to put a pet to sleep can feel agonizing. Making this difficult decision is one that should involve careful reflection. As a veterinarian and fellow pet owner, one key way I help other pet owners address this question is by asking them to talk with all involved family members about the pets quality of life. I truly believe that animals in particular live on a day to day basis.
All of us animal lovers know that our beloved companions are not thinking of an extra week or month of life. Rather, they are truly in the here and now. When your pet’s “here and now” is nothing but or mostly pain or discomfort I believe the most loving gift a animal lover and owner can give is peace to their pet. That being said, I also believe that the best person to make that determination is not necessarily a veterinarian (unless we are dealing with an acute medical emergency) but rather, the family members who on a daily basis interact with their pet. They are there with the pet day after day and know their companion better than anyone else.
Sometimes, part of the reason people hold off putting their pet to sleep is they worry the procedure of doing so will hurt the animal more than keeping them alive. This is in many ways a myth. However, you do need to understand that you have options when you have made the decision to put your pet to sleep. You can either bring them to your loval veterinary clinic, or you can choose to have your pet euthanized in the comfort and privacy of your own home.
I have performed at home euthanasia in people’s home for over 10 years. I am often asked why I do this and if I think there are advantages over this being done at a veterinary clinic. There are many advantages to at home euthanasia for both the animal patient and pet owner. For most animal patients a visit to the veterinary clinic is or can be fraught with anxiety. This is not unlike how small children feel when they are going to see the pediatrician. From the car ride to the exam room pets are smart enough to remember previous visits which culminate in vaccines, blood draws, surgery, and other procedures. With a house call euthanasia the pet feels more relaxed because they feel “at home”.
After a careful and caring exam of the pet a heavy sedation is given and that is the extent of procedures done with at home euthanasia. Dogs and cats don’t feel any of the ensuing procedures after that. Again, they are in the comfort of their home, on their bed, and under the influence of heavy sedation and years of doing this where I am up close with a pet prove time and time again that the pet feels less stress.
No less important is the stress the pet owner experiences during this difficult process. When the pet is euthanaized at home versus at a clinic, owners feel they can be themselves and do not have to put on a mask for strangers who might be at the clinic.
In all my years as a house call veterinarian I have never had an owner tell me that they were not happy with their decision to take advantage of the compassionate and private at home euthanasia option. In fact, many people will have me euthanize a second failing pet after their first positive experience.
I believe at home euthanasia not only helps pets but their owners have as positive a experience as possible at this difficult time. I feel honored to be invited into a process where through compassion and painlessness a dog or cat can experience a “good death”.