Being Present During Euthanasia
Colin Combs, DVM
When it becomes necessary to euthanize a beloved pet, there are many choices that must be made. Your veterinarian may ask whether you would like to be present with your pet when it is euthanized. Although this may seem like an unusual question, it is one that you should consider.
You need to be aware of what will happen during and after the euthanasia before you make your decision. Your veterinarian can explain the process of euthanasia, helping to ease some of the fear associated with the decision.
One of the primary reasons that you may want to be present at euthanasia is for the comfort of your pet. Being in a hospital with all its foreign smells and sounds is upsetting to many animals. Although you may be as afraid as your pet, it is probably soothing to have a family member stroking the pet or calling its name. The opportunity to say a last goodbye is another major reason an owner may want to be present with their pet during euthanasia. Psychologists have termed this final goodbye "closure."
Often it is easier for an owner to accept death and move through his grief stages if he is present when his pet dies. Being present allows one to see the life leave his pet and know that the physical part of the relationship with the pet is over. This may allow one to cherish the non-physical love and caring that was shared with the special pet.
The very process of seeing a dear pet die quietly is obviously difficult. For some owners this may be too painful. Another option which some owners may choose is to view the body after the euthanasia is complete. This still allows the needed process of closure. The different possibilities should be discussed with the veterinarian before the euthanasia so that everyone involved is as comfortable as possible.
Many owners say that they would rather remember their pets as they were. This is a perfectly acceptable feeling. If a pet has been through a debilitating illness or severe trauma, one may want to keep the mental picture of the strong, healthy pet that he has known for so long. This can complicate the decision due to the conflict with the desire to say goodbye.
The decision of whether or not to be present when a pet is euthanized is an intensely personal and emotional one for all involved, so it is important that one knows that both options are available.
This article is courtesy of the Pet Loss Support Group of the Denver Area Veterinary Medical Society.
Updated additional information
Elizabeth Danelek, CVT
These days there are more options in regards to being present with your pet during euthanasia. Hospitals offer euthanasia in clinic and some clinics have even expanded to offer a special quiet room specifically for this purpose. However there are other options to having it done in the clinic. Many times your veterinarian can come to your home to help your pet pass away. If your veterinarian is not able to come to your house there are also house call veterinarians who focus solely on end of life care in order to provide the peaceful passage at home.