Is it Cruel Not to Euthanize a Dog

Linda Rider

Is it Cruel Not to Euthanize a Dog

By Dr. Bethany Hsia, Co-founder  of CodaPet, which recently launched in West Palm Beach, FL and Phoenix, AZ

As Benjamin Franklin famously wrote “in this world nothing is certain except death and taxes.” Fortunately, our pets escape the latter. Unfortunately for us, our dogs will usually predecease us leaving us with some difficult and emotional questions: What happens when pet’s die?. Is it okay to let my dog pass on their own? What options do I have to alleviate pain and stress in dying? How will I know what is right for my dog?

What happens when pet’s die?

What happens when pet’s die

Dying is a process. Our pet’s bodies are complex systems of organs and tissues which rely on each other for healthy function. How the dying process looks will depend on several factors including the disease afflicting the pet but can be thought of in three stages: pre-active, active, and passive. The pre-active stage can be characterized by loss of appetite and withdrawal from normal interactions with the family. This stage may occur in the days or weeks leading up to death. The second stage, active dying, can be difficult to witness and is often characterized by difficulty breathing, restlessness, vocalization, tightening of muscles, and possible loss of consciousness. This stage can span from hours or days before death. The final stage is the transition into peace and includes the cessation of heart function and breathing. Again, the process may look different for each pet depending on their disease process and the health or lack of health in other organ systems; you may not see each distinct phase of the dying process.

Is it okay to let my dog pass on their own?

Is it cruel not to euthanize a dog? There is no one size fits all answer here. Most pets will suffer anxiety and pain as they move through the stages of dying while others will lose consciousness and pass through the stages unaware of the changes in their body. However, as a veterinarian it is hard for me to let a pet pass through the stages unassisted knowing I can ease the process.

What options do I have to alleviate pain and stress in dying? 

If a dog is experiencing chronic uncontrolled pain, has lost interest in activities they once enjoyed, or is unable to perform basic functions like eating or evacuating bladder and bowels, it is likely time to intervene.This may be in the form of palliative care or via euthanasia. Palliative care is the ongoing treatment and monitoring of a patient under the care of a veterinarian with the goal of mitigating the pet’s pain and suffering as they go through the dying process. Euthanasia is the ending of the dying process through a controlled and irreversible overdose of anesthesia. Euthanasia is usually performed in two steps; first giving the dog a cocktail of medications to induce unconsciousness then administering the final injection of anesthetic.

It is worth noting that at-home dog euthanasia services are becoming increasingly popular, as they allow a dog to pass away in the comfort of their own home, surrounded by their loved ones. These services are performed by licensed veterinarians who specialize in end-of-life care for pets.

How will I know what is right for my dog?

This question is highly personal and will vary greatly depending on your beliefs and your pet’s condition. It’s important to ask yourself whether or not you would like to be with your dog at the end of their life. In a natural death, even under palliative care, your pet may pass in the night or in a brief moment while you are away. If it is important to you to be present with them in the end you may prefer to schedule a euthanasia appointment.

In addition, the financial and emotional cost of ongoing palliative treatment can be factors in the decision to euthanize. While many pet owners are willing and able to pursue close ongoing veterinary hospice care, others may not have the resources available. Finally, some families wish to say “goodbye” to their pet on a good day rather than allowing the natural process to occur. These families often choose to euthanize when a terminal diagnosis has been made and before the pet is showing significant signs of suffering; often planning out a “bucket list” day for their dog while he or she can still enjoy certain activities.

Ultimately, the decision whether or not to euthanize a dog is a deeply personal one that should be made with careful consideration of all factors involved. While it can be difficult to lose a.beloved pet, euthanasia can be a peaceful and humane way to end their suffering. At-home pet euthanasia services can provide a comfortable and familiar environment for pets during this time. Finally, no matter how the dog passes, it can be incredibly difficult for the family and requires time for grieving and healing. It is important for pet owners to have access to resources and support during this time, such as grief counseling,  support groups, and outlets for memorializing the departed.

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