Pet Euthanasia — Killing ’em with Kindness

Peaches - Pet Eulogy for dog at Center-Sinai Animal Hospital.

Pet Health Care Articles by Dr. Baum

One of the most difficult decisions that any pet owner can face is the decision of when to put a beloved pet to sleep. Many people often assume, or rhetorically ask me, “Is this is one of the most difficult parts of your job?” In reality it’s not.

For one thing, the patients for which I perform euthanasia are not happy vital puppies and kittens. And how grateful I am for that. I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to be performing euthanasia on the thousands of healthy shelter animals that are unfortunate enough to find themselves abandoned in a world where there are just too many animals and too few homes.

No, my milieu is more likely to be framed by the presence of a wonderful family pet succumbing to the ravages of time or disease, accompanied by a saddened and grieving family.

There are so many conflicting emotions that permeate the room. On an intellectual level, the owners realize that euthanasia is a humane act, but the specter of guilt surfaces on an emotional level.

I feel that my main function is to help the family through this ordeal in the following ways:

Reassuring them that they are doing the right thing by framing it as a quality of life issue and supporting them by validating the emotions that they are feeling. Most people need the reassurance that it is OK to feel sad and even cry, but often need to be reminded not to feel guilty. In addition, by looking beyond the mourning period to help them realize that although they are now overwhelmed by the present, in time their memories will be of all the wonderful things that the pet did during its lifetime that made him or her so special to begin with. That is the true legacy.

The purpose of euthanasia is to relieve pain and suffering. How much easier would life be everyone could die a peaceful natural death after a short illness. Well, with our pets we have not only the opportunity, but the obligation, to make compassionate and common sense decisions. In chronic illness, for which there is no cure and no meaningful relief, the end is preordained. But the question that most people struggle with is when, when to say goodbye. My experience has taught me that there are two markers that are reliable indicators of your pet’s desire to continue living in its present condition. Appetite suppression leading to a complete cessation of eating is certainly the most obvious and expected symptom, but perhaps the most significant (especially in cats) is how your pet will isolate itself; the desire to no longer participate in life.

It’s so ironic that when executing criminals by lethal injection, very similar drugs and protocols are used and yet there is a hue and cry about “cruel and unusual punishment.” I think that quite the opposite is true having witnessed the merciful demise of many sick patients over the last forty two years. When I say, killing ‘em with kindness, I’m not kidding.

Ironically, the Christmas season has always seen a spike in the number of euthanasias that I am asked to perform. I’ve come to think of it as people giving the gift of no more suffering to their pets.

NOTE: We have found that after people lose anyone close, whether it be a human or pet family member, writing a pet eulogy is a helpful way to move through the pain of loss. It helps us to share our stories, and helps other as well. You can find examples of how others have gone through making this decision on our pet eulogy pages. The link to the touching eulogy written for the doggie above, who was given the gift of no more pain as Dr. Baum puts it, is here: Peaches


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