Putting Man’s Best Friend to Sleep
Stephen Sheldon, DVM
In the past few weeks I’ve had to euthanize, or put to sleep, quite a few beloved pets and the subject has been weighing on me. I thought I would write about it to both ease my thoughts and also to bring to light just what happens during euthanasia.
Chester, Bud, Cali, Copper, Snowbell, and Aby, this is for you. May you all rest in peace and know you were very loved. I hope I didn’t leave anyone out.
As hard and as difficult an act it is, we feel truly blessed in this profession to have euthanasia as a tool. I always tell my clients about my grandmother who stared at the ceiling for 2 years at 95 years of age and how my mom had to basically withhold food and medications as a way of letting her go. Fortunately we have more humane methods for pets (the irony is that we call them humane but they cannot be used on humans).
Euthanasia for pets is simply an overdose of a barbiturate anesthesia. It is given via an injection into a vein and within seconds the heart stops. It is painless and is just like any other IV injection. Often we give the dog or cat a sedative just to calm them and make the injection and procedure smoother….both for them and their parents. I think pets actually suffer the least during the procedure.
The vast majority of pets give one last sigh and rest peacefully; that is why we call it ‘putting them to sleep’. Although it is difficult, I encourage all owners to be present during the procedure not only so they can comfort their pet but also so they can see for themselves that what we have just done is not horrific. Of course, I will oblige almost any request and want my clients to feel comfortable whether they decide to be present or not. Sometimes we do the procedure in the car in the parking lot or even at their home.
Besides administering the drugs, our jobs as veterinarians are to be counselors and advisors. No one, including us, want to play god but we are obliged to be both objective and compassionate in our renderings. Each situation is different but almost always everyone knows what the right call is. I have had to nudge people a little in the right direction once in awhile but I am an animal advocate after all. I think a doctor should be there from cradle to grave.
One thing most veterinarians will not do is euthanize a pet for unacceptable behavior; the exception being a viscous, dangerous pet or one who inappropriately attacks.
People ask me if this is the worst part of my job and I tell them, “Honestly, I know I am helping out both a suffering pet and a grieving family.” I take great comfort in being able to do that.
Stephen Sheldon, DVM, practices at Gypsum Animal Hospital. He can be reached via the hospital website, www.gypsumah.com or at 970-524-DOGS.