How do I know my pet is in pain?

How can we recognize pain and suffering in our non-human companions? It is the instinct of the animal to NOT vocalize its pain. This is a survival instinct. When debilitated, the animal must lie quiet or even hide from would-be predators who would have them for dinner. Therefore we must take from human medicine the types of conditions that cause pain and make inferences with regards to our pet. Animals will refuse food when in pain or nauseated. Sometimes this is the only symptom we notice. Even pets with bone cancer (osteosarcoma) or pancreatic cancer which are extremely painful in humans, may not exhibit any outward signs of pain other than loss of appetite. Non-use of a limb would indicate pain in that limb. Inflamed reddened areas are painful. Failure to groom, restlessness, or abnormal elimination habits can be associated with pain. Very few animals vocalize their pain, however if they do it is certainly indicative.

No creature should be forced to endure pain. There are pain medications available that can be prescribed by your veterinarian. If you have decided not to further investigate the cause of your pet’s malady and no longer wish to treat, your pet should be afforded to ability to relieve pain.

When is the right time for euthanasia?

When your friend has reached an irreversible, debilitated state AND you have decided not to continue treatment. If your pet is too impaired to safely move about, is mired in waste, attracting insects or emitting a foul odor, this is an inhumane condition.

There comes a time when suffering of the animal is all too apparent. There may be shallow, rapid breathing, pale gums, dangerous stumbling, flailing or seizures. The natural process of death may continue and the pet may linger for a long while. How do we avoid this dire situation? A situation where an ‘emergency euthanasia’ is required.

The decision to end the life of a dear pet is never a simple one. We, as human beings, have an awareness of the condition of pain and suffering. We can recognize and verbalize our own condition and attain help in the alleviation of pain, if not suffering as well.

So, when is the right time? Dr. Weinberg suggests you use the follow rule of thumb: If you have decided not to pursue further treatment, look back at the last 7 days. Were there four good days of quality existence that you and your friend have enjoyed daily in the past? If not, the quality of life is deteriorated and the time is here to end suffering and prevent the inevitable decline. Chances are if you make the call or are reading this now, the time is here. We have never made an appointment more than 48 hours in advance. This is because you have recognized suffering and the decay of quality life. The pet rarely lives beyond the next 48 hours in our experience. There are exceptions, true, but not many. The last 48 hours, or longer, of suffering is avoidable and the animal must be provider effective pain relief as prescribed by the veterinarian.

Sometimes there are few outward signs of suffering other than the cessation of eating. Remember the pet is a part of a pack: the family. The pet wants to be a part of that family and will attempt to show no weakness that may cause the pet be shunned or left behind. The pet remains mum and does not vocalize due to pain. The pet wants to maintain her/his position in the hierarchy and survive. The survival instinct is strong and the pet will crawl into a closet or hide in the bushes to survive. The pet will hide when vulnerable to attack by predators.

Certain conditions, however will cause the pet to continue eating even though a severe medical condition exists. We must remember that diabetes, Cushing’s disease, hyperthyroidism, severe malabsorption due to severe intestinal disease as well as the use of steroids (prednisone) will all cause the pet to eat, sometimes voraciously. One should realize that continuation of appetite in these conditions is abnormal and should not be used to gauge the quality of life.

Why euthanasia at home?

The most comfortable, least stressful place to end the suffering of our dear pet companions is at home: A non-threatening, familiar environment with the rest of the pack (family). The home is a place where a private ceremony may be conducted; where family members both human and animal can participate.

The veterinarian briefly examines the pet and administers a heavy sedative. This will smooth the transition and make the pet unaware of the second injection which will ease the pet to final peace. Quiet last moments with family members and allowing the surviving pets a moment of closure is invaluable.

What options do I have after my pet dies?

Burial of an animal on private or public land depends on the laws of the local, state and federal government that holds jurisdiction over the land. In general, it is not legal to bury your pet in your backyard or on public land. If done improperly, a future, unwanted unearthing of your dear friend may occur either by man or animal. There are generally three main options for the aftercare of your pet: Communal, Private Cremation or Private Burial in Cemetery. 911VETS can handle your preference at the time of euthanasia, or if your pet dies at home.

Communal or standard aftercare refers to the grouping of animals together for cremation. The ashes are scattered by the crematory.

Private Cremation is where your pet is individually reduced to natural elements of ash and returned to your home in a container of your choice within one week. We provide a decorative urn. You may choose a different urn. Please ask our dispatcher for other urn choices

Private Burial is where your pet makes a final resting place in a licensed Pet Cemetery.

If you are interested in determining the cause of death, we can offer a post-mortem examination or necropsy if requested. Laboratory samples may be submitted as needed to aid in the diagnosis. Remember, 911VETS will never sell or donate deceased pets for use in scientific experiments or for use in commerce.

How do I cope with the loss of my friend?

It is never an easy process losing a member of the family. Our pet companions have given us unconditional love and a life filled with joy. There are no universal answers for everyone. We hope the following will assist you in your time of grief.

Emotions: Loving Animals and Losing Them from UC Davis website

For those of us who choose to share our lives with pets, at one time or another we will undoubtedly become emotionally attached to them. Even for people who share their lives with many animals, every so often an extra special one comes along.

When we must face the loss of an extraordinary animal companion, we may be shocked to find ourselves experiencing intense grief. It might even be worrisome to have such an overwhelming response to losing “just an animal.”

You need to realize this is NOT “just an animal.” This pet, for reasons perhaps known only to you, has managed to find a very special, unique place in your life and in your heart. Part of the sadness in losing such a pet is knowing that no other pet or person will ever fill that special place in quite the same way.

Reactions to Loss

First and foremost, GIVE YOURSELF PERMISSION to have a reaction, whatever it is. Know that grief can occur before, during and after the loss of a loved one. Grief also includes a wide range of reactions that are considered normal, such as feeling numb, irritability, crying spells, hallucinations, and feeling hopeless.

Every loss is unique and every person grieves differently – even when experiencing the loss of the same animal or person. It is normal for profound sadness and grief to last a few weeks to many months, lessening with time. Without proper care and attention, painful grief can last for years.

Recovery from Grief

If you have suffered painful losses before, you may know that no two losses are alike and losing loved ones does not get easier. If a loss of this magnitude is new to you, you may feel as though you will never get over it and that you will be suffering forever.

PEOPLE DO RECOVER from painful losses. The people who adjust to loss are those who experience their feelings about the loss and take one day at a time. Many eventually decide to bring another pet into their lives.

In every case, grief does not go away magically. Dealing with your loss and the passage of time are the two best healers.

UC – Davis Pet Loss Hotline

1-800-565-1526 – University of California Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, 6:30-9:30 pm PT

UC Davis Veterinary Medicine

You are not alone. Please also feel free to discuss your feelings with friends and family. If you have any questions about the euthanasia process, or an opinion regarding the timing of such, we offer free phone consultation for this issue: (323) 238-2368.

Here Are Some Other Resources:

Can I put my pet to sleep myself?

This is definitely not recommended. Before the advent of humane euthanasia for animals, the method of choice would involve the use of a firearm. You must be a trained animal control officer to accomplish this without inhumanity to your beloved pet. Sometimes animal control must use this method in the field with a wild animal. Your pet deserves better. Attempt to transport your pet to a local veterinary facility, have 911 VETS or another pet transport service transport for you, or schedule a house call veterinarian to provide your pet with the most humane, least stressful way of easing your pet out of misery.

Doctor, how do you cope with performing euthanasia all the time?

It is the veterinarian’s ethical duty to see that no creature suffer in pain when the condition is untreatable, or when treatment options are of little benefit to the animal. It is a positive, caring act to release an animal from the pain and fright of the disease process including the inevitable panic, loss of oxygen, and/or excruciating pain. It is inhumane to extend life without relief of pain, hunger, reduced, or substandard life quality. To intercept this process and prevent another moment of discomfort is the kindest, proactive gift for a beloved pet.