The word euthanasia is derived from the Greek words “eu”, meaning well, and “thanatos”, meaning death. As veterinary professionals it is part of our duty to guide not only the patient, but the owners through this difficult process. The staff at Bemidji Veterinary Hospital provides end-of-life options without judgment. We are here to answer any questions regarding euthanasia.

Here are some common questions we receive:

Question: When do I know it’s time?

Answer: This is often the hardest choice an owner has to make. We can provide information and answer questions, but ultimately the decision is up to the owner. There are many factors to take into account:

  • Is the condition curable?
  • Is the pet in pain? Can the pain be adequately controlled?
  • What is the pet’s quality of life? Do they enjoy their normal activities?
  • Can they perform natural functions (eat, drink, urinate, defecate, etc) on their own?
  • Unfortunately, in veterinary medicine, finances have a large part in the decision. When clients can’t afford the necessary procedures, euthanasia becomes a more economical option. However, there are options including grants from foundations, pet insurance, loans and other payment options.

There is no perfect answer for knowing when or if to euthanize a pet. All we have are general medical principles and your instinct for knowing what’s best for your pet. Here are a few things to consider:

  • Make a List—As your pet reaches his or her senior years, take a moment to write down your pet’s five favorite things to do. If your pet gets to a point where he or she cannot enjoy those things, it may be time to consider euthanasia.
  • Learn the 5 Hs—Hurt, hunger, hydration, happiness, and hygiene are five quality of life issues to track and consider.
  • Learn the 2 Ms—Mobility and more (i.e., Does your pet have more good days than bad days?). Again, track and consider these basic quality of life factors. It will help you identify when changes occur.

Question: What will the procedure include?

Answer: Not all euthanasia procedures are done the same way. It often depends on the patient’s condition, the wishes of the client, and doctor preference. For pets that are painful, stressed, nervous, or uncooperative, we often give them a sedative first to calm them. This is often an injection into the muscle. The medication acts quickly and the patient falls into anesthetic sleep within a few minutes.

The second injection is the euthanasia agent. Essentially, it is an overdose of a medication that historically had been used for anesthesia. It shuts down the heart and brain functions often within seconds to minutes of administering the complete dose.

Question: What will happen to my pet after it passes?

Answer: After a pet passes, their body can do few things that may be unsettling to clients if they are not prepared.

  • Gasping or Deep Breath- The brain is telling the body it is deprived of oxygen since the pet has stopped breathing. The body responds by gasping for air.
  • Muscle twitching- As it shuts down, the brain may send signals to the muscles. Stored energy is released.
  • Release of urine and bowels- The muscles that hold urine and stools will relax and allow them to be released.
  • Eyes- The eyes remain open after the pet is deceased.

Question: What are my options for the body?

Answer: The client can choose to take the pet home to bury as they wish. In cases of death due to disease (Parvovirus, Blastomycosis, unknown cause, etc), this is not encouraged due to the possibility of spreading the disease. Also, please check with local ordinances to ensure you are allowed to bury pets on your property.

Bemidji Veterinary Hospital offers cremation services on site in our hospital. Clients can choose to have the pet cremated and receive the remains back in the form of ashes. If the client choses to not have the remains returned, the ashes will be collected with those of other pets and spread in a private field. Urns, keepsakes, and other memorials can be found on our website.

Question: What about my other pets?

Answer: Pets can sense the decline of a housemate. Often when one pet is euthanized, it appears that the other pets in the household look for them or wonder where they are. It can be helpful for the other pets in the household to be exposed to the body after. Though we can’t be certain, this seems to put them at ease and let them know what happened to their housemate. Depending on their relationship, the other pet may seem depressed or have a diminished appetite. It is recommended to monitor this closely and seek veterinary advice if it continues for a long period of time. Positive changes may also be noticed; a submissive pet may become more outgoing after their dominate housemate passes. Extra walks, play time, or attention can help relieve the remaining pet’s grief, and may also help relieve the client’s grief as well.

The Bemidji Veterinary Hospital staff is here to answer any questions you may have; call us anytime at 751-2753.