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Pawspectives: Putting a pet to sleep

Rick Patrick:

Greene Publishing, Inc.

It can be a heart-wrenching decision that no one wants to talk about, but it is a part of having and caring for a pet. That is, when it comes time to put a pet to sleep or have them euthanized, to use the clinical term.

It is a decision that is often accompanied with doubt and second-guessing. Having a well-trusted veterinarian can help make the decision easier. A good veterinarian is one who has a great deal of respect for the quality of a pet's life and can help a pet owner make a decision that can be in the best interest of the pet when that pet is faced with a high level of pain and discomfort from which relief is unlikely. Just when is the right time is a decision only a pet owner can make with the help of their veterinarian. Time should be taken for everyone in the household to say "goodbye." If there are children in the household, special care should be taken in order to help them understand what is happening and why. The American Humane Association suggests books such as Fred Rogers' book, “When a Pet Dies”, as resources to provide comfort and help a child understand.

With a few exceptions, most veterinarians will perform the procedure in their office. Bringing a pet's bed or blanket from home will sometimes help comfort a pet. Sometimes the veterinarian will administer a sedative to help calm the pet. Other times, especially if a pet is very ill or is having difficulty breathing, this sedative may not be necessary. Whether one decides to be with the pet during the procedure is a personal choice, but most will agree that it does add an extra level of comfort to the pet to be with a loved one. The euthanasia medication most vets use is pentobarbital, a medication that is frequently used to control seizures. In large doses, it will quickly render the pet unconscious. It shuts down the pet's heart and brain functions, usually within one or two minutes. It is usually given by an IV injection in one of the pet's legs. Most veterinarians offer to dispose of the pet's body. This is usually the best way to take care of that, due to local regulations dealing with the burial of pets.

It is a difficult decision to make. But, if one truly loves a pet, one does not want to see a pet live in an existence of pain and agony. The decision to euthanize can be a final act of love for a pet who has given a lifetime of love and companionship. Remember to always feed your pet well, provide regular vet check-ups and love fur-ever.

Pawspectives is a regular feature of Greene Publishing, Inc. If you have a specific question or topic you would like covered, send an email to with "Pawspectives" in the subject line.

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