Thursday, September 9, 2010

Humane Euthanasia

Unfortunately a time may come when our beloved pet is suffering from disease and a decision about humane euthanasia must be made. The disease may be one that requires extensive hospital visits, at home treatments and expenses which you may not be able to provide for physically, mentally or financially. The disease may be one in which the pet is unlikely to make a recovery no matter how dedicated you are to your pet. When this time occurs it requires the owner and veterinarian to have a frank conversation about humane euthanasia.

Euthanasia is an option that allows one to make the decision to end a pet’s pain and suffering. Your veterinarian may bring up euthanasia as an option during certain situations as they serve as an advocate for your pet. The veterinary oath states “I solemnly swear to use my scientific knowledge and skills for the benefit of society through the protection of animal health, the relief of animal suffering…” As hard as the decision can be for both the owner and the veterinarian, it is the kindest thing that can be done in the final stage of a life. Sometimes the decision needs to be made due to an unexpected emergency that has occurred (a pet that ingested a toxin or one hit by a car). Other times the owners know that their pet is fighting a chronic disease (kidney failure, heart failure, cancer) and that the time will come when the disease becomes too advanced.


Owners frequently ask when the right time to perform the procedure is and how will they know when that time comes. This varies from person to person and I tell owners to pick a few things that their pets love to do. For some pets it’s eating and going for their walks, for others it’s the car ride and playing with other pets in the house and for some it’s having free roam of the house and jumping on and off of furniture. Other things to keep in mind are pets that are no longer able to get up and walk on their own and are urinating and defecating on themselves. I ask owners when their pets stop doing the things they love to do, appear to be in constant pain or are soiling themselves, it’s a sign that their quality of life has deteriorated and most likely the right time has come.

I had to make the tough decision myself a few years back. When my dog stopped barking at the mailman, no longer wanted to eat as much and she stopped going on her walks and was in pain every time she moved, I knew then she was not enjoying her life anymore. As much as we would like to hold on for our own reasons it is important to realize that our beloved pets are suffering and it is now the chance for us to give back to them for all the unconditional love they have given us. It’s a final gift we can provide them.


The euthanasia solution used is actually an anesthetic, which makes it a pain-free procedure. To be present during the procedure or not is a personal decision. Some owners want to comfort their pets during their final minutes. Others prefer to say good-bye and not have the procedure be their final memory or feel that they would be too emotionally upset which would just upset their pet more. Some owners, while not present for the procedure, would like to view the body and spend some time visiting afterwards.

Sometimes the procedure can be planned ahead of time and be performed at home where the pet may be more comfortable. If your veterinarian does not perform house calls they may be able to provide the contact information of one that does. The procedure may have to be performed in the hospital for a pet that is not stable enough to be transported back home.

If a pet is anxious or painful a tranquilizer or pain medication may be given before the euthanasia solution. Sometimes a catheter is pre-placed in the vein to allow for easier administration. The anesthetic agent is given at a very high dose that not only causes an almost instant loss of consciousness and loss of pain but also within seconds to minutes causes the heart and lungs stop functioning. Since the pet is not conscious, they do not feel anything. Most times, the animal passes away very quickly and peacefully. The veterinarian listens with the stethoscope for absence of a heartbeat.

The eyes will remain open in most cases. Sometimes there is a last few breaths, one large gasp or a vocalization that occurs during or shortly after the procedure. These all occur due to the respiratory muscles shutting down and it is important to remember that this is not the pet fighting the anesthesia or feeling any pain, as they are pain-free and unconscious once the solution is given. Other natural reactions that occur include complete muscle relaxation causing the loss of urinary and bowel control causing urination and defecation to occur. Final release of chemicals in nerve endings may cause occasional muscle twitching.


Some owners wish to take the body home to bury it (please check your local and state laws regarding this). Others wish to have their pets buried in a cemetary or privately cremated and have the ashes returned to them in an urn. Your veterinarian can help arrange for this. Finally, some owners do not want their pets ashes returned. In these cases the pets are still cremated as a group with other pets and the ashes disposed of appropriately. If you are unsure of your decision at the time, your veterinarian will most likely be able to hold the body in their morgue for a specified amount of time to allow you to time to make a decision.


After the procedure is performed it may be best to have someone drive you home and spend some time with you. Should you need additional support after the loss of your pet there are a variety of free hotlines you can call. The lines are staffed by volunteers which are usually veterinary students. If you have any questions regarding the process of euthanasia or need support afterwards please speak with your veterinarian or visit the following web-site from the Cornell Veterinary School full of various resources which you may find helpful before and after euthanizing your pet.

Remember that euthanasia is emotional for the veterinarian and staff as well, regardless of how long they have known you or your pet. James Herriot stated the view of most veterinarians in All Things Wise and Wonderful:

"Like all vets I hated doing this, painless though it was, but to me there has always been a comfort in the knowledge that the last thing these helpless animals knew was the sound of a friendly voice and the touch of a gentle hand."

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Preparing your pet for the new baby

Recently I’ve learned that a few clients (as well as a very good friend of mine) will be welcoming a new baby into their home, congrats again to all! With all the planning going on it may be easy to forget that at some point the pet and new baby need to be introduced. How will you do this?

Well, before the new baby even arrives there are many important steps to take to ensure that your pet is on the right track toward being receptive of the new addition to the family. Yes, I know that there are a lot of other worries and concerns that come when preparing for the arrival of a new baby, but preparing your pet should be close to the top of the list and going through this preparation will help the transition go a lot smoother.


You may have heard about a disease called toxoplasmosis that can cause abortion or serious birth defects. Most commonly, this disease is acquired by eating infected, under-cooked meats or unwashed vegetables and not from your cat. This parasite can also be found in feces of an infected cat, but direct transmission by ingesting infectious organisms is less common. Cats get infected by eating raw meat, birds, mice or contaminated soil. Luckily for you the disease is easily avoidable and luckily for your cat it doesn’t mean they have to find a new home or resort to living outside. If your cat has been indoors since a kitten, you don’t have mice and you do not feed a raw food diet you probably have nothing to worry about. If your cat is outdoors and they have previously been infected it is likely good immunity against the parasite has developed and they are less likely to pass the infection in their feces. Second, changing the litter box DAILY is VERY IMPORTANT. It takes 1-5 days for the “eggs” that are passed in the feces to become infective and therefore the chances you become infected if the litter box is cleaned daily are low. Third, in order to become infected you must eat an infective “egg,” so wearing gloves and then washing your hands thoroughly after cleaning the litter box should be a habit. Finally, if someone else cleans the litter box for you DAILY, then you have even less chance of being infected!


There are a few reasons for your pet to visit their veterinarian before the baby arrives. For starters, you will be so pre-occupied with the new baby that you may forget to take your pet in for their important physical examination. You will be glad that you don’t have a veterinary appointment after the baby is born and that you have to go in with both a newborn and a pet!

During this veterinary visit it is important that you bring a fresh stool sample with you (your veterinarian can provide a container and a bag to place it in). This stool sample will be examined for any parasites. Your veterinarian will also administer a de-worming medication. Remember, stool sample tests are not 100% and can give a false negative result (your pet is infected but the test came back negative), this is why your pet should be de-wormed even if the test is negative. Why the stool sample if the pet is going to be treated anyways? The sample will help identify the type of infection, if present. Monthly preventatives can be prescribed to make sure your pet continues to be free of not only some internal parasites, but also external parasites such as fleas, ticks and mange mites.

Vaccinations should be updated as needed. Intact pets should be spayed or neutered. You may ask your veterinarian to refer you to a veterinarian that is specially trained in behavior medicine. This is important if your pet is very anxious or appears fearful. Pets that are not that well trained, nip, pounce or swat may need additional training. The behavior specialist will hold a consultation with you and your pet and test its limits so that you are aware of any additional training that may be necessary and how much longer of a transition period may be needed when introducing your pet to the baby.


If your pet is used to being the center of attention they will definitely feel the effects when your focus and energy shifts to the baby. Gradually begin to accustom your pet for this by spending a little less time each week as it gets closer to delivery time. If the parent to be is very attached to the pet it’s a good idea to transition the role of primary care giver to another family member. This will help them feel less ignored when the parent is occupied with the baby. IF you wait until the baby is around and immediately cut-off attention, ignore or scold your pet they will feel stressed.

To avoid the pet jumping on the baby’s chair, crib or other items apply double stick tape to the items. The sensation will cause your pet to jump off. In the short term it is advisable to have a baby gate to limit access into the baby’s room. A gate that the pets can see through is best as it will allow the pet to hear and see what is occurring while you are in the room. Remember to allow the pet access to the room on occasion to get them used to the scents and sounds of the room.
It is a good idea to simulate some day to day activities that will involve the baby. Place a doll in the stroller and go for a walk with it and your pet to get them used to it. Carry the doll when you are around the house.


Make sure there is someone available to come feed and walk your dog or clean your cats litter while you are away at the hospital. It may be a good idea for someone to bring home a blanket or clothing item that has the baby’s scent before you arrive home from the hospital. Once home, have someone else handle the baby as the dog or cat may be anxious to greet you. Calmly greet them and give them a treat if they are behaving.

Never force your pet to get near the baby. When your pet does come near, make sure you reward any good behavior. You want to associate a good interaction as a positive experience. Try and continue regular routines with your pet so that they don’t feel neglected. Make sure you make a little alone time for you and your pet as well.

I will provide tips on introducing a pet to a baby that is little older and mobile in a future article. Remember, ALWAYS supervise your pets when they have the ability to interact with a baby, NEVER leave them unattended, not even to go grab the phone in the other room or answer the door.
By making the proper adjustments your new baby and pet will be able to safely and happily interact!