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How to Prepare for the Loss of a Pet: The Steps of Euthanasia

 
The entire Passionimo team knows that euthanasia is a difficult and heart-wrenching decision. Many members of our team had to make this hard decision themselves. Your veterinarian is there to support and guide you through the steps, and, most importantly, to not pass any judgement. The decision is yours, and we understand that it’s a heavy one to make.  Here is a "quality of life" form that could help you in this difficult decision process.
 
To help you to prepare for the process of euthanasia, the following will explain the various steps. Please remember that we are available to support you through every single one of them.
 

Once the decision is made

After discussing it with your loved ones and your veterinarian, reading on the topic, and reflecting carefully on the possible options, if you choose to euthanatize your pet, we highly recommend that you book an appointment. Several veterinary facilities have a room reserved for this purpose where you and your pet can be properly received.
 
Many pet owners prefer to not be present during the procedure, which is a completely normal reaction. Rest assured that your pet will be treated well.
 
Although we are aware that this is a difficult topic, we recommend that you find out about the cremation options available and you make a choice prior to the procedure, as you may not be in the right frame of mind to make such a decision on the day of the procedure.
 

Depending on your wishes or those of your family, there are a few options available:

 
• Not choosing private cremation. In such case, your pet will receive a communal cremation, meaning that other pets’ remains will be included in the cremation oven designed for this purpose.
 
• Choosing a private cremation, which also gives you the opportunity to pay a last tribute to your pet at the crematorium.
 
• Retrieving your pet’s ashes in an urn after the cremation. Cremation facilities offer a wide variety of urns.
 
• Keeping a memento such as a paw print in clay, a pet hair ornament, etc. For more information, you can browse the websites of pet crematoriums (e.g. cremanimo.com or incimal.com) to select the item of your choice.
 
• Retrieving your pet’s remains for burial in a pet cemetery. (Please inform the team ahead of time, as specific measures have to be taken for handling the body.) It’s important to note that some municipalities have enacted by-laws restricting and/or governing the disposal of pets on their territory.
 
Other options may be available. Please see the Passionimo team.
 

Immediately before

First and foremost, please know that it’s up to you to decide if you want to be in attendance. If you choose to be there, you may bring your pet’s favourite pillow or blanket for comfort. Do not hesitate to ask a friend or family member to come with you to support you through this difficult time.
 
Upon your arrival at the clinic, you will have authorization forms to complete because euthanasia is a controlled act with legal administrative requirements. To avoid this step after the procedure, you will be asked to pay your invoice upfront, which will include the cremation fees.
 
If at that moment, you have doubts or no longer feel comfortable with your decision, please do not hesitate to inform the veterinary team.
 

When the time comes

You still have the opportunity to stay with your pet during and after the procedure or not. Depending on your pet’s status, breed, and stress level, the veterinary team may administer a tranquilizer or place an intravenous catheter before performing the procedure. The goal is always to minimize stress for the animal.
 
The procedure is done by injection of very powerful drugs, which will lead first to unconsciousness, then to brain death, and finally to respiratory and cardiac arrest. The process is usually quite quick and painless. Owners are often struck by its quickness, as they expect a much longer procedure.
 
The needle used for bigger dogs is of a larger size, which can be a more difficult experience for those suffering from a fear of needles. If that’s your case, please do not hesitate to alert the team. At any rate, the team always strives to use discretion because we know that seeing a needle can be distressful for some people.
 
Once your pet has passed on, we will check all vital signs, including the heart beat with a stethoscope. The eyes will probably stay open. The body will lose all tonus and turn limp. If you take your pet in your arms, it will probably feel like a sandbag.
 
The sphincters will relax and release some feces and urine. That’s why the veterinary team will make sure to lay some towels or blankets around your companion.
 

And then the grieving process begins…

You can spend as much time as you need with your pet after the procedure. You will most likely experience a flood of emotions: a deep sorrow and feeling of emptiness, guilt, frustration, or even relief in the case of a sick pet.
 
All your feelings are perfectly normal. Don’t hold back the tears. Please know that we often cry ourselves when we lose patients, as they become like members of our family.
 
The body will be put in a clearly marked body bag and stored in a freezer intended for this purpose. Bodies are picked up by the crematorium team on a weekly basis with the utmost professionalism and respect. 
 
The compassionate team will follow your request for the cremation service. If you requested the retrieval of ashes, the veterinary clinic will contact you in the following weeks as soon as the urn is delivered.
 
If you opted out of the cremation service, please know that your pet’s remains will still be treated with the utmost respect. There will be a communal cremation in the following days. However, the retrieval of ashes will not be possible.
 
For your family and you, the grieving process starts here. Grieving a beloved pet is very similar to grieving a loved one. You will experience feelings of nostalgia, especially at moments of the day you would normally share with your furry friend, like your morning routine, your evening walk, meal and snack times…
 
There are several books and support groups on grief available. We encourage you to seek more information. We have a few book recommendations for you, but please don’t forget that we are also here if you need more suggestions.
 
Lastly, please know that you are not alone. As animal health care professionals, pets are our passion. We have all been through the loss of a loyal companion. We know that this is a very upsetting situation. The pain will ease, but the fond memories will stay. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.
 

RECOMMENDATIONS

Assistance
Grief Support Service at the DMV Veterinary Centre
1-800-463-8555
info@centredmv.com 
 
Ordre des psychologues du Québec
1-800-561-1223
ordrepsy.qc.ca 
 
Suggested readings
CARLOS, France. Le deuil animalier, Saint-Constant, Broquet, 2008, 196 p. 
 
PION, Lynne. Est-ce que tout le monde meurt?, 1re édition, Québec, Éditions du trèfle à 4 feuilles, 2011, 80 p. 
 
LAVERGNE, Annique. Le deuil suite à la perte d’un animal de compagnie, Psychologues Consultants Y2.