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Making Arrangements for Euthanizing Your Senior Dog

Euthanizing a beloved senior dog is probably the most traumatic experience you'll ever face in your time with her. Because you loved your senior well, you can't avoid the pain that comes with such a loss. But the fact that such losses are painful doesn't mean you also must subject yourself — or your dog — to unnecessary indignities.

When you and your senior arrive at your vet's for the euthanasia appointment, you don't want to be sitting out in the waiting room at the vet's office with a lot of other owners around. You don't want your pet to freak out the way she usually does when she visits the vet. And you certainly don't want to have to figure out how to pay the bill afterward, when your shock and grief may feel overwhelming.

With a little planning, you can avoid much of the stress, if not the pain, of having to say goodbye to your senior. Here are some helpful ideas.

Finding the right place

Determine where the euthanasia will take place well before the procedure. Basically, you have two options: having your senior euthanized at home or having your senior euthanized at your vet's office.

Advantages and disadvantages of euthanizing at home

Many owners want their senior dogs to take their last breaths at home. These owners believe that an at-home euthanasia is less stressful for their seniors because they don't hear the sounds or smell the odors that they would encounter at an animal hospital.

Euthanizing your senior at home is a good option if your dog is too large or too ill for you to transport easily to a veterinary clinic. Ending your dog's life at home also allows you to control the environment in which your dog passes away: You can give your senior all the creature comforts you want. And if you euthanize your dog at home, you don't have to face a bunch of strangers in a waiting room.

One final advantage of putting a senior dog to sleep at home is that the other pets in the family can see the dog's body, and thus come to terms with his death. Seeing the body gives your other pets the closure they need. Many experts contend that without having this opportunity, other pets in the family may search endlessly for the deceased dog and even suffer symptoms of depression, such as appetite loss and lethargy.

However, at-home euthanasia also has some disadvantages. One disadvantage is that your regular vet may not make house calls. If euthanizing at home is important to you, you need to find a vet who can perform the procedure in your home, and that's an issue you may not want to grapple with right now.

To find a vet who will euthanize your dog at your home, the American Association of Housecall Veterinarians has a searchable database that will help you locate a house-call vet in your area.

Another possible downside to euthanizing your senior at home is how you may feel afterward. In the days immediately following your dog's passing, you may have a hard time entering or even walking past the room where his death occurred.

Advantages and disadvantages of euthanizing at a veterinary clinic

Euthanizing your senior at your local veterinary clinic offers at least two important advantages: It allows your home to remain a much-needed refuge for you and your family as you come to terms with your dog's death, and a vet you know and trust performs the procedure.

The disadvantages are clear: lack of privacy for you and your family in your time of grief, lack of creature comforts for your senior dog, and the inability to control the proceedings. However, you can overcome those challenges and other potential problems with just a little forethought. Here's how:

  • Bring your home to the vet. Bring something from home to help your senior dog stay calm and feel comforted before and during the procedure. One item could be the dog's bed. She would feel its familiar cushiness and smell the odors she knew as she passed away.
    If your dog's bed is too big to bring to the vet's, consider bringing a favorite toy or an unlaundered T-shirt that you've worn. The familiar object and smell will comfort your dog — and you — during the procedure.
  • Pay beforehand. Ask your vet if you can pay the bill before you bring your senior in for the procedure. Most clinics gladly accept your payment hours or even days before your dog is euthanized. Paying beforehand eliminates the stress that would result if you had to pay the bill immediately after the procedure or the pain caused by getting the bill in the mail after your dog's death.
  • Ease your senior's stress. If your senior dog gets upset when she goes to the vet's office, find a way to make her journey less stressful. Your vet can prescribe a mild tranquilizer that you can give your dog an hour or two before the appointment. A tranquilizer will help your senior relax and travel with more ease than she normally does.
  • Book the appointment for the end of the day. Try to book the very last appointment of the day for your senior's euthanasia. At day's end, your vet won't need to rush off to the next appointment, so he can spend time with you and your dog.
  • Ask for privacy. When you make your appointment or stop by to pay the bill before the procedure, ask the receptionist if you and your dog can use a separate entrance to the clinic. If there is a separate entrance, you and your senior won't have to walk through and wait in the public reception area amid a bunch of human and canine strangers.

Deciding whether to stay or not

Deciding if you want to stay with your dog while he's being euthanized is highly personal. Many people choose to stay with their senior dogs in order to comfort the animals and to provide themselves some closure. Some people may feel comforted in knowing that his or her face was the last thing a beloved pet saw.

However, witnessing the procedure may not be good for you if you're not prepared for what may happen during your senior's euthanasia. The tremors that may occur after death, the voiding of the bowels and bladder, and a dog's vocalization during the procedure can all unnerve an already traumatized owner.

Find out what you can about the process and try to be objective as you consider whether to stay or go. If you fear that you'll lose control, reconsider sticking around. A sobbing, wailing owner will only frighten the dog and make the vet's job that much tougher. If you opt to leave, rest assured that your dog will pass away remembering your love and feeling the gentle touch of your vet's hand.

The question of whether children should witness a dog's euthanasia is problematic. Many vets advise against allowing a child under the age of 10 to see the dog die; vets contend that seeing a beloved dog's death may traumatize a young child. On the other hand, an older child or teenager may want to be with the dog when she's euthanized. As long as your vet is okay with the child's presence, let your child decide; don't try to force him to choose either way.

Don't assume that euthanizing your dog at the veterinary clinic means that your other pets can't be there. Ask your vet whether the other canine pack members can be there. Your vet may consent, especially if you bring the dogs in to see your senior's body after the procedure rather than be there while the euthanasia takes place.

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