Vet Stuff with Dr. Steph

Saying Goodbye to Nala: End of Life Decisions and Euthanasia

I have been quite public with my own dog’s battle with cancer, amputation, and palliative care (you can read more about her story here). As my journey with Nala came to an end, I took a break from sharing. I am asked about her all the time by my wonderful caring friends and clients. I have wanted to continue to share my experiences throughout this journey with everyone, but I have not been ready to do so until now.

Euthanasia , death and the difficult decisions that surround the “when” and “where” and “how” around that final act are so important and so difficult and yet an inevitable part of sharing your life with a pet. The emotions that we experience before, during and after this time can be completely overwhelming. I wanted to shed some light on my experiences as a pet owner and a veterinarian surrounding this topic. Let me start by going back to my story about Nala:

One year, to the day, from that difficult day that we amputated Nala’s leg due to bone cancer, we said our final goodbye.

She woke up happy and rolled around in the grass as we put up our Halloween decorations. She ate her breakfast and her dinner without hesitation. However, later in the evening she started to decline. Her breathing was laboured and she was very quiet. She was a very stoic dog, always wagging her tail and wanting to show her love so I took even subtle signs that she was not herself very seriously.

I brought her to the clinic late that night and took an x-ray of her chest. The cancer had spread to her lungs and she had a large amount of fluid in her chest cavity. She was going downhill fast. I called my husband and he got the kids out of bed and they all came down to the clinic so we could be together. In a way, we were fortunate that there was no realistic option that we were willing to proceed with for Nala except humane euthanasia at this point. That eliminated one of the most painful aspects of euthanasia; the decision about when to do it. She was suffering and we wanted to end that suffering peacefully, surrounded by her family.

 

I administered a strong sedative so that she would not experience any anxiety or fear, and she drifted off into a state of deep sedation over the next 5 minutes. We spoke to her and petted her gently. We made the decision to have our children leave at this point, and they went together to another room. I placed an IV catheter into her arm, which she did not react to at all given her deep sedation. Then, I administered the euthanasia agent slowly into her IV, and she drifted into unconsciousness. She passed away within about 60 seconds of this. Peacefully and quietly.

We have been deeply grieving her loss, but every day is easier. Soon we were able to use happy memories and photos to bring us smiles and laughs. She brought us 12 years of joy and happiness and was with my husband and I before we even had a family. She will always hold a special place in our hearts. I heard a beautiful quote recently, in a Christmas movie actually, but on further investigation it can be credited to Queen Elizabeth II. “Grief is the price we pay for love”. And it’s worth it.

We have now opened our home to a new puppy. Our lives are full of puppy love (and pee on the floor, and sleepless nights and sharp puppy teeth!). Nala’s clay pawprint has a place in my kitchen where I can greet her every morning and her ashes sit in a special urn on my shelf.

End of life decisions and euthanasia are complicated. If you are facing this decision yourself and are looking for guidance we have put together a document that helps walk you through some of the important aspects of these decisions. Please click this link to access this document and other resources for quality of life concerns. You can of course always contact us an we will be there to help you however we can.

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