Euthanasia literally means 'a good death' and is the term used to describe the act of putting an animal "to sleep".

Pets are usually euthanised by veterinarians to relieve pain or suffering when they are very unwell or suffering from an incurable disease. Some, for example an overly aggressive dog, are also euthanised to protect others.

Euthanasia usually involves an injection, administered by a vet, that contains an overdose of anaesthetic, so that the pet quickly falls into an anaesthetic sleep, then gently passes away.

This is never an easy decision. Many owners worry that their dog is suffering but, because they love their companion so much, they don't want to part with them. Some factors you may want to consider include whether your dog is still enjoying a good quality of life. Are they eating? Can they walk around comfortably? Are they able to move away from their faeces and urine (for dogs that are normally well toilet-trained, this can be a very upsetting if not)?

Discussing the situation with your vet and other dof owners can make a decision less difficult to reach and will help with any feelings of guilt you may be experiencing.

It can be very tempting for well-meaning parents to try to shield their children from the truth by euthanising their old or unwell dog while the children are away or at school, then offering them an untrue explanation like the dog ran away, or went to live on a farm. But this could cause greater problems later when they realise the truth.

Chidren over the age of around 10 should be included just like adults - and even be given the option to be present at the euthanising. For children between 5 and 10, use clear words to help them understand what is happening to their dog, avoiding terms like 'put to sleep' to avoid the interpretation that their dog will one day wake up. Gently and clearly explain to them that their pet is going to the vet to die peacefully and that they need to say goodbye because their dog won't be coming back.

Children younger than 5 generally don't have a good understanding of death, so for toddlers it's also important to use clear words whenever they try to seek out their deceased pet.

For children of all ages, as well as for adults, it can be helpful to perform some kind of ceremony after the euthanasia, like planting a tree in the garden. Making a doggy scrapbook can be a great source of comfort.

To see how others have dealt with the loss of their pet, or to share your stories, you might like to visit our 'Loss of Companion' forum.

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