It’s the most difficult thing about being a pet owner: the horrible, horrible day when you have to say goodbye. Because it’s a hackneyed old cliché but cats, dogs and hamsters all become furry little members of the family, so saying goodbye is always painful – especially when you have to make the tricky decision to put them down.
But, in news that’s sure to break the heart of any pet owner, a vet has shared what apparently happens to your pet when animals are put down.
The “broken-hearted” vet revealed how frightened pets allegedly search for their owners who have chosen to leave the room when they are put down, according to the massively viral social media post.
“I beg you DO NOT LEAVE THEM,” the Facebook post shared by Hillcrest Veterinary Clinic in South Africa says.
The post, which has been shared more than 88,000 times, goes on: “Do not make them transition from life to death in a room full of strangers in a place they don’t like.
“The thing you people need to know that most of you don’t is that THEY SEARCH FOR YOU WHEN YOU LEAVE THEM BEHIND!!!!
“They search every face in the room for their loved person. They don’t understand why you left them when they are sick, scared, old, or dying from cancer and they need your comfort.”
But is this social media post exactly true?
Experts at the Blue Cross animal charity, which provides support for pet owners, give a very different picture of how the euthanasia process works – and how animals react.
“Euthanasia is usually carried out by injecting an overdose of anaesthetic into the vein of the front leg, although the injection can be given to other areas of the body as well,” they say. “The dog is held by a nurse, and a small patch of fur is shaved off. All your dog feels is a tiny prick of the needle – then the injection is painless.”
The experts go on: “Occasionally, a dog may give a small cry as the injection is given – as with all anaesthetics, there is a brief feeling of dizziness as the drug takes effect. Unconsciousness follows within seconds, often before the injection is finished. Death occurs within a couple of minutes when the heart stops beating.
“If a dog is agitated or restless, then the vet may give a sedative first, but finding a vein can then be more difficult and the injection may work more slowly.
“In the few minutes after death you may see reflex muscle movement, or involuntary gasps. These are not signs of life, in fact, they are reflexes denoting that death has occurred. The eyes usually stay open and the bladder sometimes empties.
“The vast majority of euthanasias proceed smoothly and quickly with little distress to the animal.”
The Blue Cross experts also give their opinion on whether pet owners should stay with their animals during the difficult moment they are put down.
“This is entirely your choice,” they say. “It may be a comfort to you to see that euthanasia is usually a quick and gentle process.
“Vets and nurses choose their profession because they want to help animals. You can rely on them to treat your dog sympathetically even in your absence.”
And Dr Sean McCormack, head vet at Tails.com, confirmed to ShortList that the euthanasia process is much less frightening than the viral post makes it out to be.
“I’ve seen that post online before but I’d say that calling pet owners who choose to leave the room ‘cowards’ is not helpful at all,” he said.
“People have their reasons and it can be very distressing to see your animal being put down; sometimes people feel like they can’t cope. For most people the worst thing is the fear of the unknown so it’s a privileged part of my job to help pet owners in this difficult moment.
“Fundamentally it’s all about managing the expectations of the owners.
“Euthanasia means ‘peaceful death’ and a vet’s aim, every step of the way, is to give as peaceful a death as possible. Normally if the animal is agitated we will relieve the pain first with an initial sedative drug.
“Now, this is an injection so the animal will feel the sharp scratch of a needle but it’s nothing really to be scared of. It’s not pleasant but we can distract them with treats to make them calmer.
“After giving the final injection, we leave the pet and the owner together. Then the animal drifts off once they are fully relaxed and they die peacefully.
“There is, however, a small element of truth in the Facebook post. It’s something I’ve experienced from time-to-time, including once when I had a dog whimpering for its owner. But it’s not hugely common and often the dog is too ill to even realise if the owner is not there.
“If you are scared, talk to the vet and nurse about what is required of you before going in. It really shouldn’t be a big scary unknown.”
So to all the pet owners out there – maybe don’t believe everything you read on social media. And have faith in the fact that most veterinary staff are in their jobs because they love animals so will more than likely do everything they can to make the putting down process as painless as possible.
(Images: Getty / Tails.com)