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Just Ask the Expert: Should housemates be present during a pet's euthanasia?
Dr. John Ciribassi discusses whether this measure can decrease a pet's post-traumatic depression.
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My neighbor has an older pug that is unable to get around, and she has decided to have the dog euthanized. She also has a younger pug that has slept with the older pug for the past several years. She asked me if taking the younger dog with her when the euthanasia is performed and letting it see and smell the older dog after it has been euthanized would decrease the post-traumatic effects on the younger dog. In my 35 years of practice, I have never done this but have seen situations in which the surviving dog is often depressed for several weeks.
A. In the general practice where I work, it is common for pet owners to report that, after the loss of a pet in the household, one or more of the remaining pets went through a period of what can only be described as depression. These pets showed a reduction in activity and interaction with others in the home and a decrease in appetite. Most of the time when this occurs, it is short-lived, and owners are encouraged to try to engage the pets in multiple activities to hasten the transition.
John Ciribassi, DVM, DACVB
What is not clear is whether having another pet present during euthanasia makes a difference in the length or severity of the depressed state or the probability of its occurring. I am not aware of any research on this topic, and I cannot recall a personal episode in which I have had a client consider this option. My suspicion is that it will likely not have much impact one way or another on the remaining pet's attitude after the death of its housemate. This, however, is pure conjecture on my part.
What I will say is that the effect of having the surviving pet present during a euthanasia procedure may be more of a benefit for the pet owner than for the animal itself. I would suspect that having the remaining pet present comforts the owner and helps make the situation a bit more bearable, thereby reducing the family's level of anxiety. Since we know that pets are good at picking up on the emotions of people in their circles, it is quite possible that the relaxation in owners provided by the presence of a remaining pet during a euthanasia may result in a calmer attitude in the pet itself.
This situation is similar to deciding whether children in the family should be present at the time of a pet's euthanasia. I've always suggested to owners to not deny children the opportunity to grieve if having them present will not actually increase the owners' level of anxiety. These same considerations could be thought of when it comes to the four-legged members of the family.
John Ciribassi, DVM, DACVB
Chicagoland Veterinary Behavior Consultants
1042 Mountain Glen Valley
Carol Stream, IL 60188