This is not a happy topic to discuss. It is an even unhappier thing to have to experience. However, when it comes to our pets and even livestock, this is sometimes a necessary and humane decision. When an animal has a terminal disease and their quality of life is poor with no real hope of improvement, often the decision is made to end suffering. In other instances, the cost of treatment is too great, or the risk of bad outcome is overwhelming and does not warrant putting the animal through the procedure to try for good outcome. In the case of livestock, the procedure or treatment outweighs the financial worth of the animal or potential worth in some cases. This may sound harsh to some, but the reality is that farmers are trying to be responsible and make good financial decisions while still acting in a humane manner. As veterinarians we are tasked with upholding the human/animal bond in whatever manner that presents and as human beings we are tasked as being good stewards of our lesser counterparts on this earth. I feel, as many of my colleagues do as well, that this means often having to recommend and carry out this act of humane euthanasia. Natural death can be slow and grueling, not to mention painful to watch for those around them. Suffering is not something many of us can stomach, nor should we when we are able to end suffering in a painless way.
For pet animals, the process is usually an injection or series of injections that are focused on deep anesthesia and shutting down the cardiovascular system while the animal is unconscious. We do not use paralytics, we do not “Stop the heart” in an abrupt and painful manner, or use any method that leads to a stressful passing. We try very hard to make the process a smooth transition for the animals and the owners. In livestock, this process can still occur in this manner; but, in some cases euthanasia by lethal injection renders the animal unusable for any means, especially human consumption. That may too sound harsh, but these are food animals and to be wasteful of a life is also not being a good steward. There are times where an animal is in pain and treatment is not reasonable; but, the body is still unharmed and can be used as food (like in the instance of recent broken leg on a market ready steer).
Once the animal has been put down and that process is complete, owners still have a choice regarding what to do with the animal. Cremation is often an option for pet owners. Cremation can allow you to have the animal or some physical item to keep close that helps with closure for the owner. Owners that own land or live in the country can chose to bury their beloved friend close to home (so long as city and county ordinances allow). Cost can be a factor in this decision as some cremation expenses can be more that budgetary constraints prevent. In the case of livestock, there are state guidelines that must be adhered to. In the state of North Carolina, livestock animals must be disposed of either by removal with an approved service for rendering, buried to a suitable depth, or fully incinerated to ash (not as easy as it sounds) within 24 hours. If this is not carried out according to state law, it is a misdemeanor and punishable by state guidelines.
Poppies are a symbol of remembrance for those who have crossed the Rainbow Bridge
We as veterinarians understand the emotional toll sickness and injury take on our patients and their families, both big and small. We are here to help treat, repair, heal and ease where possible; but, we are also here to end suffering when there is nothing more we can do. It is the basis of why I became a veterinarian…not be helpless and stand by, but to act. Sometimes the action required is a difficult one, but an action none the same.