Euthanasia is the bringing about of a gentle and easy death, without pain or distress, usually for an animal suffering from a terminal disease. The word literally means an "easy and painless death."
Euthanasia of a terminally ill family pet is one of the most difficult decisions pet owners may have to make. Some people feel that it is like "playing God" and do not feel comfortable making such a decision. Others feel it is a way of preventing their loved one from suffering, especially when there is no hope of a cure. The decision is centered on the issue of quality of life – quality of life of your pet and quality of life for you. There are many issues to consider when it is time for your hamster to be put to sleep.
How Is It Done?
A solution is injected into your pet, which gives an overdose of a very potent anesthetic agent. Once given, your hamster will go into a deep sleep as though he is going to have surgery, but while asleep his heart and breathing will stop. This happens very quickly so he will not feel any pain. Occasionally, muscle spasms or gasping may occur. Although it may be difficult to watch, these are merely reflexes (involuntary actions) and only occur after the hamster has died.
Hamsters have very small blood vessels, especially when they are sick, dehydrated or in shock. It may be impossible to give the euthanasia solution intravenously. In such cases, your veterinarian may first anesthetize your pet with an inhalant anesthetic, and then will administer the euthanasia solution by an intracardiac injection (into the heart).
Here are several considerations you should think about before having your hamster euthanized:
Is it Time?
This is the most difficult question. Unfortunately, your hamster cannot tell you when it is time. Consider the issue of quality of life. Is your hamster having a good life? Are the bad days outnumbering the good days? Remember what your hamster was like four weeks ago or even one week ago compared to right now. Happy hamsters are active. Sick hamsters are lethargic, hunched, and will not eat or drink.
Do You Want To Be Present?
You can be present when your hamster is euthanized. Some people like to be there until the end (they may watch or turn their heads when the injection is given) but it allows them to be there for their pet. Remember that it can be difficult to watch if you have not seen intracardiac injections before.
This is often a very emotional time but it may help with closure. Others like to say their good-byes before the procedure, and then view their pet after he has passed. Take time to make this decision before the day arrives. Your veterinarian may help in your decision-making.
What About After Euthanasia?
After your pet is euthanized, you will have to decide what you would like done with his remains. There are several options. You can take your hamster home to bury. Remember to dig deep enough and in an area where the site will not be disturbed by anyone or stray animals. Another option is to have your veterinarian arrange to have a service take care of the remains, which can be a communal (together with other animals) or individual burial. Some pet cemeteries have individual gravesites that you can visit. Lastly, you can have your hamster cremated and have the ashes returned to you. Most services do individual cremation (you will get only your pet's ashes back), but make sure to ask.
Do You Have Any Questions For Your Veterinarian?
Before you make this decision, make sure that you do not have any more questions and that you understand what is going on with your hamster (disease, treatment options and prognosis). This way you can make an educated decision and minimize regrets or doubts.
Do You Have Someone Who Can Go With You?
Putting your pet to sleep is a very difficult process to go through, and it may help to have someone there with you to give you support. Being prepared will help things go smoother and be less awkward. Your veterinarian will discuss all of the above with you, but it will be a very emotional time and it will be easier if you have made some of these decisions ahead of time.
Be assured that your hamster will not feel any pain during this procedure. In many ways we are lucky to be able to provide this humane act of love to our pets.