Nearing the end of your pet's life is one of the hardest times you will face as a pet owner. Sometimes, your pet's quality of life has diminished so much that the decision is very clear. They may have a cancer diagnosis with a poor prognosis, or they could have a chronic disease and out of treatment options. But, sometimes, the euthanasia decision is not black and white, and making this final decision may feel very hard. I will say that I see many people who look back and regret not making this decision a little sooner, which can lead to some feelings of guilt that can complicate your grief. While evaluating your pet's quality of life, consider scheduling a consultation with one of our vets. If your pet has been examined recently, you can call us, and we can discuss it over the phone. You can also use a quality-of-life scale.

However, some clients feel that these can oversimplify this important decision. I like to have clients look at these when some family members are in disagreement about whether or not it is time. The questions can initiate some good discussion among your family.

Last Days Bucket List Items

As you are nearing the end of your pet's life – your family might enjoy making a bucket list for your pet. This can be a fun, upbeat way of celebrating them. This may include a hike or a romp in a river. Perhaps it includes a drive-through for some yummy treats. Not only do you have to include the things your pet loves, but what about the things they "hate"?? How about a good, long bark session directed at the UPS guy?

Consider the timing of the euthanasia

Once you have decided that your pet's quality of life has diminished to the point that it is time to schedule euthanasia, there are a few things to consider about scheduling.

Where and When?

Below, we will address where you should consider having this done. As for addressing, When – Once you have assessed the quality of life and come to this tough decision with all members of your family included - you will probably be anxious to get this scheduled. Once you realize that your pet is suffering, it is very normal to feel like you need to do this ASAP. Whether or not you are scheduling in the morning, evening, or middle of the day will depend on your family's schedule. We see the most euthanasias during holiday breaks, which is understandable, as many families are waiting for someone to come home so that they can say goodbye. This works unless your pet's suffering is too much for them to wait, and in these cases, family members may have to say goodbye over Facetime. Ideal? No. But then, euthanasia cannot always be scheduled at the perfect time for everyone.

The most important thing for timing is to look at when it is right for the pet; this is more important than anything. After all, these guys have given us so much, and this is our gift to them. No more pain, no more suffering!

Where to have this service done?

If you wish, Redstone can arrange for one of our Doctors and technicians to come to your home. This is especially nice for pets if they are nervous about coming into the veterinary clinic. We typically need to plan this out a few days ahead of time.

Some clients prefer to come into the hospital. I had suggested a housecall for a certain patient, and the client responded that she could never do that at home because she wouldn't be able to stop thinking about it whenever she walked into that particular room. This person understood that about herself, and I am glad that she had considered this. This is why there isn't ever a "One size fits all" approach to euthanasia. You may prefer to come into the clinic, or perhaps it is a last-minute decision, and we aren't able to come over and do a house call in the timeline that the pet needs this done. We are very flexible with our euthanasia appointments at our hospital, as we consider euthanasia to be one of the most important things we do. We will never turn our clients away for this service, even on a busy day.

In order to schedule this, give us a call, and we will walk you through the process. You will need to decide who you would like to be there. It may just be you, or you may want to bring your entire family. That is a very personal decision, and each member of the family may want to make their own decision on whether they would like to come or say goodbye at home. I would encourage you to have a very open, honest discussion with all members of the family, even the children. It is important for children to have an opportunity to say goodbye to their pets in their own way. If a child is unable to say goodbye, they may carry that regret for a long time.

How does the euthanasia process work exactly?

Whether at home or at the hospital, the doctor will follow your cues with how slowly or quickly you would like to move through the process. Everyone is different. Typically, the doctor or technician will give the animal an injection of a sedating drug like morphine so that they can begin relaxing. The drug that is given does not sting or make the pet nauseous. In the clinic, we will have a thick mat on the floor for the large dogs, and for smaller dogs or cats, we will have a blanket on a table.

Once the animal is relaxed, we will go ahead and give an intravenous injection of the drug that will euthanize the pet. This drug is basically an overdose of a drug that used to be used for anesthesia. The animal will be under anesthesia when their heart stops; therefore, they don't have any fear, pain, or anxiety. You will probably see your pet's breathing slow down and stop, and their muscles relax. Every now and then, there can be some unexpected things that happen during euthanasia:

  • Irregular breathing or gasping
  • Some movement
  • Or even a small moan

These are all VERY normal at the end of life and are just part of the body's relaxation process at the end. You are welcome to pet your animal and tell them how much you love them during this process. I would encourage you to stay with your pet during this process if you are able to do this. There are some people who cannot stay with their pets. We will not judge you for this, and we will make the process pain and stress-free for your pet whether or not you are there.

Why use an IV catheter?

For some animals, the doctor may recommend that we place an IV catheter. I will sometimes do this if we have a lot of small children and watching the animal get a little poke could be upsetting for them, or if the client would really like to hold the pet in their lap during the process. Trust your veterinarian, as they will guide you through the process. They have your pet's best interest in mind, and they will also be thinking about how to make this tough process as easy as possible for your family.

Does this affect my veterinarian?

How do you do this all the time? Is this the worst part of your job? Veterinarians get this question a lot. And, in short – No, this absolutely is not the worst part of my job. We don't euthanize animals unless we believe that this is the best thing for them. Relieving suffering is our calling, and euthanasia can be a beautiful thing for an animal at the end of their life.

Yes, our hearts break for you as we understand how hard it can be to say goodbye. But it is truly an honor to be able to be with your family during this intimate, heart-wrenching process. Some of my most beautiful memories after 20+ years as a veterinarian are of clients telling me a sweet story before their pet passes or of them petting and kissing their animal, telling them that they have been "the best boy ever." What an honor to bear witness to this love. 

Anger during euthanasia?

This is occasionally something we will see. I am not a counselor, but from what I have learned about the anger/sadness connection – I would encourage my clients going through this to try and stay in their primary emotion (sadness) and not allow themselves to move to something easier to experience (anger). If you are not your "best self" on this day, our staff is committed to showing you grace as we understand how hard this is to go through.  

How do I deal with the grief of pet loss?

I am not a grief counselor, I am a veterinarian. But I will give you my advice after a lot of experience with grief.

"Feel the feels". I don't like the advice "Try to keep busy," etc. I would say – slow down, and when you feel the grief coming, let it wash over you and let your heart go there. At some point, you will have to face it in order to be able to keep moving forward.

I think it is good to talk about it as it comes up, talk to a family member, or call/text a friend. If you are having trouble moving forward, call us, and we can recommend a pet loss support group. Talking to a grief counselor may also be helpful. The pet compassion care line is open 24/7 for grief support at 855-245-8214

Children, euthanasia, and grief

You may find it difficult to explain euthanasia to a child. My recommendation would be to stay away from euphemisms and try to describe it more literally so that the child can understand. Try to stay away from saying, "We are going to put ____ to sleep." Instead, say, "We are going to help _______ to die peacefully so that he doesn't have to suffer and have any more pain."

Parents often ask me if their kids should be present at the euthanasia, and obviously, there isn't a "one size fits all" answer for all families; I think it depends on your parenting style and also your kids. I am a parent who hasn't tried to shield my kids from the realities of our broken world. They watched the news, and when we went to NYC, we toured the 9/11 Memorial Museum. And once they were old enough to understand euthanasia, they made all of their own decisions on whether or not to be present. I find that, often, what kids dream up in their heads – is much worse than the actual euthanasia experience. Therefore, it can be helpful for them to be there so that they don't make up stories about what happened to their pet.

A kid's grief can look very different than ours. Some kids (my daughter!) will be asking for a new pet on their way home from the euthanasia, and parents can find this infuriating. But please know that this is a very normal reaction from a child. You will have some children (my son!) who are still sad and crying six months later. This is also very normal! Allow your child to talk about their pet and the memories. You may want to read some books together (I listed my favorites below). Some kids may find that filling out a memorial book can help them to move forward with their grief.  

Warning: All of these books might make you cry, but like I said – that gives you an opportunity to sit in your grief for a while. The Rainbow Bridge book is pretty upbeat, though.

Here is a $5 pet memory book that your child can fill out, which can be very therapeutic.

What happens after my pet's euthanasia?

Leaving your pet after euthanasia may be really hard. Although some people want to leave RIGHT AWAY, and it is very normal as well. If you are having a hard time leaving, we can sit with your pet while you go, and that might make it a tiny bit easier.

We will ask you if you would like to take a little clipping of fur with you. Sometimes, children find it helpful to have something to hold onto as they leave.

We will ask you if you would like a paw print as a memorial of your pet. This paw print is made out of clay, and it is made after the pet's death, as many animals do not like their feet being touched. We will have the paw print ready for you to pick up about a week later (we will call you). They are baked and will have your animal's name on it.  

What should I do with my pet's body?

We will assist you in deciding this. You will need to have your pet cremated as there are regulations about not burying euthanized animals. You can decide if you would like your pet to be cremated by themselves, and then the ashes will be returned to you. Otherwise, we can arrange for your pet to be cremated with a few other animals, and then the ashes are spread at a location in the mountains.

This is a very personal decision. Some people are attached to their pet's cremains, and some aren't, and both are okay!

Help! My other pet is grieving!

If you have another pet at home, be sure to take some extra time to pet, walk, brush, and just spend some extra time with them. It is hard to predict how a pet will grieve, and they are all different – just like kids! Some animals bounce back fast and seem to love being the only dog or cat. Others sulk for weeks and even refuse meals.

In order to aid your pet in the grief process, I would urge you to consider bringing your other animal to the euthanasia. We believe this may help them to "understand" what is happening. However, some people don't want the other animal to be a distraction, and I understand that. If you do bring your other pet along, don't be surprised if they seem disinterested or "uncaring"; this is a normal reaction for an animal.

Other tips I like to share:

  • If your deceased animal had belongings specific to them (a bed, bowl, etc), pick these items up and put them away.
  • If your pet doesn't seem to be recovering after a few weeks, please call us so that we can assist. I have had a few animals that we use pharmaceuticals to help them recover.  

I hope this little write-up was helpful while you are trying to make end of life decisions for your animal. Please don't hesitate to call or email us, as we would like to be your partner while you are making these tough decisions.