As pet owners, we endeavour to make sure that our faithful companions stay fit and healthy, enabling them to live to an old age. Unfortunately, our pets do not live as long as us and at some point, we will have to prepare to let them go. Sadly, few of our pets pass peacefully away in their sleep. Therefore, we all wish to do the right thing at the right time, fulfilling our responsibility and commitment in their final days. We hope these words will help you and your family in a time of conflicting emotions.
Nobody knows their pet better than you and your closest family and friends, so let them help and share in making a reasoned judgement on your pet’s quality of life.
Indications that things may not be well may include:
- Loss of appetite
- A reluctance to play and move around as normal
- Restlessness or becoming withdrawn from you
When the time is right to put your pet to sleep, you may see evidence of a combination of all the above indicators and your pet may seem distressed, uncomfortable or disorientated within your home.
Is there nothing more I can do?
As your vet, we will discuss all treatment options available for your pet to relieve their symptoms, but there will come a time when all forms of treatment have been exhausted, we have discovered the disease is incurable, or you feel your pet is suffering too much. You and your family may wish to talk with your Veterinary Surgeon to help you all come to this final decision; in this case, we will arrange an appointment for you.
When and where can we say goodbye?
We hope this section will help you and your family understand your pet’s end-of-life journey. This is known as ‘euthanasia’ but often referred to as ‘putting to sleep’. After discussing with your family and your vet, and having decided that the time has come, you can contact your surgery and make an appointment. We will always try to make this appointment at a time that is convenient for you – usually at a quieter time of the day.
It is also possible to arrange this appointment to be performed in the comfort of your own home. If this is an option you would like, we will do our best to arrange a home visit. In these cases, a vet and a nurse will visit your home. When they have put your pet to sleep, they will either take the body back to the surgery for cremation or leave them with you to bury at home. Additional charges will apply for this service and certain times of day may be restricted.
Will I be able to stay with my pet?
Being present when your pet is put to sleep will be both emotional and distressing, but the majority of owners feel that they give comfort to their pet during their last moments, and can make their final goodbyes. But this is not comfortable for everyone; we understand if you do not want to stay in the room with your pet but make your goodbyes afterwards. We will always make time for you and your family to do this.
What will happen?
Initially, your vet or another member of our team will ask you to sign a consent form to give us permission to put your pet to sleep. You may have already discussed with your vet what you then wish to do with your pet’s body, but we will confirm this on the consent form.
Many owners are surprised by how peaceful euthanasia can be. Euthanasia involves injecting an overdose of anaesthetic into the vein of your pet’s front leg. Some of our vets would have previously inserted a catheter into the vein or sedated your pet if they are particularly nervous or uncomfortable.
After the anaesthetic has been injected, your pet’s heart will stop beating and they will rapidly lose consciousness and stop breathing. Your vet will check that their heart has stopped beating and confirm that they have passed away. On occasion, the pet’s muscles and limbs may tremble and they may gasp a few times, these are reflex actions only – not signs of life – but may be upsetting. If they occur, they are unavoidable. Your pet’s eyes will remain open and it is normal for them to empty their bowel or bladder as the body shuts down.
What happens next?
There are several options available for your pet. Your Veterinary team can discuss these with you and give you an idea of costs involved.
- Communal Cremation – Leave your pet with us to be cremated with other pets. With this type of cremation, no ashes will be returned to you. For the majority of our clients, this is the most appropriate form of closure.
- Individual Cremation – A private cremation for your pet at our nominated crematorium company, Pet Cremation Services (PCS). Your pet’s ashes will then be returned to you in either a sealed casket of your choice or a scatter box, for you and your family to scatter their ashes in a location of your choice. Our team will have several options you can choose from.
- ‘Taking them home’ – You can also take your pet home for burial, but please bear in mind this may not always be practical.
- Some surgeries also have a local pet cemetery company that will arrange everything from collecting your pet from the vet, preparing a grave and performing the burial. Our practice team will be able to give you further information.
When will I need to decide?
We would encourage you and your family to discuss these options before your pet is put to sleep, and to let your vet know. We will keep a note of your wishes with your pet’s notes. However, in some cases the euthanasia may have occurred after an accident and you will need more time to make this decision. It is possible for us to keep your pet for a short time afterwards, to give you and your family time to reflect before making a decision.
Coping with the loss
Everyone deals with grief in different ways. When grieving for a much-loved pet, you or other members of your family may experience a range of emotions from shock, denial, disbelief and, very often, guilt. Should you wish to talk to anyone at your Veterinary surgery, we can offer support and advice.
If, after reading these pages, there are still facts you would like to know, we will be more than happy to help. Please contact us at the surgery.
The following organisations can provide further help and support:
My Family Pet - Coping with the Death of Your Pet
My Family Pet - Helping Children Understand Pet Loss
The Blue Cross also offer a bereavement support line if you would like to talk to someone. The number is 0800 0966606.
A anonymous poem written for a dog
If it should be that I grow weak,
And pain should keep me from my sleep,
Then you must do what must be done,
For this last battle can’t be won.
You will be sad - I understand,
Don’t let your grief then stay your hand,
For this day more than all the rest,
Your love for me must stand the test.
We’ve had so many happy years,
What is to come can hold no fears,
You’d not want me to suffer so,
The time has come to let me go.
Take me where me needs they’ll tend,
And please stay with me ‘till the end,
Hold me firm and speak to me,
Until my eyes no longer see.
I know in time that you will see,
The kindness that you do for me,
Although my tail its last has waved,
From pain and suffering I’ve been saved.
Please do not grieve it must be you,
Who has this painful thing to do,
We’ve been so close we two these years,
Don’t let you heart hold back its tears.