Pet Loss and Grieving

By: Emily Gaugh, DVM

TVMA Member
Houston, TX

Published July 2016

Saying goodbye to a beloved pet is one of the most difficult things a pet owner can experience. Although there is no way to make a pet’s passing less painful, understanding what is involved can make you more prepared for when the time comes.

Making the Decision

There comes a time when we, as pet owners, may have to consider our pet’s quality of life. Our pets cannot speak to us about their pain or symptoms. This can make it difficult to ensure a pet is comfortable toward the end of his or her life without your veterinarian’s help and guidance. Make sure you have a good conversation with your veterinarian about what to expect with your pet’s medical needs and what to look out for when your pet is no longer comfortable. Some pets require hospitalized care while others can be cared for at home.

Always remember that you know your pet better than anyone. It can be helpful to think of two or three rules that apply to your pet’s quality of life. For pets that love to eat food and suddenly stop eating well, a good guideline would be, “My pet must not skip more than three meals before seeking counsel with my veterinarian.” If an older cat loves to cuddle in his or her owner’s lap but has now become reclusive and refuses to be held, you may consider this as a factor in your decision-making process.

Do You Want to Be Present?

Once you reach the decision that the best course of action for your pet is to humanely end its life, deciding whether to be present when it happens can be a very personal decision. Some people like the closure of being with their pet through the short peaceful process of euthanasia. Others wish only to remember their pet alive and the good times they shared. If you are struggling with not wanting to be present but fear leaving your pet alone, you may consider finding a close friend or family member to be present for you. All veterinary clinics understand your anxiety and work to make the process go as smoothly as possible whether you are present or not.

What to Expect During a Euthanasia Procedure

Every clinic will have a specific protocol concerning euthanasia so you will want to consult with your veterinarian. In general, most veterinarians will give you and your pet some time alone to say goodbye. A catheter may be placed in your pet’s arm while he or she is awake. Sometimes the pet will be lightly sedated first. If you choose to be present, when you are ready the veterinarian will give your pet a few painless injections, including medication to place your pet into a deep plane of anesthesia. Your pet will be unaware of his or her surroundings before more medication is given to stop the heart. You may continue to pet and talk to your animal throughout the procedure.

The procedure is humane and only takes a few minutes. Afterward, your veterinarian will listen to your pet’s chest for a heartbeat to ensure he or she has passed and may offer to give you a few moments alone.

Grieving

Whether you are coming to terms with a decision already made or trying to make that decision, it is common and normal to feel guilt and loneliness during these times. It is important to reach out to others experiencing the same thing or who have gone through it. Remember to forgive yourself and know that you offered your pet a loving home while he or she was in your care.

A Few Tips

Never hold back on bringing in a sick or older pet to your veterinarian because you are scared you will have to euthanize or receive bad news. It is important to start these conversations early. There may be a number of treatment options to help your pet’s quality of life. You will never be forced to do something you are not ready for, but you could prolong your pet’s suffering by not visiting the veterinarian. Above all, remember to cherish the time you have with your pets and to create as many happy memories as you can while they are in your care.

Emily Gaugh, DVM, is a graduate of Kansas State College of Veterinary Medicine who lives in Houston, Texas. Dr. Gaugh practices at Westbury Animal Hospital.