When it’s time to say goodbye
How do I know it is time?
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 away peacefully in their sleep. We all therefore 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.
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 make this appointment at a time that is convenient for you and 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 you 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 and we understand if you do not want to stay in the room with your pet but say 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 how peaceful euthanasia can be. Euthanasia involves injecting an overdose of anaesthetic into the vein of your pet’s front leg. Sometimes it is necessary to insert a catheter into the vein or sedate 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 you may see your pet gasp a few times. These are reflex actions only and 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 afterwards?
There are several options available for your pet and your veterinary team can discuss these with you and give you an idea of costs involved.
- Communal Cremation where you leave your pet with us to be cremated with other pets. In 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 for them.
- Individual Cremation involves a private individual 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 let your vet know. We will keep a note of your wishes with 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, and 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.
Catherine Sweet, MBACP Counselling Fdsc, has written the following article looking at how to help children cope with the loss of a pet.
If after reading these pages there are still facts you would like to know we will be more than happy to help with these. Please contact us at the surgery.
The following organisations can provide further help and support:
The Blue Cross also offer a bereavement support line if you would like to talk to someone. The number is 0800 0966606.
The sites above also offer special books that have been written to help your children understand the loss of their pets.