When It’s Time To Say Goodbye: Your Guide to Your Pet’s End of Life Options

By: Ian Nicholson | Oct 19, 2022

When It’s Time To Say Goodbye: Your Guide to Your Pet’s End of Life Options

As pet parents, we form special bonds with our animal companions. Whether they are facing a terminal illness or the final weeks of their lives, we may struggle with uneasy choices. How can we do what is best for our furry friends? We have provided this guide to help you better understand your options. This brief overview covers hospice, palliative care, and euthanasia.


What Is Hospice for Pets?


Hospice care for pets resembles human hospice care in many ways. It’s usually a suitable choice for those diagnosed with terminal illnesses. Senior animals near the end of their lives may also qualify for hospice. As the ASPCA explains, the fundamental aim is to offer the best possible quality of life during this stage. This means reducing pain while supporting the animal’s comfort.

You may hear the terms “palliative care” and “hospice” used interchangeably. Depending on who you ask, there’s a fine distinction between the two. The American Kennel Club clarifies that palliative care can include treatment for an animal’s illness. Meanwhile, hospice focuses on helping death be as merciful, dignified, and painless as possible.


How Do I Provide Hospice or Palliative Care?


While hospice can occur in any setting, it primarily involves in-home care. Any hospice or palliative care plan should accommodate your companion animal’s needs. Components may include diet, medications, and therapies. Above all, the connection between you and your furry companion is essential.

As a pet parent, you will serve as the primary caregiver. After all, the prime goal is to relieve suffering during your furry loved one’s final days. You should evaluate a few important considerations before committing to hospice:

  • Are you equipped to supply the care your pet needs?
  • Do you have the commitment needed to perform this care?
  • Will the benefits of your care outweigh any suffering?


When Is Euthanasia an Appropriate Option?


When palliative or hospice care cannot improve your pet’s quality of life, it may be appropriate to end their suffering. The American Veterinary Medical Association suggests some practical guidelines to help you put your furry friend’s condition into perspective:

  • Can my pet still enjoy things that they once loved?
  • Can they respond to me in their usual ways?
  • Do they experience a lot more pain than pleasure?
  • Are they having more bad days than good ones?

As your pet ages, you should regularly consult with your vet. This professional can offer more insight into your furry companion’s condition. Some key factors include possible treatment outcomes, potential disabilities, and exceptional care needs. Your vet can also help you weigh available treatment options to figure out whether they’re beneficial or may prolong suffering.


What Happens When My Pet Is Put to Sleep?


Veterinarians conduct the euthanasia process with care and empathy. Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine details how it typically takes place. Most practices ask pet parents to make an appointment in advance. After your arrival, you will need to sign a consent form.

Once you’ve completed the necessary forms, your vet’s staff will take you and your pet to a private room. You may choose to stay in the room during the procedure, talking to your pet and comforting them. Your vet will start by installing a catheter in one of your pet’s veins. Saline solution is injected into the catheter, followed by a mild sedative. Next, the euthanasia drug is introduced into the IV line.

As the euthanasia medication takes effect, your pet’s muscles will relax. Their bowels and bladder should release anything that’s still inside. Involuntary muscle movements can occur due to leftover neurotransmitters in the nerve endings. Even so, your pet feels nothing at this stage. Depending on physical signs and appearance, your vet may need to check for a heartbeat to confirm that they’ve passed away.


What If I Can’t Get to the Vet?


If you cannot travel to the vet for a euthanasia appointment, at-home alternatives may be available. Potential providers include mobile veterinary practices and pet hospice organizations. You may need to attend a telephone or video consultation prior to the appointment. Other than the setting, at-home euthanasia procedures are the same as those performed in veterinary offices.


Will My Pet Feel Any Pain, Distress, or Discomfort?


Medications for euthanasia are identical to anesthetics used during surgery. At their typical doses, they only make an animal lose consciousness. Higher doses trigger unconsciousness plus a loss of heart and lung function within a few minutes. For most animals, it simply feels like they’re drifting off to sleep.

After your companion has passed away, you can spend a few moments alone with them. In some cases, an animal’s eyes may stay open. If this occurs with your pet, you can ask your vet to close them. You needn’t worry about your emotional reactions or try to prevent them — grieving the loss of a furry friend is perfectly natural.


What Aftercare Options Do I Have?


You have several choices for memorializing your pet after they’ve passed away. Cremation options include traditional flame-based techniques and aquamation, an eco-friendlier method involving a process known as alkaline hydrolysis. Aquamation is an accelerated form of natural decomposition that uses a sterile alkaline-water solution. It breaks down animal remains into a liquid water solution and bone mineral fragments. After the liquid is safely released as wastewater, the mineral fragments are dried, powdered, placed in an urn, and given to the pet’s family.


How Can I Make Final Arrangements for My Pet?


Some veterinary practices can make cremation arrangements on behalf of their clients. However, you’re free to seek outside help with burial, cremation, or aquamation. You can check your local area listings or find a provider accredited through the International Association of Pet Cemeteries and Crematoriums. Be sure to research local laws concerning pet burial before proceeding.

Saying goodbye to a cherished animal companion isn’t easy. Emotions run high, so you may not know how to handle these final weeks. Valuable information plus a strong support network can help you face such challenges. With this assistance, you can make wise decisions about your pet’s welfare.

Guide to End-of-Life Care Options
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Guide to End-of-Life Care Options
How can you care for a terminally ill or elderly pet? Read this helpful guide on hospice, palliative care and euthanasia at Healthcare for Pets.
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Healthcare for Pets
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Disclaimer: healthcareforpets.com and its team of veterinarians and clinicians do not endorse any products, services, or recommended advice. All advice presented by our veterinarians, clinicians, tools, resources, etc is not meant to replace a regular physical exam and consultation with your primary veterinarian or other clinicians. We always encourage you to seek medical advice from your regular veterinarian.

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