For many of us, losing a pet is like losing a member of the family. They have often been our companion, our confidant and our support through tough times and it is perfectly normal to grieve for them as you would a person. We cannot always predict when we will lose our pet, but as they get older, or if they have been diagnosed with a terminal illness, it is best to start preparing to say goodbye and have open and honest discussions with your veterinary team.
Preparing to say goodbye
Unfortunately, our pets have shorter life spans than we do and we need to be prepared that when illness, old age or injury start to affect their quality of life, euthanasia needs to be considered. With veterinary intervention, we can ensure that they have a peaceful and dignified end to their life. Your vet will be able to advise and guide you in making that difficult decision. They can help to prepare you to recognise when the time has come and give you all the details on what options are available to you and your pet.
Involving the whole family
When saying goodbye to a pet, it is important to get the whole family involved. With children, it is particularly important that you are honest with them about what is happening; this may be their first experience of death and how this is handled can influence their reactions to death later in life. Use clear language and the words ‘death’ and ‘died’ to help them understand the pet is not going to come back. Avoid saying that the pet has ‘gone missing’ and do not say the pet is being ‘put to sleep’, as children may later worry that going to sleep means never waking up again. The support groups listed at the end of this article can provide advice for children dealing with pet bereavement.
How will I know when it is time for my pet to be euthanased?
Your vet knows your pet and any concurrent conditions they have, so it is best to talk to them about this. When considering euthanasia, you must put your pet’s mental and physical wellbeing before your own thoughts of loss. It is important to consider their quality of life rather than prolonging their life. Write down all the activities your pet used to enjoy and assess whether they are still able to do these things or get enjoyment from them. Record on a calendar when they have “good” days and “bad” days; if the bad days start outnumbering the good days, then this is an indication that you should call your vet and have an honest and open discussion. Your veterinary team are a source of support to help guide you during this difficult time and will be able to help you make the difficult decision of euthanasia when the time is right.
What should I expect when my pet is euthanased?
Currently, City Road are still following government advice surrounding COVID19, so it’s best to contact us directly to discuss the current stipulations surround client access to the building.
In ‘normal’ non COVID circumstances, you can usually be with your pet during the euthanasia, although do what feels best for you; some people find it too difficult and prefer to say goodbye to their pet beforehand.
On the day, you will be asked to sign a consent form, a necessary formality in order for the vet to perform the euthanasia. The vet will often be assisted by a veterinary nurse and, depending on your pet, they may offer a sedative first to help relax them. In dogs and cats, a small area of fur will be shaved from a front leg, and the euthanasia injection is gently administered into the vein. If your pet is old or very ill, the vet may have difficulty finding a vein and may need to put the injection into another location. Small furry animals are often given anaesthetic gas first so that they are asleep before the injection is given.
How does the euthanasia injection work and what will happen to my pet?
The painless injection is an overdose of an anaesthetic, within seconds your pet will lose consciousness and within one to two minutes their breathing and heart will stop. Once the injection has been administered, your vet will check your pet’s heart to make sure it has stopped beating and they will let you know when they have passed. After your pet has died, their eyes will remain open, their muscles may twitch, they may urinate or pass bowel motions and there might be an involuntary gasp or two. During this time, it is completely natural to feel upset and cry, and you should not feel embarrassed – your veterinary team understands the special human-animal bond and will be there to support you.
What will happen to my pet’s body?
Once your pet has passed, you may want to consider keeping a small keepsake of your pet such as their collar, a paw print, or a small piece of their fur. The nursing team can help arrange this for you at your request. You can opt to take your pet home to be buried in the garden, or your pet can be cremated.
Cremation is arranged through your vets; communal and individual cremation options are available. If you arrange to have your pet cremated individually, you will have the ashes returned to you, either in a casket to keep (you can choose a design), or in a scatter box, so that you can distribute the ashes in a favourite spot. A communal cremation means that you will not be able to have your pet’s ashes returned. Whichever cremation option you choose, your pet will be treated with dignity and respect. Ask your vet clinic any questions about the cremation options available, the costs involved, and details about the pet crematorium.
Coping with the loss of a pet
It is completely normal to grieve for your pet as you would a person. You may go through a range of emotions; disbelief, denial, guilt, anger, sadness, depression and eventually acceptance. Some people will not appreciate the special bond you shared, so it is important to find someone to talk to who understands what the loss has meant to you and how you are feeling. Reach out for support during this difficult and emotional time.
Where to seek support
● Your veterinary team deal with animal loss every day and will know you and your pet well. They are a great source of comfort for you during this time
● Reach out to family and friends with pets who will understand what you are going through
● Talk to a specialist animal bereavement helpline for non-judgemental support and help
o Animal Samaritans Pet Bereavement Service (0203 745 9859)
o Pet Bereavement Support Service (0800 096 6606) https://www.bluecross.org.uk/pet-loss or email firstname.lastname@example.org
● If your grief is impacting your ability to function day to day it is important to seek the advice of a healthcare professional