The pain of saying goodbye to our pets is heartbreaking and although no amount of preparation will eliminate that pain, there are some considerations that may help you feel more in control of the situation. The term “euthanasia” originates from the Greek words meaning “good death.” When it is not an emergency and we have the time to plan a well-thought-out and peaceful goodbye for our pets, there are a multitude of things to consider for a “good death.” We often put off thinking, talking, and acting on those things that we know are going to be difficult as we face end-of-life decision-making on behalf of our pets. However, it can be beneficial to plan some of these things ahead of time, so you can reduce some of the stress of the day and focus more on yourself and your pet. Additionally, if you take time to plan, you can make this hard goodbye meaningful for you which will help you in your grief process after your loss.
If you have made the difficult, yet loving decision to humanely euthanize your pet, the following considerations are ones that you can explore with your family and your veterinarian.
- Who will perform the euthanasia? Do you wish to take your pet to your family vet or do you want to have a veterinarian come to your home? Many areas have in-home euthanasia services that allow for families to make appointments day or night, and even weekends to say goodbye in the comfort of their homes.
- Who will be present? Do you want to be present? What about family, friends, other pets?
- Where will the euthanasia occur? If you are taking your pet to a clinic, inquire if there is a quiet space in their facility or perhaps an outside garden area. If you are saying goodbye at your house, consider your pet’s favorite spot, whether it is outside or in the living room, and what feels good to you and your family.
- What will the doctor need to do and what should I expect? Ask your veterinarian to walk you through what the euthanasia will look like as not all practices are the same. It can be good to know whether a catheter will be placed, how fast the medication will work, and what natural body reactions you may see at the time of your pet’s death. This knowledge will help you prepare so nothing will catch you off guard.
- Do you want a necropsy performed on your pet? Some veterinary teaching hospitals offer a postmortem study of the body, similar to an autopsy in humans. This exam can sometimes shed light on a disease process and can teach students more about a disease. Inquire with your veterinarian if this is option is available.
- How will you create a comfortable space? Do you want to have music playing, low lights, perhaps you wish to read a poem or something similar?
- What are your wishes about caring for your pet’s body? Do you want a private cremation for your pet so that you get his/her individual cremains returned to you? Do you wish to bury your pet and if so where can you do that and who will you ask to help you do this?
- How would you like to memorialize your pet? Do you wish to have a paw print made of your pet’s paw or keep a locket of hair? Should you save your pet’s collar?
- How will you care for yourself afterwards? Who will help support you through this time? Some families consider support groups, private counseling and ways to honor your pet’s memory.
These are just some suggestions, and there may be other things you wish to plan for. The important thing is to consider what you want your pet’s last day with you to be like and plan from there. The goal is to minimize regrets, as you do not want to look back on that day and say “I wish I had done this or that,” but rather you want to reflect and be able to say it was a “good” goodbye.