When it's time to say goodbye
It’s a difficult decision which we never want to have to make as pet owners. But sometimes euthanasia – or putting a pet to ‘sleep’ – is the only way in which we can ease our beloved companion’s pain and suffering. Letting them slip away quietly and peacefully can be an act of kindness to a much-loved companion.
Making the hard decision
It can be hard to know when the ‘right time’ is. Your vet will provide support and guidance and help you make this difficult decision. Don’t be afraid to ask any questions beforehand. The vet wants you to be absolutely sure that you’re making the right choice for your pet, so they will be happy to address any concerns you may have and will discuss all of the available options.
Although this will be a difficult conversation to have, it’s important to talk about your pet’s quality of life and think about how their wellbeing might be affected. You can use our advice, as well as speaking to family and friends, to help you work out if your pet’s quality of life is getting worse.
You can watch advice from one of our vets below:
Preparing to say goodbye
If you decide that it’s the right time, a vet or vet nurse will explain the process to you. In some cases where a pet is suffering, the vet may advise that the euthanasia needs to happen right away to preserve your pet’s welfare. Even in these sad circumstances, you’ll be able to have a few quiet moments alone with your companion to say goodbye.
If your vet advises that it won’t cause any unnecessary suffering, you may be able to make the appointment for another day. This means you can spend some more precious time with your pet. The veterinary team, including the reception staff, will help you make the appointment at a suitable time and try to ensure that you aren’t interrupted or rushed.
You can bring along a trusted family member or friend for support if you feel that this may help. If your pet is already hospitalised, then you can come in to see them beforehand or to be with them in their final moments. Some private vets may be able to offer home visits for a euthanasia appointment. PDSA aren’t typically able to offer home visits for our clients. However, all our Pet Hospital staff understand how difficult this time is and will treat both you and your pet with sensitivity and care.
One of the veterinary staff – a receptionist, vet or vet nurse – may speak to you about options for cremation and payment before your appointment. Most people choose to have these discussions beforehand so that they are able to focus on saying their goodbyes without having to think about other difficult decisions.
What happens during a euthanasia appointment?
The following information is designed to help prepare and guide you through the euthanasia process itself. Some of the information might be upsetting to read, but please remember that the procedure itself is quite peaceful and pain-free for your pet.
The vet will explain the procedure and what to expect. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or discuss your worries. You will be asked to sign a consent form to show you understand what will happen and which gives your permission for the vet to go ahead. The appointment will be very calm and your pet will be treated with dignity and respect throughout. Pets who are likely to become agitated or stressed can be given a light sedative beforehand to help make their last moments calm and relaxed.
Euthanasia will be carried out by giving an injection, usually into a vein on a front leg. If your pet is very old or frail, or if they have had a sedative which might affect their circulation, the vet may inject into another area of the body. Small pets are usually given a gas anaesthetic before the final injection. This can be dangerous for humans to breathe in so, unfortunately, you usually can’t be with them for the procedure. For most other pets, you can choose to stay with them if you prefer.
Your pet will be held gently by one of the nurses and the vet will give the injection. Your pet might feel a sharp scratch but the injection should be painless. In order to give the injection, some vets will prefer to place a catheter first. Sometimes, this will be done in a separate area where they have the right equipment, but please don’t worry: your companion should only be away for a few moments and they will bring them back before performing the euthanasia.
The injection is an anaesthetic, deliberately given in a larger than normal dose to stop the heart. As with all anaesthetics, your pet will first start to feel sleepy and then peacefully fall unconscious within a few seconds. After a short time, their breathing and heart will stop and the vet will check your pet using a stethoscope.
After they pass away, your pet’s eyes may stay open. As everything relaxes, they can sometimes empty their bladder or bowels. This is very normal and nothing to be worried about. Their muscles might twitch or tremor and occasionally they may give a few deep gasping sounds. This can be alarming if you are not expecting it, but it is a normal reflex reaction – your pet has already passed away and they aren’t in pain or distress.
Can I stay with my pet at the end? Should I?
This decision is completely up to you. Often, people will talk this through with their friends or family to decide what is right for them. Some people find being with their pet at the end of their life helps with coming to terms with the loss, or they feel they want to be there to reassure their pet. Others find it too distressing. Every pet and owner’s situation is different, so it is important not to feel guilty if you are unable to be there. Sometimes people choose to be present at the start, but to leave the room during the procedure and return at the end. Your vet understands how difficult this is for you so shouldn’t pressure you either way. Do whatever feels right for you and your pet.
If you choose to stay with your pet:
The vet will arrange things so that you are able to be near your pet. If you’re very upset your pet can pick up on this, so if you do choose to stay it’s best to try and keep as calm as possible. You can comfort your pet as they pass by petting them and talking to them reassuringly. After the procedure, you will usually be offered a few minutes alone with your pet to say your final goodbyes. If it is important to you, then you can ask the vet if you can say a prayer or perform any ritual which may be spiritually meaningful to you.
If you decided to stay with your pet but it becomes too much for you, it’s okay to step out of the room. You don’t have to say anything if you feel you can’t. If the procedure has already started then the vet will focus on making sure your pet passes away safely and calmly before checking on you. Take a moment to breathe and feel any emotions you might need to. You can come back in the room if you wish, or wait outside or in the waiting room until the procedure is complete.
If you choose to leave the room for the procedure:
If you don’t want to be involved at all, this is also understandable. The vet has to make sure you understand the decision so you will need to discuss the procedure and sign a consent form, but you can then leave when you are ready. If you don’t want to stay with your pet, the veterinary team will make sure their last moments are calm, comfortable and dignified.
Some people might prefer to not be there when their pet passes away, but would still want to say goodbye after they have passed. If you feel this way, let the staff know and they will arrange a quiet room for you to spend the time you need with your pet.
Should I bring my family or children with me?
Sometimes, other family members may want to join you to say goodbye to your pet. Everyone should make their own decision about whether they want to be there when your pet passes away. You can let the vet know who would like to stay and who would prefer to step out for the procedure.
For some children, losing a pet may be their first experience of death. They may feel that they have lost their best friend – an important member of their family – and they may feel very sad and lonely. The way in which children, young people and those around them deal with the loss of a pet may lay the foundation for how they cope with other losses later in their life. Bringing children to the appointment can give them a sense of closure, particularly for older children, but it can also be distressing for some. If they are too young to understand what is going on, they may not understand why you are upset. You know your child best and will be able to consider what is best for them on a case by case basis.
If you are bringing children or young people to a euthanasia appointment, make sure that they understand what is going to happen beforehand, at a comfortable level for their age. If bringing a vulnerable adult or young person then they will also need support in understanding the procedure so that they are prepared for what will happen.
Can I bring someone else to the appointment?
It’s okay to bring other people to the appointment with you. It can be difficult to take in information at an emotional time, or you may feel that you might not be able to drive or be alone afterwards. In this case it may be a good idea to invite a friend to come with you to the euthanasia appointment. They don’t have to come in with you (though they can if you wish) but it could be helpful to have someone to support you immediately after the appointment.
Do my other pets need to come?
Sometimes, people like to bring their other pets to a euthanasia appointment so that they can see their animal companion at the end. Some may feel this gives a sense of closure or prevents their other pets from worrying about what happened to their friend. It can be hard to know what an animal may be going through and to what extent they understand, but many owners feel their pets might benefit from this experience.
If you wish to show another pet the body after they have passed away, it’s usually best for someone to stay outside the room with your other pet(s) for the procedure and then bring them in afterwards.
What happens to my pet’s body afterwards?
Speak to your vet before you leave about any keepsakes you’d like, such as a clipping of their fur or a paw print. You may want to take you pet’s collar, harness or carry box home with you, or you may prefer to leave it – just let your vet know.
Once you’ve said your goodbyes, your pet’s body will be treated with respect.
There are several options for what can happen afterwards and there is no right answer – it’s a very personal decision. It’s most common to choose cremation arranged by the vet but this is by no means the only option.
- Communal cremation. Your pet will be cremated alongside other loved pets and their ashes will then be buried or scattered by the crematorium. With this type of cremation, it’s not possible for their ashes to be returned to you.
- Individual cremation. If it’s important for you to have your pet’s ashes returned, the vet can arrange an individual cremation. Often, you can choose the type of casket you would like and an engraving if you wish. Your pet’s ashes may be delivered to the practice and they will let you know when they are ready to be collected. Some pet crematoriums will arrange to deliver your pet’s ashes directly to your home.
- Private cremation. You may prefer to get your pet cremated somewhere of your own choosing rather than at the crematorium the practice usually uses. You might prefer this if you want to be present at your pet’s cremation. If you wish, the vet can keep your pet’s body safe for you in the meantime – in this case remember to give your chosen pet crematorium company your vet’s contact details to arrange things.
- Home burial. If you wish, you usually can take your pet’s body home with you. In a few circumstances – for example, if your pet has recently had chemotherapy, or was suffering from a contagious disease – then this isn’t possible. We would recommend digging a deep grave (at least 4ft or 1m) to avoid your pet’s remains being disturbed by other animals.
Grieving and remembering your pet
It can be a time of mixed emotions leading up to and following euthanasia and the loss of your pet. They have been a special companion and member of the family. Coming to terms with this loss can be very hard.
It is important to remember there’s no right or wrong way to feel after you’ve lost a loved one. It’s perfectly normal for it to take days, weeks or even years for the grief to fade. Some people experience feelings of grief similar to a human loss. Often people describe feelings of guilt or numbness over their pet’s passing and this is normal and understandable. For others, there might be a sense of calm and relief that your pet is no longer suffering. Sharing your feelings and experience with others before and after euthanasia can be helpful. We’ve put together some advice on coping with grief which you might find useful during this difficult time.
At PDSA, we understand how important it is to remember the special place pets have in our lives. We can help you commemorate your pet’s life in a way that will leave a lasting legacy for other pets in the future.