Practical information about the loss of your pet
For pet owners who deeply love their companion animals, and who have experienced their unconditional love as well, the death of their beloved pet can be intensely emotional. Whether the pet is suffering from a serious, terminal illness, has been severely injured and has no hope of recovery, or simply has lived a normal life span, that final good-bye hurts so terribly. Of course, we don't want our pet to suffer, but neither can we imagine life without him.
Pet loss is a painful emotional experience, but just like human deaths, there are some practicalities to consider when you have an aged pet, a pet that needs extensive veterinary care to survive, or a severely injured or ill pet. As much as we dislike thinking about these issues, most pet owners believe that they owe their companion animal not only a happy, healthy life but also a peaceful, loving death.
What happens at the vet's when a pet is in danger of dying?
Your veterinarian will tell you everything you need to know about your pet's health crisis: what injury or illness she is suffering from, whether treatment for your pet is available, how successful the treatment is likely to be, how much it will cost to treat your pet, and what kind of quality of life your pet is experiencing at this time and in the future. When you acquired your pet, you also acquired responsibility for his health and general well-being. This responsibility includes end of life issues. Your vet will be honest with you about whether you should consider humanely euthanizing your pet. With accurate information on all these issues, you must then make the decision that you believe is in your pet's best interests.
Euthanasia and saying farewell to your beloved pet
Pet loss is always difficult, especially if your pet is a companion animal with whom you have shared your life. When we experience the excitement of bringing home a new puppy or kitten, we have the joy of watching these little friends grow up. They become trusted companions who love us unconditionally, a gift that only animals can give us. We don't think about that "final farewell" that we know will come eventually.
Just like people, pets are prone to illnesses or injuries that are fatal; your veterinarian will be very up-front with you about the lack of quality of life your pet will face, and the pain she will suffer as time passes. In these cases, a humane, loving death is a final gift you can give to your beloved pet.
Euthanizing a pet is neither painful nor cruel. It is accomplished by a drug overdose. Your veterinarian will give your pet intravenous injections of a large dose of a central nervous system depressant drug, and in less than a minute your pet will be out of pain and will suffer no longer. It is an easy, painless, and dignified death. If you wish, you may elect to be present during the loss of your pet; many people choose to hold their pets and whisper their farewells and thanks to this well-loved companion. Others may elect not to be present if the death of their pet is simply too painful to watch. There is no trauma with the death of an animal by euthanasia; he will simply and quickly become more deeply anesthetized until his heart stops.
Your options after pet loss
After the death of your pet, you have some decisions to make about what you would like to do with the body of your pet. Your veterinary clinic staff can advise you about nearby pet cemeteries, pet cremation, pet urns and pet memorials. Most pet cemeteries will offer you a reasonably priced casket for your departed companion; these are very lovely in construction and are most often lined in soft material with a pillow for your pet's head. You'll be shown around the pet cemetery and the spot where your pet will be buried. You can order a pet memorial headstone with her date of birth and death. Pet cemeteries are well cared for and maintained. You can visit your pet's grave site anytime you wish.
Many veterinary clinics have their own licensed crematorium if you choose this option for the body of your pet. If they don't provide this service, they will refer you to a nearby clinic that is equipped with a crematorium. In this case, you will be given certification of cremation indicating that your pet was properly cremated rather than being simply thrown into a land fill – an abhorrent thought for a loving pet owner, and an illegal practice in many states.
If you choose, you can have your pet's cremains placed in the urn of your choice; varnished wood, metal, or a combination of both. After choosing your urn, you have the option of having the urn buried in a pet cemetery, scattering your pet's ashes in her favorite field or river, or keeping the urn as a reminder of the wonderful times you shared.
If you bury the body or ashes of your pet, you can select a beautiful memorial; these are usually crafted from stone, and many portray the likeness of most dog and cat breeds. Some pet memorials contain an area where you can place a picture of your pet, a space for words of love for your pet along with her birth and death date.
Consolation from others
Your friends and family know how much you loved your pet, and how he will be missed. There are now sympathy cards for pet loss that can be comforting, knowing that others understand how you feel and your grief for the death of your pet. Most veterinarians will also send sympathy cards; they, more than anyone, know just how difficult it is to say goodbye to a companion animal. This type of consolation from others is very kind and sincere.
For those of us who deeply love our pets, attending to the practicalities of pet loss is difficult because it is an acknowledgment that our companion has indeed passed from this world. However, we can provide our precious animal best friends with a humane death and a loving and dignified manner of remembrance. We loved them in life, and we can love them just as well in death.
Further sources of information
You may find our other articles in the Pet loss section helpful too.
For biodegradable and more traditional cremation urns, including pet urns, we recommend Richard Lamb New Traditions Funerals.
Visit our Amazon store to find books to help you cope with pet loss.