A Hand-Holding Guide To Planning the End of Your Pet’s Life

Stop. I know you read this title and attempted to turn and flee back out the door. I anticipated this and caught you by the back of your shirt. We need to talk about this now.

If you’re reading this blog, you’re likely Millennial or Gen Z. They’re the largest pie slice of animal lovers—one in three owns a pet. And our attitudes about pets are really intense. Half of us describe loving them more than our own mothers. And all of those pets are doing the absolute worst thing any pet can do: getting old without us.

You likely won’t have experience with being solely, directly responsible for managing a living being’s decline and death. So we’re going to explain what’s gonna happen, and give you our very best insights.

OH, LIKE I DO? I didn't wake up eager to talk about the end of your pet's life but here I am...

I promise to make this discussion as brief, honest, and detached as possible. We’ve written maudlin tear-jerkers about pets before, and I swear this won’t be one of those. But this is a subject that’s sadly present for both of us right now. Life’s given us lemons recently; this guide will be the lemonade. We want to give some guidance to the people who will one day face the same challenge, so they can feel prepared. All of this advice comes straight from our hearts.

At the end, there’s a handy checklist for your convenience. If you do everything on it, you’ll be as ready as you can be for the end of your pet’s life. Many of them are actions you can start taking long before your pet gets grey around the muzzle, so don’t put off reading it.

Who can I trust to help me make this decision?

A good vet is worth their weigh in gold. And the more time they have to get to know your pet, the more accurate their instinct will be.

Continuity of care is a great asset. The vet who met your cat when she was a friendly, healthy 8-year-old can more accurately spot subtle changes that might indicate renal disease when she’s 12. And when that cat hits 16, you’ll know they have her best interests at heart if they advise you to consider end-of-life planning.

Long time readers know I love adopting senior animals. The only drawback to that calling is you’ve gotta learn to say goodbye often. I’ve been present for the deaths of 11 animals. In time, I’ve come to value two traits very highly in a vet: clear communication and good listening. I’m pretty steadfastly committed to “quality over quantity.” My vet hears and understands that, and guides me towards options that fit the goal of optimal comfort, even at the expense of longevity.

Now, veterinarians are people. They’re not all the same. They have different strengths, professional perspectives, and emotional availability. I’ve had the experience of surrendering a pet for euthanasia into the hands of some random person I didn’t know because the situation didn’t offer me a choice. It’s horrible. Regardless of their qualifications, a stranger won’t feel as comforting as a trusted advisor. So find that person now, and build a good relationship before the going gets tough.

Is euthanasia the right way to end your pet’s life?

As your pet ages, it’s time to get comfortable with the idea that they will die—and they’ll likely need your help to do it.

Euthanasia is a peaceful, painless death under controlled circumstances. The word literally meansa good death.” It’s your final duty to your pet. It’s also a loving parting gift.

“Natural death” sounds nice. But it isn’t. The longer you live, the more likely you are to see death and dying up close. If you have, you get what I’m saying. And if life hasn’t presented you the opportunity yet, I’ll try to sketch a meaningful summary. When I was in my twenties, I visited a (human) friend who was dying in hospice. He was a young man in an excellent facility, under the best care possible. He was also skeletal, delirious, and unable to speak, eat, walk, or control his most basic bodily functions. I didn’t recognize him, and he didn’t recognize me.

One of the hardest pet deaths I’ve witnessed was a “natural death.” One of my chickens had ascites (heart disease). She went downhill during a wet, miserable blizzard that made travel impossible. I weighed two possibilities: bringing her out into the howling cold with an axe, or bringing her inside to slowly suffocate by the fire. Right or wrong, I chose the latter. I sat by her side for four hours. With each labored gasp, I agonized: is this what’s right?

This is why I say euthanasia is an incredible gift. If left up to nature, the final stages of life are rarely peaceful or quick. But they can be—with your intervention. It’s gonna suck for you. But you’re going to take the burden of pain off their shoulders and let them pass with peace and dignity.

When will I know the time is right?

In many cases, I’ve found that animals will give you a clear sign that they’re ready to go.

You’ll find your fastidiously clean cat sleeping inside his litterbox. Or you’ll offer your food-motivated dog a bite of something delicious, only to watch her turn away. In these moments, your pet is giving you the gift of clarity. What made them them is slipping away, and if your vet has done all they can, it’s time.

Here’s something important to know: I’ve noticed that many vets will not bring up euthanasia as an option until you do. I had a guinea pig who lived a ridiculous EIGHT years. When I found him collapsed and semi-paralyzed after a stroke, I called my vet. “You could bring him in for some x-rays, or we can send him to our partner hospital for an MRI. Depending on the results, we might be able to try steroids or diuretics. Or…” And then she paused meaningfully, waiting for me to ask the obvious.

I think this is just how they’re trained? Which I get. But I’m warning you about it because it can feel confusing if you’re not expecting it. 

“If this was your pet, what would you do?” That’s the most valuable question I’ve ever asked a vet. Good vets aren’t trying to upsell you more procedures or give you false hope. They’re very invested in balancing human feelings with animal welfare. You just might need to give them space to be frank with you.

What if my pet doesn’t give me a sign?

“Better a month too soon than a day too late.” I’ve heard this one many times when talking about pet euthanasia. And it’s true, in my experience. You want to maximize the time you have left, but terminal illness can go downhill so fast. It’s a delicate balance.

Some animals truly have no quit in them. Those situations are hard.

There’s no right answers here. But I’ll tell you the process that worked for me when I faced this situation recently.

Three years ago, I became the caregiver for my grandfather’s Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Lexi. She inherited a 400-year genetic legacy of indomitable happiness—and mitral valve problems. Her heart disease was well managed with medication. But as I grew to know her, I realized that she would never give me “a sign.” Stress and pain just weren’t part of her vocabulary.

So I asked my trusted vet to explain the typical progression of symptoms. They were…

  • A persistent cough
  • Decreased ability to exercise/play
  • Fainting spells
  • Swelling from fluid in lungs/abdomen
  • Increased coughing and panting, even at rest
  • Disinterest in food
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Death 

I wrote these symptoms down, and drew a line through them that I would not let her cross. Abdominal swelling would be the beginning of serious discomfort; that meant I was waiting for fainting as my “sign.” The first time she collapsed, I scheduled her final appointment, and focused on giving her the best 36 hours of her life.

What should I do before the end of my pet’s life?

Forewarning is such a blessing. If you know the end is near, you can have so much fun giving your pet the best days of their lives.

In Lexi’s case, we knew we were on borrowed time for about four months. I came up with a bucket list of all her favorite activities. She got huge meals topped with extra-tasty human food every day. I let her play fetch until she was ready to keel over. We saw all her favorite people, and she got to sit in their laps and be showered with attention. The dog park, the beach, the McDonald’s drive-thru… from her perspective, life was perfect.

Sometimes the end comes too abruptly for this kind of planning. Your pet may decline physically or cognitively past the point of savoring those activities. Nothing hurts like the regret of love left ungiven. I hate knowing a pet’s final day was un-special, but you don’t always know it’s coming. So my best advice here is to make every day special. Live while you’re alive. Go for that walk in the woods today. Let them sleep on the bed tonight. One of the greatest things animals can teach us is how to live in the present. The happy memories you make will give you solace in grief.

(A tiny note here: Don’t go full-throttle into a pizza-and-ice-cream diet, even if they’re dying. The last thing they need is gastrointestinal distress. Personally, I keep their regular kibble flowing, and give special stuff as toppings and small treats. Consult your vet if you’re not sure what’s best.)

What are my options for pet euthanasia?

For euthanasia, you have two main options:

  1. Bring your animal to the vet. In my experience, scheduling hasn’t been an issue; even busy clinics will make time. Most have a special room that’s quiet and private. You’ll pay in advance so you aren’t sobbing at the checkout desk. They’ll give you options for what you want done with the body. After everything’s settled, the vet will explain the procedure and give you extra time before and/or after if you need it. When you’re done, you just leave.
  2. Arrange for an at-home euthanasia. This may be the right choice if your pet dislikes going to the vet, or is too unwell to travel. People who pursue this option swear by it, but I’ll give you two caveats. First, it’s more expensive. Second, this is a very in-demand service. They may not be able to come immediately, and some have a waitlist. Make those inquiries now so you have the information you need to plan.

These are both excellent options. It’s up to you, your pet, their situation, and your budget to decide what’s best.

What are my options for pet burial?

What about your pet’s body? Here, you have three main options:

  1. Surrender the body for a communal cremation. Some people don’t feel driven to hold on to their pet’s physical remains, which is perfectly fine. In this case, the vet will deliver your pet’s remains to a crematorium. They’ll be cremated alongside others, and their ashes will be mixed together and scattered or buried, usually in open land owned or leased by the crematorium.
  2. Request a private cremation and receive your pet’s ashes back. This one costs more money. But if you’d like to keep hold of their physical form, it’s a great option. Sometimes the crematorium mails the remains directly to you; other times, they’re dropped off with your vet, who will call to let you know they can be picked up. The turnaround time is pretty quick, usually less than a week. The result will be a wooden box that feels small but heavy. In my personal experience, I’ve always been pleasantly surprised by the thoughtful packaging. It’ll have a door that can slide or screw off if you want to scatter the ashes.
  3. Bring the body home for burial. Burying an animal at home is both affordable and cathartic. Obviously, it requires a few conditions. First, own the land. Please don’t bury pets in the yard of some rental property you’ll leave when your lease is up. Second, plan your spot carefully and read up how to do it. You need to dig quite deep, and the last thing you need is to hit a natural gas pipe. Third, have a backup plan if your pet passes during severe weather. Don’t try to dig frozen or flooded earth.

Again, there is no right answer. You’ll have to feel out what’s best for you.

What’s the end actually like?

I’ll describe what actually happens during a typical euthanasia. It’s done in three steps.

First, your vet will shave part of their leg and insert an intravenous catheter. Vet techs are very experienced with this, and can do it quickly and painlessly. They may take your pet to a back room to do this part.

Second, the vet will administer a sedative. (If your pet is fearful or in pain, they may sedate as the first step.) They’ll fall asleep almost immediately. You can usually hold them through this part. In fact, I recommend physically supporting their heads/bodies. If your pet is quite old or frail, they might be asleep before they have a chance to lay their head down.

Third, when the sedative has taken full effect, your vet will administer a fatal dose of pentobarbital. It’s a rapid anesthetic that halts breathing, circulation, and the brain simultaneously. The vet will then listen for a heartbeat to confirm they’ve died, then usually quickly leave the room to give you privacy.

Two surprising things might happen that you should know about:

  • You may be shocked at how quickly these drugs take effect. I’ve been told it can take a few minutes, which might depend on the size of your pet. In my experience, it’s never been more than 30 seconds. It’s very fast.
  • I’ve been warned that some pets display reflex actions. They may take a deep breath, twitch their limbs, or void their bowels. I’ve personally never had this happen. All my pets have fallen asleep as instantly as a light switch being turned off after the sedative, and peacefully remained that way. But it’s good to be prepared. They aren’t in pain; it’s just bodies being bodies.

What if someone mishandles my pet’s body?

A lot of people have dark fears around what happens to their pet’s body. They worry that their pet will be thrown around. Or that the ashes they receive won’t really be theirs. Or that they’ll end up in a landfill. These are understandable fears. Here’s what I’ll say to put your mind at ease.

I’ve heard the stories of bad actors in this industry, and they’re definitely the kind of thing that keeps you up at night. (Please don’t seek those stories out, they’ll just get into your head.) But I’ve also read many interviews with pet crematorium operators that make their dedication crystal clear. Here is one snippet from a Reddit AMA that really put my heart at ease:

“[Taking care of your pet’s remains] was actually an honor. Death care is something I’m really passionate about, and have never taken lightly. A lot of us would give them pats and tell them that they were loved, even if we weren’t asked. We were their caretakers when their families couldn’t be there, and it was not something to be complacent about.”

And another:

“Individual cremations are strictly individual. I swept out the previous pet before placing in another. The entire body goes in, including anything the pet had on/in them at the time. Usually collars stay with the pet, and I leave them in case the owner ever gets curious and opens them up. They’ll see the burnt remains of the metal dog tag that is still readable and know it was their pet. Also, steel hips (dogs get them too). I never rushed a job. Never. And I’m proud of that.”

Nobody loves your pet as much as you do. Nobody.

But also… nobody enters the veterinary field because they hate animals. Every person in the chain of custody of your pet’s remains is an animal lover. You have to trust that chain. 

How much does pet euthanasia cost?

The price depends on a lot of things, with cost-of-living in your area being a major one. But I’ll give you a rough idea.

Generally, euthanasia itself costs about $150. If you want an at-home service, I’d expect to pay roughly three times that amount.

Cremation services are highly dependent on communal versus private options, as well as the total size of the animal. A 10-pound cat with a communal cremation is probably not more than $200, while a 150-pound Great Dane with a private cremation could cost $400 or more.

Jess paid for at-home euthanasia of her 75-pound dog, plus private cremation, for a total of $650.

If you want to set up a savings goal for handling the end of your pet’s life, my ballpark recommendation is to set aside around $500.

If money is holding you back from seeking euthanasia services, please call your vet and explain your situation. Many, many vets will offer this service for free if it prevents unnecessary suffering for a long-time patient. At the very least, they’ll be able to recommend community resources or alternatives to lower the cost.

In this, the Darkest Timeline, money is a sensitive matter for everyone. The amount of money you spend at the end of your pet’s life says nothing about how much you loved them. Don’t feel pressured to spend more than you can afford out of fear of disrespecting your pet’s legacy. I assure you, your companion only cared about the love you gave them while they were alive. Their bodies are just what’s left behind.

What happens after?

Well, you’re gonna cry. Just… so much crying.

Out of respect for the mental health of my veterinarian and her staff, I do my very best to wait until I’m home to do the kind of keening and wailing that feels so cathartic and right. But once I’m home? It’s like Moses un-parting the Red Sea coming out of my eyeballs. My only two recommendations for this part is to let it all out and take Tylenol. Grief can make my body surprisingly sore. Take a few days off from school or work if possible. Vaguely say “a death in the family” to avoid the possibility of some fucker scoffing because the family in question was quadrupedal.

If your pet was on medication, bring it to your vet. As long as the meds were stored properly, they’ll gift them to another patient who needs them. Or, ask your vet about local charities that accept donated meds.

Cleaning feels terrible, but it helps. If you have unopened food, beds, toys, collars, or anything that cannot be used by other animals in your household, drop them off at a local shelter. They’ll be used and loved by those in need.

Your vet and/or crematorium may send you a condolence letter. (The first time this happened, I thought it was another bill, and cried. Then I opened it, read all the nice messages, and also cried. So by warning you, I’m saving you ONE whole cry!) When Lexi passed, the note contained a set of her nose and paw prints. I was shocked—in a good way, because I recognized them—and gratified to have one more memento.

After a pet dies, I make a post to my social media to collect the memories of others. Invariably, I learn something I didn’t know. “When I stayed at your place, I woke up with her purring on my chest.” “When he came to our house for a barbecue, I dropped a burger and he ate the entire thing before I could stop him.” “Here’s a selfie we took that I never posted.” Soliciting those stories helps my healing process. (Also, it gives everybody a heads-up that I might not be emotionally available for a bit.)

The last question

Every death is hard. For me, this last one really put some pepper on it. After all, I’d had only three years with Lexi. I wasn’t done loving her. And my grief for her was mixed up with my grief for my grandfather, who’d entrusted me with the thing he loved most in life. I wailed like a banshee. I ranted about how unfair it was. Why can’t one happy little dog get an exception?

When I’m deep in the depths of grief, there is one question that guides me forward every time. This question is like that first golden ray of sun in the morning. It’s the question that transitions me from mourning their loss to celebrating their life.

Here it is:

“Was it worth it?”

The answer is yes, obviously. It’s always yes. An emphatic, joyful yes. No matter how bereft I feel, it cannot shake that answer. We had so much fun together. I get to keep all the love they gave me in their lifetime, safe within my memories. And one day when I’m ready, I’ll do it all over again. The love of an animal, to me, it’s one of the very best parts of being alive.

Your checklist

So there you go. That’s all my best wisdom on this subject. Nobody’s ever truly ready, but if you follow this checklist, you’ll be as ready as anyone can be.

  • Have fun and make memories
  • Find a vet you trust
  • Go in for annual checkups to track progress
  • Accept the responsibility of eventual euthanasia
  • Understand the likely progression of their symptoms
  • Decide what you will and won’t let them go through
  • Make their final appointment, remembering that at-home services may have waitlists
  • Make a final bucket list and have fun going through it
  • Hold them through the very end
  • Grieve with your whole heart
  • Remember that it was all worth it

This list is based on my own experiences—which are admittedly more extensive than the average person, but still limited. So if you have any ideas to add to this list, I’d love to hear them in the comments below. I’d especially love to hear from anyone in the veterinary field, who may have more experiences and stronger opinions than me.

We’ll be writing more on pets in the near future, because so much is shifting about how we care and budget for them. Until then, here are a few of our perennial classics on the subject:

In loving memory

We miss our dogs. You should know just how cute they were.

26 thoughts to “A Hand-Holding Guide To Planning the End of Your Pet’s Life”

  1. First, I’m very sorry for your losses.

    I know you said this wouldn’t be a tear-jerker, but I’m still crying about it. Our sweet puppy boy is turning 8 this year, we know he’s getting old. I’ve been through this before but not as the adult responsible for their life entirely, so this is much appreciated. It was also a reminder that I will have to coach my roommate when the time comes, because he’s never had a pet before, either. I’m hoping I’ll need this advice much later rather than sooner.

  2. 1) Absolutely cannot stress enough how much the vet will suggest absurd heroic medical things that they don’t agree with, again, apparently because training? (includes things they will not make money on, like going to a specialist or pet ER) It made me feel insane and made a lot of things harder. Example: Your pet has metastatic mammary cancer, we could do invasive surgery to remove [by definition only part of] it. Example: Your pet is going to die of X, she seems to be exhibiting X, we could take her to the ER for a procedure that would delay X for 24 hours.

    2) “Better a month too soon than a day too late.” is an EXTREMELY helpful thing to have heard before when it’s time to make a decision, especial if you are in denial about how fast your pet is deteriorating.

    3) Folks may be able to consider aquamation/water cremation as an alternative for their pets

    1. Emergency DVM here.

      “the vet will suggest absurd heroic medical things that they don’t agree with, again, apparently because training?”
      As it happens, the veterinary practice act in my state requires us to offer ALL options to the owner. I try to balance this with reason, but legally I HAVE TO give you the option. And this is because a plan that seems absurd and delusional to client A sounds perfect to client B, and they get to pick because it’s their pet, not mine.

      “Better a month too soon than a day too late” is a line I agree with, but it doesn’t work for everybody. Definitely, for some people the priority is on sparing the pet suffering, but for others, it’s on making sure the pet was given every possible chance to recover. Again, I have opinions about which one makes more sense, but my opinion is not the one that matters. You would be amazed at what some people feel they need to do for, or to, their pets.

      I will suggest euthanasia when it’s appropriate, but I don’t do it early in the conversation. For one thing, the last thing I want is for the client to go home and say, “The vet made me put her down.” For another, I do think it helps people to come to grips with the decision if they have already considered all the other options and realized they all stink.

      Lastly, please do not feel obligated to stay with your pet at the end if you do not want to or do not think you can. You can leave after pet is sedated. You can leave after the paperwork is signed. Many people are comforted by seeing how peaceful their pet’s death is, but if you’re not that person, it’s okay. Your pet does not realize that it is an important moment; all they know is that you stepped away (as you have done a million times in the past), and that they are surrounded by friendly, animal-wise people who are petting them, sweet-talking them, offering them treats, or giving them space, whatever they want. I can’t vouch for any other practice, but at my place we do treat them all as we would treat our own pets.

      1. I apologize if the “absurd heroic medical things” comment came off as a criticism of the vet in the situation. Every veterinary professional I dealt with was incredible and without question had their heart in the right place, just the situation was really confusing and simply knowing it worked that way in advance would have been huge. Thank you for doing what you do.

        1. No offense taken. I guess part of my point is this: What seems like the obvious and only best course of action to you might not be the best course of action to a different owner or to the veterinarian involved. If the vet suggests things that are not right for you– and I am addressing this to the room– please don’t take it as a personal insult or an attempted money grab. Just tell them: “Not right for me.”

          On behalf of all veterinarians, I apologize to owners who feel they’ve been guilt-tripped by veterinary staff to do wildly inappropriate things to dying pets.

          At the same time, I beg you all to remember that the veterinarian is a relatively objective 3rd party who is there to advocate for the pet’s best interests. You know your pet better than anybody, but we can read animals pretty well, and if we believe the animal is suffering and you’re refusing to do anything meaningful about it, we may well say so.

          Sympathies to all those who are walking this path or have done so recently. It never gets any easier.

  3. A really lovely post. I want to commend Kitty on writing an absolutely perfect first paragraph followup to the title that made me immediately cackle. Only you two have the reader empathy, writing skill, and humor to so perfectly diffuse tension on a such a difficult topic before diving in.

  4. We’ve had to say goodbye to 4 pets in the last 2 years. Agree with the advice and align with the experiences described. So fucking hard.

  5. For those who may benefit from my recent experience, I just went through a specialty hospital visit. While I am so thankful for the experts and the fact that we could treat an unexpected situation even with a senior horse, the vet was so cautious with euthanasia that I misunderstood which direction the vet was ‘recommending.’ I ended up calling our home vet, who knew the horse well, and discussing my decision with them. After the fact, the hospital vet told me it was the decision they would have made for their own animal- they just couldn’t sway me one way or another. Unfortunately, I couldn’t be there due to distance, but the hospital still worked with me to let me do goodbyes afterward.
    For anyone wondering, private cremation is available for horses, and there are choices about cremation, which results in different sizes of remains/urns and costs. For a full-size horse, private cremation and remains (shipped to my home, in a wooden box) was about $1,500. There’s another choice that is less expensive, and results in less remains as well, which is something to consider if you don’t have the space for approximately 50lbs of cremains. The $500 savings benchmark for euthanasia is a good one, with the cost of the medication being below that. (There may be other costs depending on location and circumstances).

    1. We had to do this 8 march for the best black cat ever, Seelie Boo. We are currently in a foreign country where empathy isn’t a key cultural component. But the vet we saw was compassionate while being blunt. It was reassuring to know, going through your checklist, we did the right things.
      So sorry for your loss of Lexi.

    2. Came here to second this experience as another former owner of a horse! A couple things I was shocked about (not in a bad way) when it was time for my 31 year old mare to pass on:
      1. She chose her time, which is exactly what I always suspected would happen with an extremely stubborn, extremely stoic otherwise healthy older horse. One beautiful spring morning, she just laid down out at pasture and would not/could not get back up. Cue to call to the vet, who basically FLEW out to the farm.
      2. It was less expensive to euthanize a horse than either our family dog or cat. It cost just under $300 for the horse. I have Thoughts(TM) about why this is, but I will keep them to myself and an actual vet can enlighten as to the cost difference.
      3. I also went the private full-body cremation route as shale deposits under the property limit the ability to dig down to an acceptable level for burial, and paid the same $1,500 private cremation fee. I had been saving for this eventuality for years as I knew it was what I wanted to do for the horse who gave me the best 16 years of my life with her. One very, VERY nice family business covers my tri-state+ area to offer this service, and when I called them, they were in Massachusetts. By that evening, they were in Vermont to pick up my mare. It was truly unbelievable how quick, efficient, and kindly they worked. A thing I didn’t learn about until it was too late was that you can request they save the shoes on your horse at the time of its death and return them to you separately with the remains. I WISH I had known about this and gotten to save the last pair of her horseshoes.
      4. While my mare was technically a pony at 14.1 hands and no longer chubby by the end of her aged life, I ended up with 40+ pounds of ashes back. I was…not quite prepared for that amount. It was a deeply emotional experience to open the box with a bunch of baggies full of her remains and pour them into the custom urn I had made (which only ended up fitting half of her remains because, again, was not expecting 40 lbs. Learn from my mistakes! I am getting a second urn made).

  6. Thank you so much for writing this article! You bring up so many amazing points that I think are super helpful for pet owners to think about and have a plan before they need one. I am a veterinarian and I shared this article with my team because I feel it will help them better have these conversations as well.

    There were a couple of your points that I wanted to expand on. The first is training regarding talking about euthanasia. We get some in vet school, but not enough in my opinion. And like you said every vet is an individual and will handle it differently. For me, it feels like a tightrope walk that I do when I discuss euthanasia. Some clients want me to offer everything that could possibly save their pet and would shut down if I brought up euthanasia. Others want to have that discussion earlier than I may have considered. It is easier with clients I know well because I know how they make decisions and how they want me to discuss difficult things with them. So your point about establishing a relationship with a vet is really helpful for us as well! I am always happy to talk people through euthanasia, when to make that decision, what the process will look like, scheduling, etc. I understand how difficult that day will be and want to help set as many expectations as I can beforehand to make it go as smoothly as possible for everyone.

    The next thing I wanted to share is about crematoriums. Some crematoriums will let clients bring their pets in themselves and watch the whole process. This can be helpful to alleviate any fears about something happening to the body or not getting the correct ashes back.

    The last thing I want to add is for pet owners that don’t feel they can stay for the euthanasia. We understand and don’t judge anyone who makes this decision. At my clinic we offer clients to leave after the pet has been sedated or some choose to leave before then. We will work with you and whatever you are comfortable with. If the owner has chosen not stay, those pets get so much love from the vet team. My staff will all come up and say goodbye, give hugs and kisses, offer extra treats, etc. There will be someone offering support for the pet during the euthanasia as well.

    Thank you for starting this conversation despite it being hard! Sending love for Lexi and Strider

  7. What beautiful dogs! I love their little faces – Lexi was a cutie and Strider so soulful!

    I would add to your list: try to find a friend to drive you there and home again, if at all possible. You’re not going to be in any state to drive. I haven’t had pets but I’ve been to that back room with a couple of friends, and was glad to be able to help.

    1. I was on the brink of tears reading this entire article, but your comment just made the dam burst. Thank you for being such a good friend–it means so much to those of us who do have pets that we love so dearly.

  8. Thanks for writing this! When our dog was diagnosed with cancer last year, we knew right away that we would do at home euthanasia because she was terrified of the vet. Like you pointed out, they had a 24-48 hour lead time so it’s not something that you can set up at the last minute. We worked with both our vet and the euthanasia place on when the right time to make the call was, and eventually our vet told us that it sounded like we were 48 hours out so that’s how we knew when to schedule the visit. While no one wants to lose a pet, I can tell you that having those final two days and then having a nice lady come over to the house was the best outcome for a sad situation. I paid $600 total for the euthanasia and cremation with return of ashes – I can’t remember what the breakdown in price was between the two services – and it worth every penny.

  9. Such beautiful puppies, because they’re all puppies no matter how old they are.

    Re: The right time, my fourteen-year-old soul kitty was still his happy, silly self, but he had dropped from 13 to 10 lbs in two months despite multiple vet checks trying to figure out why. My husband disagreed with saying goodbye until I showed him the records of our cat dropping weight. I’ve seen too many pets waste away because they’re owners just couldn’t, and I refuse to let any animal in my care be among them. Our amazing vet (who cried with us at the appointment) agreed with me. We made the appointment a week out and spent the cuddliest seven days ever. The morning of the day of, my boy woke me at 2 AM climbing into my arms, where he stayed until it was time to go to the appointment. He was at peace with it, and wanted me to be, too.

    Big WARNING about upsetting things below:

    Re: reflexes, be aware that animal bodies are hardwired for survival. It’s VERY rare, but sometimes they will be clinically dead, only for evolution to kick in and give their system one more jolt. My soul kitty was honest to goodness gone for two minutes—no heartbeat, nada—and then his heart jump-started and he gasped. Our vet has helped us say goodbye to many pets and knows what she’s doing—she was as upset as we were even as she explained what was happening. As he was already sedated, she gave him a second gentle injection, directly in the heart. That one set him free, and I told him while he was leaving not to fight for us, that we’d be all right and wanted him to be at peace. He was then.

    It’s upsetting to recount, but please know that there is an outside possibility that it might happen so you’re hopefully not as taken aback as we were. Also, the syringe for the second injection filled with fluid from his heart, meaning he was sicker than any of us knew. It was the right decision, through and through. I often touch the front of his ashes box when I pass the “pet shrine” (we’ve a dedicated small shelf) during the day.

  10. “the vet will suggest absurd heroic medical things that they don’t agree with, again, apparently because training?” Or sometimes because they do. Years ago, we found our kitty Boo had kidney failure (she was 15) via an emergency vet visit late at night, and the vet on call simply assumed we would begin expensive treatment (which we could not afford). When I said we planned to take Boo home and keep her as happy and comfortable as possible until she needed to be euthanized, that vet gave me a scathing look and said, “I thought you CARED about your pet. You wouldn’t do something to extend her life, then?” I wasn’t about to subject an elderly cat to medical treatment she wouldn’t want BECAUSE I cared about my pet. It isn’t about me and what I want, it’s about what she needs. I took Boo home despite the vet’s dagger eyes, kept her comfortable, and followed up with her regular vet during standard office hours to apprise her that a euthanasia visit would occur soon (I did switch Boo’s diet to a more kidney-friendly one.) About a month or two later, I knew the day had come when we woke up and Boo was hunched over and looked miserable. When I opened her cat carrier door, she got up, walked into it, and settled down – this was a first from the 4-pound cat that usually took 2 human adults and 20 minutes in a closed bathroom to get into her carrier to the vet. Her vet told me, you timed this just right. Yesterday would have been too soon and tomorrow would have been too late.
    The advice to have a decent vet who will listen and who won’t guilt trip you into doing what they want is spot on.

  11. This one really got me. I just had a major medical scare with my kitty back in January. A hard lump on her forehead had my regular vet baffled, and required an MRI and two biopsies from a nearby vet hospital. Everything turned out okay, and she’s just my unicorn goofball now (reactive bone). But I had about three weeks of time where there was a serious chance that she had bone cancer up in her skull.
    The testing all was presumed to be just to tell us how bad, and how malignant, it was. The vet surgeon I worked with was amazing at explaining all of the options for prognosis, potential treatments, long term prognosis for each, etc. As someone mentioned already, some of the options seemed really extreme without significant long term benefit, such as removal of part of the skull and a 3d printed replacement. But we thankfully never got to the point of discussing end-of-life options. I had many an emotional meltdown over the chance of losing her, and now I dread the day I eventually face this for real.
    But thank you for providing guidance for when that time comes. Not having to guess so much, and having a starting place for planning, is always a gift. Much love to you and all of your animals.

  12. A few years ago, I had to say goodbye to my cat, Onyx.

    I can’t function without a pet. It is the fastest way to really miserable and dark times for me.

    So the best way for me to plan for his death was knowing what to do after and how long I needed to wait before getting a new pet.

    When Onyx was healthy and happy, my mom (who had to deal with the the times I did not have a pet) took me aside and told me, “You know you need to get a pet immediately after, right?” I tried to argue but she went over the times when I had no pets and asked if I wanted that. I did not and promised her I would go get a new pet.

    So 24-36 hours, after Onyx died, I went to the humane society for the next pet. She was terrified and scared and we both cried together at how strange the apartment was. We are buddies now. This may not be right for everyone but it was right for me.

    Figure out what is right for you. Whether it is immediately, never, or when the pet finds you, decide that beforehand because grief-stricken you is a bad decision maker.

  13. One thing that has helped me tremendously through the loss of a couple of pets now is this quality of life scale. I take the questionnaire relatively regularly for all my pets so that I have data to look back on when health issues arise, and it has been so helpful to have an idea in my head of what is and is not acceptable to me in terms of quality of life. Highly, highly recommend this for any ill or aging pets! https://journeyspet.com/pet-quality-of-life-scale-calculator/

  14. Once again, every time I come visit your blog the timing of what you post is absolutely uncanny. In this instance, it’s because I got a text Monday that we’re having to guide our family dog across the rainbow bridge Thursday (today) and of course I see this article.

    I had been to my first dog’s (family’s second) end of life appointment years before at the vet, and it was so incredibly painful that I knew immediately I couldn’t be there at this one. It sucks on so many levels, because for this family dog I helped my dad bring her home from the shelter when she was a puppy. So the bond there was even bigger because she felt more mine compared to the other dogs we’ve had. She was also the dog we had gotten after the year long mourning period after my first dog passed away. So that has made things even more intense.

    We’re going to be able to help her along at home this time, which is nice, but I can’t bear the idea of knowing exactly where she passed away in our house, so I’ll be staying away until it’s done. I went and said goodbye earlier this week, but gosh, I forgot just how exhausting grief is.

    This article was so helpful though. I knew the process intellectually, but it helps to hear others who have been through it too that aren’t family. So thanks so much for this.

  15. Oh mannn this made me cry even though I don’t have a pet at the moment. Thank you so much for posting this. <3

  16. One of our cats was on meds for renal failure during 2020, and then took a very steep dive over Christmas holidays. Our vet was closed for days, so we made the expensive & hard decision to take her to the emergency vet for euthanasia. I didn’t sleep the night before with worry over the choice, but it was the right one for us (and her) in the end, despite the cost & strangers involved.

    The staff sent a lovely condolences letter the next week…but I was shocked & a bit horrified by the face print. Imagining that process is a bit gruesome to me. Now I know that’s a thing and will try to remember to request it not be done next time! (YMMV of course!)

  17. I had two cats that died recently. Both of them died a natural death. One of them passed away peacefully. The second one suffered for about a month or so. I don’t feel guilty or bad about letting them die naturally.

    It’s hard to tell what a pet would have wanted. Pets can’t talk. But we do know what humans want. And the vast majority of humans choose to die naturally. Even when life gets extremely difficult and painful, the majority of humans still choose to go on living. So because of this, for me, the default position is: I will wait for my pet to die naturally since I can’t ask and the majority of creatures that we can ask (humans) choose to die naturally. I don’t believe a painful life necessarily means it’s not worth living anymore.

    I understand that comparing humans and animals is not a perfect comparison but I would rather make the decision with imperfect data (with humans) than no data (with animals). Also, animals tend to have stronger instincts than humans, which would arguably mean they would want to live even more than humans due to having a stronger “survival instinct.”

    Of course, I did palliative care for my pets to help them not suffer as much. But I did not and do not feel comfortable taking my pet’s life without knowing for sure that’s what it wants. (And there is no way to know that. I don’t feel like “signs” of a cat being unwell is a significant enough indicator of it wanting to die. Even though my second cat suffered in the final month of her life, there were still moments of her being active, wanting to eat her favorite food, etc…)

    I also did as much as I could to prolong their lives as long as I could and I do not regret that decision. I feel more at peace that I did whatever I could for my pets to fight death till the very end. I feel like there is dignity in fighting. This is something that now gives me some comfort when they are dead.

    I understand that natural death is not the right choice for everyone and I do not judge people who choose to euthanize their pets. I do not think it diminishes the love that they had for their animals and I understand it’s an extremely difficult decision to make. I also understand that I’m extremely lucky to be in a financial position where I could afford to give my pets the best care possible in the last months of their lives.

  18. trigger warning: suicide reference

    “And the vast majority of humans choose to die naturally.”

    I wonder how much of this is due to the fact that most of us were trained that this is the only acceptable way to die. Look at how vigorously religious groups and well-intended protectors of society resist attempts to legalize any sort of suicide under any sort of circumstances. For most of us, even medically-condoned and -assisted suicide is inaccessible and feels like sin.

    Cats and dogs don’t fear death in the first place, and none of them think they’re going to burn in hell if they go voluntarily, so, with respect, I don’t think the choices made by humans for themselves really have much relevance to pet euthanasia.

    That said, I’m not criticizing your choices with your pets. All of my clients want to do their best for their pets until it’s time to stop. It’s just that no two people agree on what qualifies as “time to stop.”

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