A ginger Tabby cat is sitting on a person's lap while being stroked

Saying Goodbye to Your Pet: Thoughts From a Veterinarian

I’ve watched so many loving pet owners kiss and pat their beloved pet for the last time. I’ve shared their thoughts, held their hands and shed tears with them in these final moments. It’s sometimes tender, sometimes gut-wrenching, and occasionally frustrating. The most difficult part of saying goodbye to a pet for me is watching many owners go through tremendous emotional pain during the process. I hope that by sharing some of my thoughts on the subject, I can help you the next time you have to euthanize a beloved pet or help you heal from a recent loss.

Is it the right time?

This process often starts as a call from the owner of an ageing pet asking me if it’s time to euthanize their pet. In cases where treatment options are at an end, the decision may be clear, but for animals that are having a progressive decline in their quality of life, the decision can be difficult. I have always felt that the patient’s owner is in the best position to evaluate its quality of life. The simple fact that an owner is asking the question usually means that the time is close and they just need reassurance. The right time to euthanize will be different for every person and every animal, so discuss it with your vet. If you wait until you’re certain it’s the right time, there’s a good chance you’ve waited too long. It’s important to make the decision prior to the animal becoming unnecessarily in pain or debilitated. Try to make their last day pain-free rather than painful.

It’s unnatural.

Booking a euthanasia procedure is really difficult for people. They are often conflicted even when they know it’s the right thing to do. It’s extremely unnatural to pick a time and a place for what should be a natural event to occur. It’s important that you realize that performing euthanasia is a part of taking care of your pet, just like you have all of its life. It is difficult, but we provide a comfortable passing for an ailing animal because we love them. Try to accept this responsibility with a firm resolve and be kind to yourself.

There’s no room for guilt.

The saddest part of the process, I think, is when an owner develops feelings of guilt after euthanasia. In most cases, the pets I’ve euthanized have come from very loving homes where they were well cared for and given a full life, even if it was cut short by illness. This is not a time for guilt. It’s a time to feel proud of yourself that you provided such a wonderful life for this special creature. Don’t let the recent traumatic experience of euthanasia overshadow the lifetime of positive memories you’ve built during your relationship with your pet.

Find a way to celebrate.

Saying goodbye to a dog or cat can be as devastating as losing a human family member. The lack of opportunity to communicate with an animal prevents us from attaining the emotional closure that we often get from people before they pass away. Grieving the loss of a pet after euthanasia is necessary, but it should give way to a sense of peace where you can enjoy the beautiful memories you’ve built with your pet. A relationship with an animal can be such a special gift in life, and you deserve to celebrate that. Find a way to raise a glass and honor their memory with happiness and gratitude that you had shared a wonderful life together.

If you or a family member is experiencing significant difficulty with the loss of a pet, there are support centres that can help. The University of Guelph has a pet loss hotline that can be reached at 519-824-4120, x53694. Email: petloss@uoguelph.ca.

By: Dr. Clayton Greenway, B.Sc., DVM

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Disclaimer: Our authors do not endorse any products or services that may have been mentioned. All advice presented is not meant to replace a regular physical exam and consultation with your primary veterinarian. We always encourage you to seek medical advice from your regular veterinarian.

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