By Katie Fine
For most pet owners, our four legged friends are more than just pets, they are family members. Unfortunately, the deep love we feel for our beloved fur-babies makes for an immense loss when they reach the end of their lives. When your furry family member has entered their “golden years” it is sadly time to think about the kind of care you’d like to provide them in their final days and how you’d like them to pass over the rainbow bridge. As with any difficult life decision, we urge you to consider these options and choose the one that is best for you in advance, if possible, so when the time comes you and your pet can be prepared and receive the best service.
Caring for your terminally ill or elderly pet
Your pet provided unwavering love for so many years, so it is natural for you to want to provide dignity and peace as their life comes to a close. First, pain and suffering is not always expressed verbally in our pets, such as whining or crying. Instead, your pet’s expression of pain can be translated into extreme panting, hesitancy to move, avoidance of food, and isolation. To better understand his or her levels of pain and discomfort seek the help of your veterinarian.
Additionally, you can keep your pet at ease and reduce pressure sores that come with limited mobility by providing a comfortable bed, blanket and favorite toys. Incontinence, urinary leaks, often come with old age or illness. Check on your pet regularly to ensure they are not sitting in their own urine or feces, which can cause an infection and/or further discomfort. If your pet is struggling to move around, you can help with towels or store-bought slings.
Depending on the gravity of your pet’s health, you might want to consider pet hospice care also known as palliative care. As with humans, palliative care uses medication, diet, and human interaction to ease your pet’s discomfort and confusion. This is not a physical place that your pet can be taken to, but instead a level of care you can provide in the comfort of your own home.
Euthanasia is an option that provides a painless and peaceful end for a pet that may otherwise be suffering. The process typically takes only 10-20 seconds and starts with an injection of a sedative to put your pet to sleep, followed by a medication to stop their heart.
Veterinary clinics are the most common setting for euthanasia, however, there are mobile services that allow this process to take place at your home, if you would like your baby’s final hours to be spent there. Some services provide added comforts, like a private room for final moments with your baby, oxygen, etc. to keep your pet comfortable.
Please note that euthanasia is a paid service which can be quite costly at private practices. Remember that non-profit veterinary clinics often provide this service at a discounted rate, but the “comforts,” such as being present during the procedure or having a private room, may not be possible.
Cremation vs. Humane Disposal
Deciding between cremation or humane disposal of your pet is the next important decision. All veterinarians offering euthanasia services also handle disposal, but it is important to know the method and cost difference between cremation and disposal.
In the event that your pet passes away in your home, there are companies that will come to you and help with cremation, burial, or disposal. In the meantime, your pet’s body may hold up for 24 hours, which can be extended slightly if wrapped in a towel, placed in a refrigerator or freezer, or kept in a cool shaded room on ice and cool flooring. Please note, that cooling or freezing a body eliminates the possibility of an autopsy.
Disposal services often mean the body is not cremated, but is instead buried or brought to a landfill or other disposal site (as done by local sanitation departments). For cremation, you must verify with the practice if you want a private/individual cremation, which provides the opportunity to receive your pet’s ashes.
There are also many organizations and burial grounds around the country that your pet can be taken to. For example, many animal shelters and rescue sanctuaries have grave sites where pets can be buried, given grave stones, and visited. Furthermore, there are companies that provide options for your pet’s final resting place such as: dispersing your pet’s ashes at meaningful locations, providing caskets for your pets for home burials, or sending someone to bury your pet for you at a location of your choosing. However, please be sure that the burial site you choose is legal to bury on, especially in public settings.
Remember, most veterinary practices offer euthanasia and disposal, but their processes may be quite different, and the cost of their “add-on” services vary widely. These are individualized decisions that we suggest not be made lightly.
There are many ways to memorialize your pet once they pass. Keepsakes are a wonderful way to keep your pet in your home and close to your heart after their passing. Urns with your pet’s ashes, engraved stones, paw print clay molds, and even jewelry can be made by veterinarians or companies dedicated to end-of-life care. These memorabilia can provide comfort amidst the painful loss of a pet and a simple online search can identify these establishments.
Processing the Pain
Handling the pain that comes with the loss of a pet can be extremely crippling. Try to remember that great grief is normal and while memorial keepsakes can help, friends and family – human and furry – are your best resource for support in these hard times. Nonetheless, if you believe the pain is becoming too unmanageable, you can always seek therapy or counseling.