Euthanasia & Hospice Care
Support & Comfort During the Loss of a Pet
Here at Pacific Animal Hospital, we understand the very special place our pets have in our hearts and in our lives. Even though the loss of our companion animal is an inevitable part of this relationship, it can be a devastating and overwhelming event in our lives. Just as we each share a special bond with our pet, our grief will be a unique and individual experience.
We would like to offer some support materials to assist you through this process. Please click on the links below to find some information about grieving and pet loss, hospice care, and a list of recommended resources, including books, websites, and hotlines.
- Greiving the loss of a pet: We offer comfort and hope during the grieving process and an online library of articles and materials to answer your questions and give you strength.
- Hospice Care: When your family is faced with the end of your pet’s life, we assist in providing your pet a comfortable, safe, pain-free experience in their familiar environment surrounded by loved ones.
- Euthanasia: A decision concerning euthanasia may be one of the most difficult decisions you can ever make regarding your pet. Your decision is a personal one but it need not be a solitary one. We are here to help you with this difficult time.
The next weeks will likely be difficult for you; each new season will hold some sadness as memories surface. Know that the love you shared with your pet is stronger than this sadness and will endure.
May it comfort you to know that we share in your sorrow, as we are honored to have shared in your life. We hope that the material contained within this website will help you on your journey through your own unique grieving process. We encourage you to call if we can be of any assistance—contact Pacific Animal Hospital at (760) 691-5837.
Animal Hospice Services
There may come a time when a decision needs to be made regarding quality of life and humane treatment of your beloved pet. When a pet is fighting a terminal illness, such as cancer, heart disease, or kidney failure, continued treatment may reach the point of causing additional pain and suffering. The decision to discontinue aggressive treatment and choose palliative care (comfort-oriented rather than cure-oriented) is a compassionate choice and a gentle release to the familiarity of home and nurturing from family members.
Hospice care is focused on giving pets a comfortable, safe, and caring end-of-life experience at home with their family. Pacific Animal Hospital offers this compassionate approach through pain management and emotional support in the comfort of home. This intimate experience is positive for both pets and their owners, allowing for a time of closeness and the opportunity to say goodbye.
Our veterinary professionals teach pet owners to manage supportive care at home: to monitor their pets, administer medications, and, ultimately, to predict and prevent pain. Veterinary support to pet owners is available by phone at any time should a problem arise or the situation changes.
Hospice can be a wonderful, caring option for terminally ill pets. However, it may not be for everyone. Owners may not be ready or able to take on the often emotional and time-consuming work of the day-to-day care for a sick pet. Hospice may not be the right decision for owners who live alone, have a heavy work schedule, or are not in good health. Owners should carefully consider whether they have the resources necessary to care for their pet at home and talk to their veterinarian about what is right for them.
After Hospice Care
If hospice measures no longer provide comfort or relief from pain, euthanasia may be necessary. This can be a difficult decision—when is the right time? We offer pet owners guidance and direction for this final release.
End-of-life care for pets can be compassionate, comforting, and humane—contact Pacific Animal Hospital for answers to your questions about hospice and euthanasia services.
The decision to euthanize a beloved pet is fraught with indecision, anxiety, and profound sorrow. To help you prepare for this difficult time in your pet’s life, your friends at Pacific Animal Hospital have provided answers to some frequently asked questions.
If your pet can no longer do with you and your family the things he or she once enjoyed, if your pet cannot respond to you in the usual ways, or if there is more pain than pleasure in his or her life, it may be time to consider euthanasia. Also, if your pet is terminally ill or critically injured, or if the financial or emotional cost of treatment is not possible for you, euthanasia may be a valid choice.
The doctors at Pacific Animal Hospital understand the special bond you have with your pet and can examine and evaluate your pet’s condition and discuss your pet’s chances for recovery and potential disabilities and long-term problems. We can explain medical and surgical options and possible outcomes. Of course, pets may have short-term illnesses that cause them to be lethargic, stop eating, or be in pain, but if the illness is prolonged with little hope of recovery, it may be time to make a decision. Because the doctor cannot make the decision for you, it is important that you fully understand your pet’s condition. If there is any part of the diagnosis or implications for your pet’s future health that you do not understand, please ask to have it explained again. Rarely will the situation require an immediate decision. Usually, you will have time to consider all the information before making a decision.
As you make your decision, you may wish to discuss the care of the remains for your pet’s body with your family and veterinarian. You have several options, and your veterinarian can provide information about cremation and other alternatives.
Yes, many owners choose to stay with their pet to provide comfort during the procedure. Other owners feel they would be overcome with grief and prefer not to have the memories of the euthanasia procedure. We provide support and understanding in either situation. If you choose to be with your pet, please make an appointment to come in and we will help and guide you through the process. If you choose not to stay with your pet, you may spend some time at home or in the hospital saying goodbye, and then leave before the procedure.
We place an IV catheter for the comfort of your pet and family. Often a sedative is given to relax your pet and relieve any anxiety. We encourage the family to be close and possibly hold your pet during the procedure. The solution given is designed to facilitate a very gentle, rapid, and humane passing.
You may choose to have your pet’s body cremated with or without ashes returned to you. Our staff will help you with this decision and answer any questions you may have.
Saying goodbye is profoundly sad and painful but is an important step in the natural feelings of grief, sorrow, and loss. Your pet is a very important part of your life, and it is normal for you to feel like you are losing a close friend or family member—because you are. Once the decision for euthanasia has been made, you and your other family members may want to spend a last evening with your pet at home or visit your pet in the hospital, if appropriate. Family members who want to be alone with the pet should be allowed to do so.
After your pet has died, it is natural and normal to feel grief and sorrow.
Grief is an Expression of Love & Loss
Our companion animals offer us constant, dependable, unconditional love and friendship. They allow us to be ourselves, relieve our stress with their touch, and encourage us to remember to play and relax. They keep us active, remind us to slow down, help us meet new people, and keep us company. They generously share their joy in the present and their comforting presence and devotion create a safe haven in our hectic lives.
Although the loss of our companion is an inevitable part of this relationship, we may be taken off guard by the magnitude of our sorrow. This loss can leave us feeling lost and very much alone. It may be surprising that the loss of a pet has as much or greater an impact on us than that of a relative or friend, but it is perfectly logical because our pet is an integral part of our everyday lives. Each pet and his or her relationship with each of us is irreplaceable. The process of mourning allows us to adapt to this loss and to adjust to our lives without their physical presence.
Stages of Grief
Grief is a complex emotional, physical, and behavioral experience; a normal and natural adjustment to change, necessary for the process of healing. Though grieving is a unique process for each of us (both in intensity and length), you may experience some or all of the phases associated with loss. It could take days, weeks, or months. The first year is difficult as we experience each new season and holiday without our loved one. There is no correct order or time frame, but rather a journey back and forth between stages, which will lessen in intensity over time.
The stages or feelings of grief:
- Denial, shock, despair, numbness, disbelief, anguish, loneliness, helplessness, hopelessness, irritability, need to blame, disconnectedness.
- Anger may follow denial. This anger can be directed toward people you normally love and respect, including your family and veterinarian. You may say things that you do not really mean, perhaps hurting those whom you do not mean to hurt. You may blame yourself or others for not recognizing the illness earlier or for being careless and allowing the pet to be injured.
- You may also feel guilt and depression. This is when you usually feel the greatest sense of loss. The tears flow, there are knots in your stomach, and you are drained of all your energy. Day-to-day tasks can seem impossible.
- Once you and your family have time to process your grief, the final stage is reorganization and acceptance, recovery, feeling at peace, the ability to talk about the deceased pet without intense emotions or reaction and to experience positive memories. When you have reached resolution and acceptance, the feelings of anger, denial, guilt, and depression may reappear. If this does occur, the intensity of these feelings will be much less and, with time, will be replaced with fond memories.
The death of a beloved pet is one of the most significant losses of our lives. We have the right to experience all of these feelings. Acknowledging the depth of our loss and allowing the full experience of the mourning process brings resolution. Repression of grief feelings will only lengthen the time necessary to heal.
Fortunately, there has been a great shift in our society toward acknowledging the value of pets in our lives. There are many resources to help us through this loss. We may still encounter those who have not been fortunate enough to have fully experienced the human–animal bond. They may surprise us with a cavalier response or try to minimize our loss. It is important to seek out those who share our understanding of the human–animal bond; those who will listen and be supportive; be they family, friends, coworkers, the veterinary staff, or a pet loss hotline. A bereavement support group or individual counseling is also helpful, especially if profound grief continues without resolving.
It is often helpful in our grieving process to honor our dear animal friends with a memorial, a ceremony or funeral service with family and close friends, or a service of celebration for our pet’s life. Other ideas include:
- Writing a letter to or a poem or story about your pet
- Creating a scrapbook or photo album
- Making a donation to a shelter or other charity in your pet’s name
- Creating a memorial garden
- Saving belongings such as fur clippings, collar, toys, and blankets in a special place
- Placing ashes in a special place or scattering in special places
- Volunteering at a local shelter to give companionship to other pets in need
- Creating an online memorial
- Spending extra time at home with other pets that may be grieving, comforting each other and creating new routines.
Helping Children Cope with the Loss of a Pet
Children have special relationships with their pets. It is natural to want to shield children from the pain of loss; however, we cannot protect them from death and grief, and they respond best to honesty and compassion. Children respect straightforward, truthful, and simple answers. Actions that you can take to help children through this process include:
- Understanding—Explain that the pet has died and what caused the death. If necessary, explain what the word “death” means. Avoid euphemisms like “gone away,” “put to sleep,” or “lost”. Avoid overloading your children with details.
- Encourage expressions of feeling—Children will model their parents’ behaviors. Try drawing, writing, and talking together about the pet. Share your beliefs, hopes, and faiths about the soul or spirit of pets.
- Memorialize—A funeral, service, or placement of ashes encourages healthy closure and allows your child to honor the pet’s life.
Lastly, the consideration of a new pet may bring up feelings of guilt. Some may feel they would never want another pet. A new pet may help others get over the loss more quickly. Just as grief is a personal experience, the decision of when, if ever, to bring a new pet into your home is also a personal one. If a family member is having difficulty accepting the pet’s death, bringing a new pet into the home before that individual has resolved his or her grief may imply that the life of the deceased pet was unworthy of the grief that is still being felt. Family members should come to an agreement on the appropriate time to acquire a new pet. Although you can never replace the pet you lost, you can share your life with another one.
We offer a Pet Loss Library for those anticipating the death of a pet or are currently experiencing grief. This resource gives you answers to your frequently asked questions about grieving the death of a pet and allows you to read information and stories from others.
All of us at Pacific Animal Hospital understand that grief over the loss of a pet is an expression of your love, and we have been through such a loss, too. We invite you to discuss your feelings with us and hope our support and compassion during this time is a comfort to you and your family.