Time to Say Goodbye - Losing a Loved Pet

As loving pet owners, we do our best to make sure our faithful companions stay as fit and healthy as possible for as long as possible. Unfortunately, our pets do not live as long as we do and it is inevitable that at some point we have to experience the distress of losing a pet.

Sadly, few pets will pass away peacefully in their sleep and as owners we have to make the tough decision to have them euthanased, also known as putting them to sleep.

This information has been put together to help you and your family to plan, prepare and understand the events of this very confusing and emotional time. As pet owners ourselves, many members of the Holly House team already have personal experience of losing a pet and want to make things as easy for you as possible. We are here to help you in any way we can, so please do not be afraid to ask us for help, advice or support.

How do I know it is time?

We all want to do the right thing at the right time and fulfil our responsibility and commitment to our pets until the very end. Nobody knows your pet better than you do, but when making a reasoned judgement about your pet’s quality of life it can often be helpful to discuss things with your closest family or friends.

As your vet, we can help you to decide when to let go if a good quality of life can no longer be maintained. Remember, your pet’s welfare is close to our hearts and central to all the advice we give you.

Determining quality of life

Quality of life can be challenging to quantify but it may help to focus on three main factors:

1) Do you feel your pet is free from pain?
2) Do you feel that your pet can perform normal day to day activities?
3) Is your pet eating normally?

If the answer to any of these is ‘no’ then a veterinary consultation would be advised. Your vet may discuss euthanasia as an option if you feel that the quality of life of your pet is poor. 

You may find that the answer to the above questions varies on a daily basis and as such, your pet has 'good days' and 'bad days'. With this in mind, you may find it useful to consider a 'rule of three'. If your pet is having two or more days out of three which are perceived as 'bad' then once again, overall quality of life is likely to be affected and it would be beneficial to have a discussion with a vet or nurse. 

We also offer pre-euthanasia home visit appointments and bereavement support through our Community Nursing Service. Appointments like this can help you to plan and prepare, rather than to dread the unknown. It can help you with difficult decisions such as whether or not you wish to be present when your pet is put to sleep, and whether your wish to take your pet home afterwards for private burial or for them to be cremated.

When and where can I say goodbye?

After discussing with your family and your vet and having decided that the time has come, you can contact us to make an appointment. We will endeavour to make this appointment at a time that is convenient for you and at a quieter time of the day so that it can be as personal and private as possible.

It is also possible to arrange for your pet’s final appointment to take place in the comfort of your own home – if this is an option you would like we will do our best to arrange a home visit. In these cases, a vet and a nurse will visit your home. When they have put your pet to sleep they will be able to either take your pet back to the surgery for cremation or leave them with you to be buried at home. Please bear mind that visits can only take place when vets are available and therefore certain times or days may be restricted. The more notice you are able to give us, the better. If your pet regularly sees a specific vet, then please feel free to talk to them personally about the possibility of a home visit. Additional charges will apply for this service.

Will I be able to stay with my pet?

When your pet is put to sleep it can be both emotional and distressing, however many owners feel that being present can be of comfort to their pet and also help them make their final goodbyes.

We appreciate that not everyone will feel comfortable doing this and understand if you do not want to wish to stay in the room with your pet when they are put to sleep. Some owners wish to say goodbye before, while some prefer to do it afterwards. We will always give you and your family whatever time you need.

What happens when my pet is euthanased?

Cats and Dogs

If euthanasia is determined to be the fairest option for your pet, the vet will firstly go through a consent form with you. At this stage we may also discuss whether you would prefer to take your pet home to bury or for us to send them for cremation. There is no need to make this decision at the time of the appointment as if you would prefer more time to decide, we will provide you with the relevant information and you may call us at a convenient time to inform us of your wishes. 

The next steps will vary slightly depending on your pet and their general health/demeanour at the time of consultation. If they are comfortable and relaxed then the vet will place a catheter in your pet’s leg in order to obtain access to a vein (this may be done in our respective cat or dog wards so that a nurse can easily help to hold your pet for this short procedure). If your pet is distressed or in pain, we may advise sedation prior to placing a catheter. In these instances the vet will give an injection and you will be able to comfort them as they become more relaxed. 

Once a catheter is in place, you may wish to spend some time alone with your pet which you are welcome to do. When you feel prepared, a nurse will help to gently hold your pet’s leg while the vet administers an injection of pentobarbitone. This is an anaesthetic which is given in a high quantity to allow your pet to fall asleep peacefully following which their heart will stop and they will pass away. The injection is not painful however some pets will vocalise a little when it is given as it may cause a slight tingling sensation. 

After your pet had been given the injection, a vet will listen to the heart and confirm that your pet has passed away. Once again, should you wish to spend some time alone with your pet at this stage, the vet and nurse will give you some time but be close by if needed.

If you have chosen to send your pet for cremation, you will leave them with us after they have been euthanased. We will then contact you once their ashes are ready to collect. 

What are the options after my pet’s death?

There are several options available for your pet. The veterinary team will be happy to discuss these with you and give you an idea of the costs involved with each.

We would encourage you and your family to discuss these options before your pet is put to sleep and let your vet know. However, we appreciate that in some circumstances you may need more time to make this decision. It is possible for us to keep your pet for a short time afterwards to give you and your family more time to reflect before making a decision.

Home Burial – you may wish to take your pet home for private burial, but please bear in mind this may not always be practical.

Communal Cremation – should you choose this type of cremation for your pet, you will them with us to be collected by our nominated cremation company, PCS (Pet Cremation Services) and cremated together with other pets. With this type of cremation, no ashes will be returned to you. Following every communal cremation, a small proportion of ashes from the whole cremation are retained by PCS and placed in a vessel. This vessel is then stored in either one of their Chapel of Rests Columbarium walls or in their Garden of Remembrance. On a regular quarterly cycle, a plaque will be installed where the ashes had been placed. PCS welcome memorial tributes from those who wish to honour their beloved pets in this way. It is also possible to visit their garden of remembrance, should you wish to do so, however please ensure you call the crematorium directly prior to travelling to confirm opening times. Communal cremations take place at PCS’s Doncaster crematorium.

Individual/Private Cremation – should you choose this type of cremation for your pet, you will leave them with us to be collected by our nominated cremation company, PCS (Pet Cremation Services). Your pet will be individually cremated by PCS and their ashes returned in a casket or urn of your choice for either scattering or safe-keeping. Our team will be happy to discuss the different options with you. Should you wish to do so, it is possible to attend the cremation of your pet, however please ensure you contact the crematorium directly to make arrangements. Individual cremations take place at PCS’s York crematorium.

Coping with the loss

The grief and sadness associated with the loss of a pet is often profound. This is a natural and human reaction which may feel overwhelming, however we want to remind you that this is OK! Also remember that should you require help or advice at this difficult time, we are here for you.

What should I tell my child?

For many children, pets are members of the family and best friends. Your pet may be the first to greet your child after school and they may be a source of comfort and companionship for them when feeling ill or upset. The death of a family pet is often a child’s first experience of death and grief and it can help them to learn how to cope with other losses throughout life. While you are the best judge of how much to tell your child, honesty is very important and you may find that you help to address any fears or misconceptions your child may have about death. Rather than telling them that the pet ‘went away’, which may mean they anxiously wait for it to return, it is wise to make it clear that the pet will not be coming back, but also that they are happy and free of pain. Never assume that a child is too young or too old to grieve.

Additional support

In the UK there are organisations that exist to help people and families cope with the emotional distress associated with the loss of a much-loved pet.

Details of some Agencies who give support and information are given below:

Blue Cross - 

0800 096 6606

pbssmail@bluecross.org.uk

www.bluecross.org.uk/pet-bereavement-support

Compassion Understood - 

www.compassionunderstood.com

The Ralph Site - 

www.theralphsite.com

The Samaritans -

www.samaritans.org

Our Special Friends -

www.ourspecialfriends.com

 

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Holly House Veterinary Hospital, 468 Street Lane, Moortown, Leeds  LS17 6HA      t. 0113 2369030      info@hollyhousevets.co.uk

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