Pets and how to handle their end of life

We’re sure you’ll agree that owning a pet brings much joy to both you and your furry friend. So it’s a sad fact for animal lovers that they are likely to experience the death of a pet in their lifetime. Saying goodbye to your companion – who’s likely become a part of the family – is a heartbreaking time for everyone involved. Whether it’s through the ageing process or a serious illness, caring for a pet towards the end of their life can be demanding and an emotionally draining time for a pet parent

We look at some of the stages involved in end of life care to help make this sad time more comfortable for you and your pet. 

How to tell if they’re in pain

Whilst your pet is happy to make their desire for a full food bowl, or a fun walk known, the signs that tell us they’re in pain are often more subtle.

For cats and dogs, the indications that something is off are fairly similar. You may spot changes in their behaviour, such as becoming aggressive or vocal by growling or hissing more often than normal. You should also look out for a reduced appetite, sleeping more than usual and excessive grooming. These are all common signs your pet might be experiencing discomfort and there could be an underlying cause – time to book an appointment with your vet.

Taking care of your pet

After speaking to your vet, you’ll understand what the next steps are to take and what the outlook is for your pet. While we hope their pain is the result of something manageable and treatable, there is a chance that it’s something more serious. It’s an unthinkable situation, but at this stage the comfort and quality of life of your companion must take priority. But it’s important to remember that you or your family don’t have to cope alone as there are palliative care options to help you during this difficult time.

When there is no cure, hospice care is often the best option, as it focuses on the dignity and comfort of the animal in their last days. Early intervention with pain and symptom control means many patients can be kept comfortable until an unassisted or natural death occurs. 

When the time comes to say goodbye

Putting your animal to sleep may seem just too difficult, but it can be the kindest thing to do if they’re in physical pain and suffering. Your vet will be able to explain the best course of action, but letting go of a pet will never be easy – there are a series of considerations, which may make this difficult decision easier to make. Such as, among other things, if your pet is struggling with day-to-day activities due to pain and discomfort, having trouble walking or breathing or finding it hard to eat or drink, then the time may be right to put them to sleep. Your vet will be able to explain the process, which you may find upsetting initially. You may have the option to go back and speak to them once you’ve had time to process the information. 

If your pet passes away at home

It’s natural that if you find yourself in this situation, you hope your pet will pass away quietly and painlessly in their sleep. If this happens, it can be incredibly upsetting and it may take time for you to decide what to do with the body. It’s best to speak to your vet about the options available for you and your animal, but typically they will be buried or cremated. The benefit of a cremation would be having a memorial for your pet, if you choose to keep their ashes.

Many families choose to bury their beloved pet in the garden and your local authority will be able to guide you on how best to do that. While it’s convenient to have your pet’s resting place nearby, if you don’t have the capacity or wish them to be cremated, there’s also the option of a pet cemetery. Though more expensive, it’s often a very personal service and costs will vary to what you want the burial to include.

Remember there is no right or wrong way to get over the loss of a pet. Be sure to speak to your vet, share your grief with friends and family and try to remember the good times your companion brought you.

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