End of life for pets is a time when they need us most—don't let them go it alone.
When it comes to facing the end of life for a furry friend, most people will report that it's a heartbreaking process. For some pet owners, it's one of those deeply impactful experiences that stay with them forever, just as the grief of losing a human family member will. But the grief of owners is just one part of the picture. What's often not talked about is what our four-legged family member experiences in their last moments.
Holding an aged, sick, and dying pet in your arms, watching the vet approach with the needles, calming them as they express their fear and pain, and ushering them into peaceful rest while tears flow freely—this is the experience many pet parents know. This is not the experience all pets have, however. Some are left to face those final moments in a vet's office, with people they do not know.
In a blog post shared by Hillcrest Veterinary Hospital & 24-hour Emergency Service in South Africa, a local vet shared the heart-wrenching loneliness of pets who face euthanasia without the loving arms, faces, scents, and voices of their two-legged family nearby. The post has been shared over 130,000 times and explains that oftentimes when making the transition from life into death, pets will search for their owners—sometimes, frantically, as they near the end of life. The veterinarian explains that they search every face in the room for their loved one, not understanding why they have been left behind.
As the post says, these animals need the comfort of their owners, just as we seek the comfort of our loved ones. Though losing a pet may be hard—and watching as they become still and pass on is scary, sobering, and full of sadness—they, too, need comfort, especially in those last few moments.
The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) has some tips and guidance for pet owners facing the death of a pet. Euthanasia can be a final act of love and often is the only way to end a pet’s suffering. Humane euthanasia is a peaceful process and can help pet owners with grief, as they help and watch their pet stop suffering.
Veterinarian Jennifer Coates of Pet MD weighed in about whether or not pets know they're going to die. While her article was not able to answer that specific question, it did point out that helping them through those final moments with love and grace is the ultimate act of love.
“We’ll probably never be able to definitively answer the question of whether pets know when they are going to die. What is vital, however, is that owners and veterinarians recognize when the end is near so that we can provide all the love and care necessary to make their last days as good as they possibly can be.”
When a pet dies, we often wonder what we could have done to give them a better life, and as the vet who wrote this post reminds us, simply being with them to the very end means more than any new toy, bone, or chew. When that unfortunate time comes, they will look to us for the final okay to go. Most areas have veterinarians who will come to the home to perform the procedure, allowing the pet to be in their own space and not anxiously being placed on a table or vet office floor.
This one pulled on the heartstrings and reminded us of all the fur babies we have loved and lost. We want to hear from you on this subject. How have you faced the inevitable situation of when a pet is ready to pass on? Let us know in the comments, and share any pictures of your beloved pets with us.