End-of-Life Care
for Your Treasured Pet

End-of-Life Care

Caring for our patients at every stage of life, we value the important role we play as they approach end of life. Our responsibility and an integral part of our mission is to provide palliative care for pets with terminal illnesses, compassionate pet euthanasia when appropriate, and tools for memorials and grief support.

There for You for the Long Haul…and in Times of Tough Choices

Managing Chronic Illness

Many chronic health conditions can be managed medically longer than in the past, and more owners are choosing to comfortably prolong the lives of their senior pets. With proper pain management and other supportive treatment, keeping your old friend around longer can be a happy time for you both.

Compassionate Euthanasia

It can be hard to manage the decision making surrounding euthanasia for a pet you love. You may believe this is the right choice, but still feel uncomfortable facing such an irrevocable decision. You should recognize that making hard choices is one of the responsibilities of animal stewardship. By taking on grief yourself, you may spare your pet from a difficult, stressful, or painful end.

Weighing Quality of Life

The decision to euthanize a pet is a difficult one, and people often struggle with knowing what to think about when considering this step.

Can your pet get around easily?

Elderly pets that have difficulty moving about may still be happy, as long as we can keep them comfortable. However, pets need to be able to manage in their environment—stairs, going outdoors, or getting to the litter box, for example. Ill animals may stop moving about due to lack of energy, intractable pain, or dementia.

Does your pet eat normally?

Happy animals look forward to meals, which provide the energy for life. Pets that need to be coaxed to eat aren’t feeling well, and it’s unlikely that they’re getting the nutrients they need.

Can your pet breathe easily?

Some patients, such as those with heart failure or thoracic disease, can’t breathe normally and labor to meet their needs. These pets use their abdominal muscles to breathe because they can no longer fill their lungs to capacity. Fighting for air is exhausting, both mentally and physically, for these animals.

Is your pet in pain?

Most animals don’t whine or vocalize when they’re in pain; in fact, it’s more likely that they’ll be quieter than usual. Other signs include a tense posture, negative reactions to touch or other handling, or hiding under the bed, in a back room, or in a closet.

Is your pet soiling the house?

Most pets are careful about where they urinate and defecate; when they’re not, it can indicate that they either no longer care or have the ability to control their bowels and bladder. Of course, remember that they are unhappy about soiling in the house.

Is your pet happy?

It may be difficult to know this for certain, but you know them intimately and will notice subtle changes in their behavior. They may no longer engage in their usual joyful pursuits, may be more difficult to please, or grouchier. Purrs or tail-wags may disappear.

How is your pet responding to treatment?

Even (or especially) when you do all you can for your pet, some treatments will cause stress or lead to unwanted side effects. Your pet’s tolerance for necessary treatment may diminish.

Finally, every euthanasia decision happens in the context of a family, even if it’s just the two of you. It’s both fair and reasonable to take into account your needs and ability to provide the support and care required.

Euthanasia means good death and, as performed in modern veterinary practice, is a peaceful and pain-free process. However, the fact that few people are familiar with the process often adds to their own anxiety and, by extension, that of their pet.

The following section is intended to help you understand the steps involved and address other end-of-life concerns.

Please know that, above all, we think of our clients and their pets as a part of our own family. We’ll be there to hold your hand every step of the way, no matter how difficult the situation may be.

Read more

What happens during euthanasia?

New York State requires that a specific form be used when performing euthanasia. Our staff will help you fill this out if you are a New York resident, and you must sign it in the appropriate places as the owner before the procedure can be undertaken. As this is an emotionally complex procedure, we prefer to finish all the necessary paperwork beforehand, so we can concentrate exclusively on you and your pet.

All common euthanasia solutions are strong barbiturate anesthetics that are given intravenously, either through a catheter or needle placed directly into a vein. Sometimes a sedative is given first to help the patient relax, making the procedure less stressful for the patient. Most pets react quickly to the medication, and it may seem only moments between the time the medication is injected through the needle and their last sigh. Your pet’s eyes may remain open after they pass away. Your pet may show some movement after the euthanasia injection, although they will no longer be conscious. The body muscles relax in their own good time.

Should I be present?

Whether you decide to be with your pet as the injection is given is up to you. You may take the option of being present, but please do not feel obligated to be with your pet. The release of emotion that comes with the final moments can be unexpected and overwhelming, and is not the best way for everyone to experience this loss. Sometimes a friend or other family member will be asked to stand in for you, so that your pet has a friend in the room up until the end. There may, of course, be practical reasons why you can’t be present, but remember that the love you and your pet have shared will be present with them during this time even if you can’t be.

Please keep in mind that the experience is always emotionally charged for our doctors and staff as well. We love our patients and respect the human–animal bond. You never get used to it.

What happens with my pet’s remains?

You will need to make practical decisions regarding the disposition of the body. These are highly personal choices and, again, there is no right or wrong. Most of our patients are cremated; you can elect to have ashes returned to you or have them spread at the cemetery.

If you choose private cremation, your pet’s ashes can be returned to you in a decorative container. Be assured that you will receive only your pet’s ashes from the cemetery.

Of course, you can take your pet’s body with you if you’ve made other arrangements for cremation or for home burial. You should check with your town about regulations regarding burial in your back yard, although we know of no one who has gotten in trouble for doing so.

No matter what decision you make, we will be sure that, at all times, your pet is treated with the same care and respect you would give them yourself. In addition, we will do our very best to provide you with emotional support.