You have experienced a significant loss in your life. Mourning & grief is the natural next step. This article is meant to help you process feelings or emotions that you may experience. I hope this article can be a tool to help you frame & identify what you may be feeling.
Everyone grieves differently...but you are never alone.
Stage I: Shock & Denial
You will probably react to your loss with disbelief & shock. You may at first deny the reality of the loss at some level, in order to avoid the pain. Shock provides emotional protection from being overwhelmed all at once. This is the stage where you still call your pet's name out of habit or can't stand to see any of their belongings without bursting into tears. IT'S OK!!! This stage of grief may take weeks so be patient with yourself & allow yourself to appreciate & experience the emotions, acknowledging them for what they are.
Stage II: Pain & Guilt
As the shock wears off, it is replaced with pain. Although excruciating, it is important that you experience the pain fully, not hide it, or avoid it or escape from it with alcohol or drugs. You may need to reach out to family, friends, support groups, or a hotline if you find this stage being too painful. You may randomly cry during the day or at random times....IT'S OK!!! You may have guilty feelings or remorse over things you did or didn't do with your pet. IT'S OK!!!
MSU Pet Support Hotline: 517-432-2696
Stage III: Anger
Guilt gives way to anger, and you may lash out or lay unwarranted blame for the death on someone else. Anger is a necessary stage of the healing process. Be willing to feel your anger, even though it may seem endless. The more you truly feel it, the more it will begin to dissipate and the more you will heal. Please try to control this, as permanent damage to your relationships may result. This is a time for the release of bottled up emotion. Find constructive ways to release this emotion. Find a new hobby or tackle a project on your house that would allow you to release pent up emotions without injuring relationships. This is also the stage where you have to be careful what you say to people...especially if they are offering condolences.
Stage IV: Depression
Just when your friends may think you should be getting on with your life, a long period of sad reflection will likely overtake you. This is a normal stage of grief, so do not be "talked out of it" by well meaning outsiders. Encouragement from others may not helpful to you during this stage of grieving. Empty feelings present themselves, and grief enters our lives on a deeper level, deeper than we ever imagined. This depressive stage feels as though it will last forever. It’s important to understand that this depression is not a sign of mental illness. During this time, you finally realize the true magnitude of your loss, and it depresses you. You may isolate yourself on purpose, reflect on things you did with your lost one, and focus on memories of the past. You may sense feelings of emptiness or despair.
The following phases are sometimes lumped together as one step if you read about 5 stages of grief. For the sake of this article, we will be keeping them separate.
Stage V: The Upswing
As you start to adjust to life without your dear one, your life becomes a little calmer and more organized. Your physical symptoms lessen, and your "depression" begins to lift slightly. Take heart...you are more then halfway through the process. Take a moment to appreciate the small positives in your life daily.
Stage VI: Rebuilding
As you become more functional, your mind starts working again, and you will find yourself seeking realistic solutions to problems posed by life without your loved one. You will start to work on practical and financial problems and reconstructing yourself and your life without him or her.
Stage VII: Acceptance
Acceptance does not necessarily mean instant happiness. Given the pain and turmoil you have experienced, you can never return to the carefree, untroubled YOU that existed before this tragedy. But you will find a way forward. You will start to look forward and actually plan things for the future. Eventually, you will be able to think about your lost loved one without pain; sadness, yes, but the wrenching pain will be gone. You will once again anticipate some good times to come, and yes, even find joy again in the experience of living.
You have made the decision, you have prepared yourself & your family to the best of your ability, & now it's time. This article will be focusing on the actual appointment at your vet office & aftercare available.
This article will be based only on St. John's Animal Clinic practices & after care options. Your veterinary clinic may be different so check with your own clinic for details if desired.
When you arrive
When you enter our lobby for your end of life appointment, one of our staff will quickly room you & your pet to ensure more privacy for this emotional visit. There will be some paperwork to fill out (if you have not done so prior) & aftercare will be discussed. We will also settle your account at this time as this is much easier then settling after your visit.
Either during your paperwork phase, or directly afterwards, one of our veterinary staff will come to collect your animal. We will take them to our treatment area for a short period to place a catheter one of their front legs for instant venus access during the actual process. If your pet is unable to walk, we may elect to place a catheter in the room. Sometimes we may do this with you present, but sometimes we may ask you to step out of the room momentarily or you are welcome to step out if this part makes you uncomfortable. After the catheter is placed, your pet will come back to the room with plenty of treats to give to them provided by us.
We use catheters for all in-room euthanasias to ensure the actual process is smooth, quick, & painless for your pet.
The actual euthanasia process comes next. We usually will ask if you have been through the euthanasia process before & can answer any & all questions you have about what to expect at that time. You can take as much time as you need to say your goodbyes prior to us bring in the doctor...we know this is hard, & we will not rush you.
When you are ready, we will bring in one of our doctors & the doctor will administer 3 syringes.
1. White syringe (Heavy Sedative): This will make your pet feel very sleepy & perhaps even fall asleep.
2. Pink syringe (Euthanasia Solution): This solution will stop all cardiac & respiratory functions within seconds & is painless. You may still see your pet take some breaths afterwards, but that is muscle contraction.
3. Clear syringe (Saline): Your veterinarian may use this to push any remaining drug from the first 2 syringes through the catheter.
This is a very emotional visit. There are tissues in the room for a reason. Mourn your pet & your loss. You can take time afterwards to stay with your pet, share stories, or just mourn. When you are ready, our staff will escort your out a side door for privacy.
Our clinic offers 3 options for body care.
1. Take Home: We offer free pet coffins to take your pet home to bury on your property.
2. Communal Cremation: Using a company called Partridge, we can take care of the after care of your pet. They will pick your pet up from our clinic, cremate, & scatter the remains in their pet cemetery, which is also open for visitors to come visit their pet.
3. Individual Cremation: Also using Partridge, you have the option of receiving your pet's ashes back to scatter or keep as a keepsake.
**Ink & clay paw prints are also available for purchase**
Please contact our clinic for all pricing & to answer any questions you have.
One of the most difficult parts of owning a pet can be facing the decision to euthanize your beloved companion. If you have children, explaining this choice to them can be especially difficult, even gut wrenching.
So what is the best way to talk with your kids
about your pet's death?
The answer is simple: Be honest. It may be tempting to modify, soften, or even avoid the truth. The issue with that temptation is that children, even young children, are more perceptive & smarter then we give them credit for & know more then we think. You may think you are hiding your emotions well, but they can read you more then you realize. Be honest & it will go better in the end.
Where do you start?
Start the discussion by telling your kids that when we really love a pet, we sometimes have to make hard decisions. You can keep the medical details simple & age appropriate. Explain that your pet is ill & suffering, your family has tried to make them feel better, but they can't make them feel better anymore, & that the veterinarian has the ability to end that suffering in a gentle & pain free way with a simple, painless injection.
Don't be afraid to let your children see your own sadness about your pet's death. It can be helpful for your kids to see you dealing with your sadness in a healthy and thoughtful manner. Your children are likely to mimic your behavior in their own responses, especially very young children.
It is also important to talk with your kids about how you came to this decision and to reassure them that you have chosen to end your pet's life for all the right reasons. This is important, because your kids need to understand that while you may feel sad, no one in the family should feel guilty.
Lastly, if possible, give your children an opportunity to say goodbye to their pet, but it is up to you if you decide if it is appropriate for them to be actually present for the visit.
You have prepared your kids....now what about you???
The best way for you to prepare yourself is to do as much reading & research as you can. If you have never gone through the euthanasia process before, read about what happens in the process. Know what your wishes are for afterwards. Lastly, know & read about grief & how it will affect you. Being prepared is your best asset...it will help make a very difficult process a bit more bearable in the long run.
Losing a pet is never going to be easy. You can never be fully prepared...or not impacted by the loss of a valued family member no matter how much you prepare, but it is my continued hope that these articles help prepare you at least a little for these hard life decisions.
You’re so unsure...perhaps that’s an understatement. You know it’s time... but then you really don’t. Are you making the right decision. Perhaps you think you could never be sure. After all, it’s a life you’re taking into your own hands. This is your pet, your fur baby, a beloved family member often times that you have raised from a puppy or kitten. You have you raised, shared so much with, and adored unconditionally, and now it's time to let go.
But how do you know it's time???
Euthanasia is often a blessing and gift to a suffering animal. That’s why this post is about YOUR decision, YOUR choice. As your vet staff, we can help provide advise & guidance to the best of our ability, but the decision for euthanasia is ultimately in YOUR hands. I will do my best in this article & also throughout this month to provide you with multiple resources, videos, etc to help you when that time comes...to be prepared...to know when it's time....to know grief will come...and what to expect. Because while it’s all about what’s best for your pet, your feelings count, too.
One of the tools some owners may use to help determine quality of life is by using a quiz like the one I have included below. It is build for a feline, but you can easily use your imagination to use it for canines as well. Most quality of life quizzes & charts are fairly self explanatory. You rank your pet on a 0-10 scale for each category. Over 5 scores are satisfactory, a total score under 35 usually means you should seek your veterinary clinic to discuss options or end of life discussions.
This chart is NOT all powerful. Keep in mind, we have lots of treatment options available to improve quality of life!! It may not be a fix, but it can buy you more quality time with your pet. Make sure you have spoken with your veterinarian to explore ALL options available to you to improve your pet's quality of life.
Below I have also included some videos from veterinarians discussing this exact topic in case you do not like the chart, or just want more advise.
Don't forget...you can schedule a end-of-life consult with our clinic to discuss your pet & options with one of our capable doctors. Please call our clinic to schedule.
You know your pet best. Trust your instincts, make sure you have explored your options to improve quality of life, & keep your veterinary staff informed. If I had one thing for you take away from this article it is this....
Quality over quantity