No one wants to think about the end of their pet’s life. We love our pets so much and we never want to think about being without them. 

Yet there comes a time when we have to say goodbye. When we envision how we want the end to be, the vast majority of people want their pets to pass peacefully at home, in their sleep, surrounded by their loved ones. We all hope this happens naturally, but natural death is so rarely peaceful. But there is a way we can ensure our pets pass away peacefully in their sleep at home: by choosing a home euthanasia. 

Euthanasia comes from the Greek for “good death.” Euthanasia means choosing to end our pet’s life peacefully before the natural end. The reason we do this is to avoid the suffering and pain that accompanies a natural death. 

As a hospice and euthanasia veterinarian I have come to believe it is our duty to do everything we can to ensure those last moments are peaceful and happy for them. So it’s difficult to think about, but with a little planning, we can make your pet’s send off beautiful instead of full of pain and fear in a scary hospital. 

So how can we make the end of our pets’ lives peaceful, beautiful, and even happy, in the comfort of their own home? There are 4 steps: 

  1. Choosing the right time
  2. Planning the last days
  3. Creating a beautiful last day
  4. Honoring them in beautiful and meaningful ways after passing

Choosing the right time

The first step to planning a peaceful and beautiful home euthanasia is deciding on timing. This can be an agonizing decision and I have a much more detailed post on this subject here:

Here is the crux of the matter: 

  • I recommend reframing the question. Don’t ask “how do I know when it’s time?” And instead ask, “how do I ensure my pet’s last days are happy, surrounded by love, and free of suffering?” 

  • Our natural inclination is to choose the last possible moment so we can have them around as long as possible. 

  • However, when we try to wait until the last possible moment, pet parents often end up having to rush them to the hospital because they are truly suffering and declining rapidly at that point. 

  • So, counterintuitively, it often means making the decision to say goodbye BEFORE it is absolutely necessary, so that we can minimize the risk there is major suffering or a crisis at the end.
  • The two questions I ask my clients: 

    • “How much joy is your pet experiencing in life?” When the answer to that question becomes not too much, it’s time.

    • “What is the likelihood of a crisis that will lead to a traumatic ER visit and euthanasia at the ER? When that likelihood seems to be getting higher, it’s time. 

It seems a bit strange and unnatural to think about death this way at first, but when we do, we make the end of life so much better for them, and we can cherish the beautiful twilight moments instead of being filled with dread. Once we accept that death is coming, we can turn it into a celebration of life. 

Planning the last days

Once a general time is elected, now you can focus on celebrating your pets life and living in the moment and making every day as full of love and joy as possible. This is the beauty of planning. Some things you can do: 

  • take a trip somewhere special – a day at the beach, visiting best friends, 

  • If your pet is eating (and your veterinarian thinks it’s safe) you can plan a fantastic last feast: McDonalds and ice cream are popular options for dogs, and salmon or sushi are popular for cats. 

  • Have a party where all their best friends can stop by. 

  • Do a photo shoot with a pet photographer to create memories you will cherish forever. 

  • Sometimes quality time snuggling on the couch is all you need

  • Now is also the time to purchase memorial supplies like clay or ink paw print kits

Creating a beautiful last day

It’s almost impossible to ask, but as best as you can, try to give off a calm and loving energy on their pet’s last day so they can feel loved.  

Some things to consider when planning that last day:

  • Try to make everything happy for your pet. 

  • Where do you want it to take place? The most common locations are a bed or a sofa – wherever the pet is happy and relaxed. Occasionally clients want to have euthanasia performed outside. I recommend this only if your pet is calm and relaxed outside. If they get very excited by being outside it is not a good idea. For cats I often recommend starting the process wherever they are spending their time as they can become stressed or experience pain when moved around. 

  • Who will be present? Anyone who loves the pet – people or animals – are welcome to be present, as long as their presence is calming and relaxing. 

  • Do you want to say any special words? Prayers? Poems? Songs? Is there special music or a special playlist you want to create? 

  • Do you want to have any special items or perform any rituals? Favorite toys, blankets, as well as candles, incense and flowers can make a sad moment incredibly beautiful and meaningful. 

The process of euthanasia itself may be a little different depending on your pet’s type of illness, temperament, and your veterinarian’s preference but this is how a typical home euthanasia goes in my practice: 

Your whole family can be all around the pet and we will work around you. Unlike at the hospital, no IV lines are placed because it is stressful to put an IV in a pet. Most of the time I give medications using a tiny needle that most pets don’t even feel. These medications take all the pet’s pain away and cause them to feel happy and relaxed as they fall deep asleep over about 10 minutes. 

Once the pet is deep asleep I give a second medication that is a powerful anesthetic. I give that medication over a minute or two and the pet drifts deeper and deeper asleep until they pass away in their sleep. 

If you’ve ever had surgery or anesthesia and felt that warm and happy sensation as the drugs start to take effect, that’s what your pet feels. Clients often remark to me once the pet passes that they just look like they’re sleeping. 

An important thing to note: the drugs don’t “stop the heart” or anything abrupt like that. They actually work by slowly turning off the mind, and the mind turns off the body. 

A few things that are important to be aware of: when the pet falls asleep and passes, it is normal if their eyes stay partially open. And when they pass, sometimes they can urinate or defecate a little because they become completely relaxed. On rare occasions, as the pet passes or right after it passes there can be small movements – but these are just reflexes and nothing the pet is aware of. 

Once the pet has passed, I confirm by listening with my stethoscope. I usually make a clay paw print and clip some fur for the pet parents to keep and give the pet parents a few minutes with their pet to say their final goodbyes. 

Honoring your pet after passage 

The most common options for handling the pet after passage are burial and cremation. Regardless of which option you choose, the most important thing is that the pet’s body is treated with respect and dignity. 

The vast majority of our clients at Paws at Peace choose to have their pets cremated. Most clients choose private cremation, which means the pet is cremated individually and the ashes are returned to the client in a beautiful urn. We use a type of cremation called aquamation, which is gentler on the pet and more environmentally friendly.  

If you elect to bury your pet, there a few important considerations: (1) you must bury the pet in accordance with local laws and regulations, (2) the pet must be buried deeply and securely so no scavengers have access since the pet contains euthanasia solution that could harm other animals, and (3) you should obtain a casket or burial shroud in advance. 

Many clients also choose to honor their pet with art and jewelry made from their pets fur, whiskers, or ashes. 

The twilight of a loved one’s life can be a difficult time, but with a little planning, it can be beautiful and incredibly meaningful. Our beloved pets give us so much throughout our lives, we owe it to them to give them a dignified ending. I hope this post helps you turn the end of your pet’s life into a beautiful celebration of their life.