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How To Know When It's Time to Put Your Pet To Sleep

A lifetime of love and joy with our pets also means that many times we have to face end-of-life care and decisions. As pets age they can face a range of issues.

As the problems progress and the pet’s health and quality of life decline, it may be time to think about options available to end your pet’s suffering and give him or her rest.

How to Decide When It's Time

Working with a vet and having him or her lay out your options for you and your pet is the best bet.

Sometimes, even a pet that is terminally ill can spend a few days to a few weeks resting comfortably at home. Your vet can discuss with you how to care for her during this time.

Once her quality of life deteriorates to the point that she is in pain, is unable to eat or drink or has lost mobility, it may be time to consider putting her to sleep.


Once you have made this difficult decision, you will need to decide where you want to have your pet put to sleep.

  • At the vet’s

Most people choose to take their pet to a vet’s office. When you are there you will have the option of staying with your pet during the process or stepping out.

Choosing whether or not to stay with your pet is a very personal decision. Some feel that though it is hard, seeing your pet through the process and being there to comfort them as they pass away is important.

But for others watching that moment is just too hard.

One option is to ask the vet to give your pet a sedative first that will make them sleepy and relaxed. Then, after they have gone to sleep you can quietly leave the room before the final dose is administered.

  • At home

For many people, putting their pet to sleep at home is the best option. According to Ashley Mitchem of Tallahassee’s WCTV, more and more vets are offering at-home euthanasia options for their clients. Dr. Blount, a veterinarian who offers many at-home services to pet owners, says that this is especially a good option for disabled or elderly pet owners. Putting your pet to sleep at home may provide an extra level of comfort during a very difficult process.

Understanding the decisions that need to be made can help you get through the process.

Understanding the decisions that need to be made can help you get through the process.

What to Expect

When your pet is ready to be put down and the appointment is looming, expect to feel quite a bit of anxiety, stress and second-guessing. It is hard to see it rationally because of your own personal pain. Many feel guilt over making the decision and even after the process has already happened.

Know that these feelings are absolutely normal. Our love and devotion to our animals and our desire to make everything right can make use second guess our decisions.

I know that no matter how sick my pet has been, at the moment the injection is being administered, it is all I can do not to scream “stop.”

It is important to not be too hard on yourself and seek comfort from friends and family

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You can expect to go through stages of grief much like what you would go through with a death of a loved one.

Decisions After

  • Burial

As hard as it is to say goodbye to your pet, you do need to make some final decisions about the aftercare of his body. Some vets offer to take the body for you and have it buried. You can also see if there are pet cemeteries available in your area. Finally, you can opt to take the body home to bury it in your own yard if your city ordinances allow this.

  • Cremation

A growing trend is to have the pet cremated. Your vet may partner with or can offer advice about cremation companies.

If you choose cremation, there are several options:

  • You have the body cremated and not have the ashes returned
  • You can have the body cremated and have the ashes returned for you to bury
  • You can have the body cremated and have the ashes placed in special urns or memorial items

Many cremation services offer different packages that include plaques, unique boxes or urns and even small vials on necklaces where you can have some of the ashes placed and can wear as a tribute and memorial.

These decisions are also very personal. If it’s possible, you should make the arrangements before your put your pet to sleep. This way you won’t have to think about it while you are dealing with your grief and loss.

When Children Face Pet Loss

I have had to put many beloved pets to sleep over the years. It doesn’t ever get easier. It is especially hard to deal with when you also have children who may be facing a first loss.

I remember as a beloved tabby cat was sick and dying of cancer, we brought him home for one last weekend with the family before putting him to sleep.

My then eight year old would go into the room where we had him and read the poem Rainbow Bridge to him every day.

My son said that he just wanted our cat to not be scared and to know that it would be okay and that we would see him again.

Watching my child experience a first loss and my cat dying was a very hard process, but I realized that it was also an extremely important moment for all of us to experience, understand and learn from.

There are books and videos available to help you and your child through the process.

Enjoy Your Memories

Owning a pet is such a wonderful experience and such an important part of our lives. Don’t let the fear of loss cloud the happiness of loving your pet. Your memories wil sustain you and bring you joy as your grief becomes less acute.

As the C.S. Lewis character notes in the movie Shadowlands (1993):

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