The bond we share with our pets is extraordinary.
This bond is forged from thousands of micro-moments. An abundance of morning walks, come rain or shine. Snuggles on the sofa (whether you like it or not). Not to mention the hours of training, cat-flaps, litter trays, treats, and learning to heel without dragging you down the street.
Every moment creates your history together.
In return, our pets become our confidantes. Our companions. A source of unconditional love. And full-fledged members of our family.
Our responsibility as pet parents? To care for, love, and protect our pets - throughout their lives.
As hard as it is to talk about, this includes your pet’s final moments - when they need you the most. When it’s time to honor your life together, tying up all those historical shared moments into a final act of love.
67% of pet parents in the US choose not to stay in the room with their pet during euthanasia. It makes sense. The decision to euthanize isn’t an easy one to make in the first place, and the decision to stay with a pet - or leave the room - can seem impossible.
We get that wholeheartedly. And we want to make it clear that there’s no shame in not being able to be with your pet when the time comes.
But when you’re making that decision, we want you to have all the facts. That way, you feel prepared to make the best decision for you - and your pet.
Understanding the reasons for euthanasia
There’s a misconception that euthanasia is an option pet parents choose only when their pet has reached old age. While this is a core reason, there are other circumstances that lead to it being the most humane choice.
Irreversible behavioral problems
Sadly, it may be the case that a pet poses a risk to humans or other animals. Aside from being dangerous, pets with recurring and untreatable reactivity or aggression issues can have a low quality of life as a result of their behavior management.
When all possible avenues of training and behavior management have been exhausted, a vet may recommend euthanasia as the only responsible option for pet parents to take - for the welfare of everyone involved. In some sad cases, like multiple bite incidences or aggression toward children, it may even be mandated by the city or county.
The cost of pet care can be overwhelming, especially when an animal is facing a serious illness or life-changing injury.
Ongoing surgeries, treatments, and medications can lead to spiraling costs, which are simply unmanageable in the long term, especially when the pet’s quality of life is impacted. Tragically (and while we think pet insurance can be key to avoiding this) some pet parents are left with no other option but to consider financial euthanasia. It's heartbreaking, but it's a reality.
In cases where a pet is suffering from a terminal illness or severe chronic pain, euthanasia may be the kindest option. Even if a pet isn't entering old age, certain conditions can leave pet parents with no other choice.
When the pet’s suffering can’t be alleviated, or when treatment would only prolong pain, euthanasia can offer a peaceful and painless end to suffering, so they can pass with dignity.
As always, your pet needs emotional support
It’s true that euthanasia is a pain-free, humane ending to your pet’s life. But they still need the special emotional support only you can give.
You’ve been the center of their world for as long as they’ve been with you. You’re their source of comfort. Familiarity. And strength - like a superhero of sorts.
Vets and their tech teams are experienced in comforting your pet, but as the pet parent you’re in the best position to calm them, because:
Your familiarity gives them comfort. The vet’s room is a clinical and unfamiliar environment. Your presence will help to reduce anxiety and fear, because you’re their home - and have been for years.
Your pet understands your emotions. Animals have an incredible ability to read our emotions. How many times have you been struggling emotionally and your pet has crept onto your lap? Or come to sit by your side? Your touch, voice, and expressions will help to create a more peaceful passing.
Kim P, from Figo, tells the story of her dog, Gunner:
“My heart dog, Gunner, was diagnosed with cancer at just age 3. Gunner was with me every step of every day and I could not fathom NOT being there for his journey to the rainbow bridge as much as it crushed me. I was his person and because of that Gunner deserved to see my face last and not be left in the care of strangers. They would have never left your side; you should never leave theirs.”
In Kim and Gunner’s case, staying together until the end was a testament to the unconditional love and commitment they shared throughout their time together.
It gave Kim the opportunity to honor the bond they shared and to show Gunner that he was loved, cherished, and valued.
Being present can help soothe your grieving process
Witnessing your pet’s passing can help you come to terms with the reality of their death. This can give you the tools to process your grief so you can begin to move forward.
Acknowledging the finality by being present will aid you to find closure. And this is essential for healing and coping with the loss you’ll experience.
Therapist, Jessica Pierce, says: “Attending the death of an animal, all the way through the process, can help people begin to process their loss. Guardians who were not present reported more feelings of regret than those who decided to be present.”.
But as we know, the unknown is scary
For many pet parents, euthanasia is uncharted territory. You don’t know what to expect - and that lack of clarity is a big source of anxiety.
You have the fear of how your pet will respond during the procedure. But you also don’t know how you’ll react emotionally.
The good thing is, you can take steps to prepare yourself. And make sure you’re in the best headspace possible. It’s also important to prepare for the unexpected, as your vision of how it will go, may not match up to what happens.
Ben H, from Figo, says:
“The only thing I have to say is to anticipate the plan not going the way you thought it would. I had an appointment for a home vet visit to put down my 15-year-old cat, Greta. The night before the appointment I knew she was not going to make it and even if she did, she was miserable. I was also an anxious mess constantly checking in on her. So, I just found a 24-hour vet close to me and decided to do it that night at midnight. It was not ideal, probably a little more expensive but I felt it was so much more freeing for the both of us.”
What does the process look like?
The decision surrounding your pet’s place of passing should be a personal choice.
At-home euthanasia offers a familiar, comfortable environment for your pet's final moments.
On the other hand, a veterinary environment can offer better access to equipment, and immediate care if complications arise - which can be reassuring for many pet parents.
The actual process involves an injection (under the skin) of a heavy sedative or anesthetic, plus pain medication.
When your pet is softly snoozing, far away in dreamland, the final euthanasia injection is given. Once this happens, your pet will pass quickly - in most cases, within 30 seconds. From your pet’s point of view, they are just drifting off to sleep peacefully with no pain at all.
How can I prepare emotionally?
Acknowledge your emotions and recognize that it's normal to feel fear and sadness.
Have self-compassion. It’s going to be hard and you’re going to grieve, but you need to allow yourself that time and space.
Seek support from others by reaching out to family and friends. They may have gone through it before and will relate to you - there’s comfort in shared experiences.
Talk through a roadmap with your vet so you know exactly what to expect from the procedure. They’ll help to tailor the experience to the unique personality and needs of your pet.
Once you’ve mentally prepared, you can put your efforts into making their last days their best days.
Forbidden foods (like chocolate) can spark joy in their last moments, for example. If their greatest love has been a particular walk/route then enjoy it with a special “picnic”. Or simply surround them with their favorite people.
Jenna C from Figo shares her story:
“When I put Luke down at the end of October, we did an end-of-life photoshoot because we knew his time was coming. We both had Taco Bell for the first time in the room together before we said our goodbyes. We stayed in the room - he was always there for me and so I wanted to always be there for him until the end.”
Jennifer S, from Figo, also shares a similar sentiment:
“I got Troy when he was only 4 weeks old (that's a story of its own). He was a part of my life longer than my husband and helped me raise two kids. He had some increasing medical issues... and we started noticing that some days he struggled to get up and around more days than others, and over the winter, I sensed it was his last one. I talked with my family, and we made the decision that we wanted to let him go before his bad days outnumbered the good ones. We actually scheduled the euthanasia three months in advance, as the kids wanted to be present, and it was the first time they'd be out of school. Those three months were probably the best of his life (in his view). We spoiled him rotten, giving him all the scraps, excessive treats, etc.
When his day finally came, we took him in and gave him as much chocolate as he wanted. The team at the hospital I worked at were amazing, they even put a vet-wrap heart over his catheter. We said our goodbyes, and all held him as he drifted off to sleep. The kids then got to make clay paw prints for themselves, and we took him home to be buried. It was a peaceful experience, but we also KNEW the day was coming and were able to prepare.”
Remember, there’s comfort in closure
However painful, the act of seeing your pet pass peacefully can give you a sense of relief. You know that they are now free from any discomfort. And you can see that you did the right thing for them, despite how hard it was for you.
Ashley C, a former vet tech from Figo, says:
“I always asked pet parents what they felt comfortable with. I would tell them at any point if they felt uncomfortable, they were free to walk out.
If they were confident about staying, I would tell them ‘I think your pet will be happy being with you in their last moments of life’. If they were overwhelmed and didn't want to, I would tell them ‘It's completely fine’. We understand it's not easy to see their pet pass away and have that be the last visual memory. Everyone is different but there is no wrong or right answer when it comes to this hard decision.”
Like Ashley says, there's truly no right or wrong decision. But by staying with your pet in their final moments, you can begin to replace your grief with grace, knowing you’re leaving your pet with one final happy memory with you. You want your pet to have a peaceful passing and are giving your pet a gift when you unselfishly let them go.
Sometimes, the hardest thing can be the most rewarding. Our pets are with us for a short time on earth, so we owe it to them - if we can - to make sure they’re not alone in their final moments.
Lizz Caputo is a Content Strategist at Figo, animal enthusiast, and owner of a rescued senior American Bully. Her hobbies include checking out new restaurants in her area, boxing, and petting dogs of all shapes and sizes.