Pets are family members. In many households they are extra children; for others, they are the only children. And just like human children they grab hold of our hearts, share our homes, bring us great joy … and tragically when the time comes, they instil sadness through no fault of their own.
Sometimes death comes suddenly and unexpectedly. At other times, there is time for the family to prepare. Either way, everyone who shared the love of the animal is left with a great deal of sorrow and grief.
Helping your clients plan for and cope with the death of their beloved pet and say their final farewell, is part of the service of a good veterinary practice.
When there is time
When an animal’s life is nearing its end due to old age or a terminal illness, you can help your clients prepare by offering them the following advice:
- Make the most of the time they have left together. Encourage them to share as many happy moments as possible with their pets by playing their favourite games and taking them to the places they love. But remind the family that their pet may need to sleep a lot, depending on their illness and the medication they are receiving.
- Avoid distressing their pet. Animals can feel and see their human’s emotions, so it’s a good idea for the family members to go into another room when they need to have a cry.
- Explain that speaking with friends and family about what they’re going through and the feelings they are experiencing can be a good way to find meaning in their impending loss.
Be clear and compassionate when talking about euthanasia. Remember you are speaking to people at a vulnerable time. Using clear language and a sympathetic tone when explaining the euthanasia process can help them accept and understand what is going to happen.
If possible, offer the option to put the pet to sleep at the family’s home, in familiar surroundings. If this is the preferred option, arrange a time that suits everyone concerned.
For those who prefer to have their pet euthanised at your veterinary clinic, let them know they can leave the body there, and that your staff will make the arrangements from there.
Burial or cremation
Your clients may ask your advice about whether they should choose cremation or burial. Be prepared to give them concise information about both.
Many people who own their own home choose to bury their pet in their garden. This option provides an opportunity to honour their furry (or feathered) friend’s life with a funeral or ceremony, and to have a memorial close by forever more.
Other pet owners choose cremation. This may be a suitable option for those who are renting, move often, or do not have space to bury their pets. Provide the details of the pet cremation service or services you use or recommend.
Offering your condolences
It’s likely that you have been providing care for the pet for most of its life. You have built a relationship with the family, so as a final gesture, you can offer your condolences and support with a thoughtful and heartfelt card. Finding the right words can be difficult.
Here are a few messages from our Lost for Words booklet:
- The joy a pet brings to your life can never be anticipated or forgotten. May your many wonderful memories comfort now and forever more.
- We know saying good-bye is hard, and we’re here to support you through this difficult time.
- The bond between a dog/cat and its owner is so strong that it will continue forever. Please accept our condolences.
These messages can be used in our gorgeous range of pet sympathy cards, which you can send to your clients to show you care.