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Pet Euthanasia vs. Natural Death

Adrienne is a dog trainer and former veterinary assistant. She has taken several specialized courses on hospice care for dogs.

Deciding whether to put your pet down or let them die at home is a personal decision.

Deciding whether to put your pet down or let them die at home is a personal decision.

Is It Time to Put My Pet to Sleep?

As your pet grows older or as an incurable and fatal disease progresses, you may start thinking about those dreaded final days. Will you have your dog or cat put to sleep at the vet's office or will you let them die at home? These are big decisions, and despite what people may tell you, it's also a personal choice based on your pet's personality, your personal beliefs, and their condition and level of pain. Unless they pass on to a better life in their sleep or suddenly out of the blue, these decisions will need to be thought over carefully. Here are some important questions to ask yourself:

  • Are they in any pain?
  • Are they very difficult at the vet's office?
  • How do I deal with death? Do I have a hard time accepting it? What are my beliefs about it?
  • Will I be able to handle seeing their health rapidly decline?
  • Is their pain well under control?
  • Is their condition no longer treatable or curable?

Dr. Babette Gladstein, a vet who practices integrative veterinary medicine in the greater New York area, says, "Many people really have to think hard about whether they are keeping the animal alive for themselves or for the animal."

In the United States, I have noticed many owners are often very quick to choose the euthanasia option. Many people think this is the only choice, or they may feel that allowing a pet to die at home is unacceptable. In other countries, pets often die at home, either because there is simply no other choice or they perceive death differently.

This article will tackle both views. There is really no right or wrong way to die—it inevitably happens as we are all common mortals. All that matters is that the pet isn't in any major pain. But it's important to start thinking about what you will do when the time comes so you can have some plans in place.

The Process of Euthanizing a Pet

The good thing about euthanasia is that it is quick and for the most part painless. The pet is booked at the vet's office, and they reserve a special time slot specifically for this procedure. More often than not, the appointment is either early in the morning or late in the evening when the hospital is quieter and the vets aren't as busy. This is also a good time for cats, as there are likely no dogs around to add to the stress.

What Is Your Pet's Quality of Life?

If you're debating whether it's time to make an appointment, it's important to determine your pet's quality of life. If they have congestive heart failure or untreatable cancer, it might be worth looking into euthanasia since you don't want them to suffer.

How Will You Bury Your Pet (Options)

When you call your vet, you may be asked several questions such as what you plan to do with their body after they pass away. Options include communal cremation, private cremation, and burial. In a communal cremation, the body is cremated together with other pets, and the ashes are often spread in a pet cemetery. In a private cremation, the body is cremated individually, and the ashes will be returned to you. For a burial, their body will either be returned to you if you wish to bury them in your yard (check your local ordinances for this), or it may be given to a company that runs a pet cemetery.

Do You Want to Be There When It Happens?

Another question you may be asked is if you want to be present for the procedure. Again, this is a personal choice. Some owners cannot bear the thought while others may want to be there for the last moments. And last but not least, even though it sounds inappropriate, the staff may ask you if your pet has bitten or scratched anyone in the past days. Don't get offended by this question, as this is asked to abide by rabies law in many states.

What Happens on the Day of the Procedure?

When the day comes, your vet may inject a sedative to make your pet more comfortable before injecting a dose of brightly colored pentobarbital, a liquid barbiturate often used for anesthesia. In this case, though, it will be an overdose amount, and because the barbiturate depresses the central nervous system, the dog or cat drifts into an anesthesia-like sleep that will ultimately halt their breathing and cause cardiac arrest. Many owners like to hold their animal throughout this short 10-to-20-second process.

Advantages of Euthanasia

The main advantage of euthanasia is that it's mostly pain-free and often peaceful. The only pain most animals feel is the prick of the injection. If they're in pain because of an underlying health problem, this will help them finally be free. Many people wish euthanasia was a legal option for humans because it could potentially be a blessing for the terminally ill. In the first euthanasia appointment I assisted with, the owner cried as he hugged his family and said, "It was so peaceful." I'll always remember these words.

Another advantage is that it is quick. I have seen countless pets in agony get the peace they deserved very quickly. Most pets lose consciousness within seconds, just like when you are given an anesthetic and asked to count backward.

Disadvantages of Euthanasia

A big disadvantage is that you will have to drive to your vet's office. This can be a problem if your pet has mobility problems or is in a lot of pain. Also, some animals may not do well in the car. They may get panicky the moment they see their carrier, or they might get carsick. To help reduce this anxiety, you might want to bring a favorite blanket and toy to help them feel more comfortable in their last moments.

Another big problem is that some pets do terribly at the vet's office. Some cats are extremely fractious, and even though they are sick, they may get an adrenaline rush and fight being put in the carrier and being handled by the vet. Some owners can't bear thinking of their cat's last moments spent fighting at the vet.

Here are some pros and cons for both putting your pet to sleep and letting them die at home.

Here are some pros and cons for both putting your pet to sleep and letting them die at home.

Letting a Pet Die at Home

Natural death has always been around. This is what happened to animals before there were vet offices and anesthetics. The pet fell ill and eventually died in their home or yard. It doesn't necessarily mean an uncomfortable death; pets can now be prescribed painkillers to help them better cope with the pain in their final days.

When giving hospice care to your animal, you will see your pet's health decline and go through several stages. There are several signs that a dog is dying. Your companion may not go through some of these stages if you euthanize your pet before they unfold. If you decide to let your dog or cat die at home, you will need to learn how to recognize pain and must acknowledge and accept all the events as they unfold.

Pain Management

Pain management is crucial if you want your pet to die at home. The problem with pain though is that often animals tend to hide the pain. In cats, pain is a sign of weakness that could make them vulnerable to prey. They, therefore, prefer to hide rather than manifest it. Dogs are often stoic and will not necessarily manifest pain in obvious ways.

Signs of Pain

Being aware of the most subtle signs of pain is important. Pets don't have to vocalize to be in pain; they may show pain through acting lethargic, losing their appetite, exhibiting behavioral changes, and hiding or moving around less. When in doubt, it's best to have a vet do an assessment. Blood pressure measurements may be helpful indicators since blood pressure rises when an animal is in pain. Knowing your pet's normal pulse and respiration rate may help recognize pain at home—rapid breathing and pulse are both signs of pain. Anti-inflammatory and analgesic drugs prescribed by a vet can help make them more comfortable.

What to Expect

Hospice care for pets is a new trend. Some offer this care until the very end, others endure it until they feel the need to use euthanasia. The end-of-life stage includes symptoms such as anorexia, behavior changes, decreased urine production, different breathing patterns, and decreased alertness.

Food and Water

As they near death, animals may refuse food and water at some point. This may be difficult to accept, but this is normal. The body no longer needs fuel as it shuts down. Yet, hydration may help them be more comfortable. Your vet can teach you how to give sub-q fluids; however, in some conditions, such as edema, fluids may make the condition worse and cause breathing difficulties. Consult with your vet.


Everybody wishes their pet dies in their sleep. Unfortunately, this is not common. If you are considering having your cat or dog die naturally at home, you will need to keep in mind that you may have a sudden urge to put them out of their misery. It's best to have a vet's number always available if you decide to put them down. You also might want to call a close friend or family member when it seems like the end is near. They'll be able to help you take care of logistics and provide emotional support.

Advantages of Natural Death

  • The pet gets to die in a natural environment. Cats often hate to be taken out of their environment, so dying at the home may seem to be the best choice. Owners can create an area in familiar surroundings—a sanctuary—for the animal to be comfortable and in familiar surroundings. Some owners like to play music, or they may take their pets to a special area in the garden to say their goodbyes. The pet is spared from the stress of seeing the vet or going on a dreaded car ride.
  • The owner doesn't have to wonder if they made the wrong decision by putting them to sleep too early.

Disadvantages of Natural Death

  • If you decide to allow a natural death and then your pet suddenly starts suffering, you may regret your decision to not euthanize them. Nothing is worse than hoping for a peaceful death and then seeing them suffer and not being able to get a hold of a vet. Do your best to prevent this from happening.
  • Dying is not pretty. In euthanasia, the pet seems to just drift into a deep sleep. Yes, they may still twitch, defecate and urinate, keep their eyes open, or even vocalize after dying, but these are reflexes the vet may make you aware of in advance. When an animal passes without medical intervention, the process of dying may take hours or days, and the owner may see labored breathing, anxiety, or seizures. Many find this hard to watch.

Determining If Your Cat or Dog Should Die at Home

  • If they are struggling to breathe, it's probably best to put them to sleep. It's unfair to watch them gasp for air just so they can die at home.
  • If the vet says they are in severe pain and there is no way to reduce it, it's time to say goodbye.

What to Do With the Body?

If your pet passes away during your vet's business hours, you can call them to let them know and ask for assistance depending on what you want to do next—maybe you want to have them cremated or buried. As difficult as it is to think about, you'll want to have a plan for what to do with your dog or cat's body after they have passed.

Being aware of the most subtle signs of pain in your pet is important.

Being aware of the most subtle signs of pain in your pet is important.

How Do I Know If My Dog or Cat Is Dying?

Regardless of if you choose to euthanize your pet or let them die at home, it's important to recognize the signs a dog is dying so you can prepare and keep them as comfortable as possible. However, it's important to note that there is no standard timeline—each animal's dying process will be different.

  • Respiratory problems: It's likely that as your dog or cat nears the end of their life, their breathing will slow down and become shallow. A dog's heart rate will drop from its normal 100 to 130 beats per minute to as low as 60 to 80 beats per minute, with a very weak pulse. A healthy cat's heart rate is between 140 and 220 beats per minute. A sick or weak cat's heart rate may drop to a fraction of the normal rate, indicating death could be near. Both types of animals may also hide in a dark corner in the house to try and seek comfort.
  • Digestive issues: They will no longer show a desire to eat or drink anymore due to their organs shutting down. You may notice a sticky or dry mouth due to dehydration. A dog may also vomit bile (but this is not necessarily a sign that they are dying—it's worth taking them to the vet if they have been vomiting for a few days).
  • Muscle loss: You may notice muscle twitching or spasms due to loss of glucose or a drop in body temperature. They may have trouble walking or lose coordination. They'll also lose muscle mass and become emaciated. However, it's important to note that loss of coordination may be due to something easily treatable, like an ear infection.
  • More accidents: You might be surprised to find pee and poop around the house due to an uncontrollable bladder and anal sphincter control. Don't discipline your pet; they can't control it, no matter how well trained they are.
  • Deteriorating skin: Their skin may be dry and not as elastic—meaning it will not return quickly to its original shape when pinched.

If your dog or cat is slowing down but is still eating and responding to your commands, it's likely that these are just signs of old age and that they aren't in any pain. But you'll still want to keep an eye out for any of the above signs or for any changes. It may be time to take them to the vet to be put down or to start to prepare for death. The last thing you want is for your dog to be in pain.

How Can I Keep Them Comfortable?

  • As mentioned above, create a safe space for them—somewhere that is quiet and warm. You might want to put some of their favorite toys near their bed or blanket. If you have kids, let them know that the dog or cat isn't feeling great and needs some alone time.
  • Don't force them to eat or drink.
  • Spend time with them and reassure them that it's going to be okay. Dogs can pick up on emotions, so you want to make sure your presence is calming.
  • If you're dealing with more indoor accidents, you can place a pee pad near their bed or even have them wear a diaper if that's easier. You might also want to ask your vet for anti-diarrheal medication. If you have a cat, you can take them to the litter box every few hours to see if they have to go.
  • Ask your vet for any pain management tips or options.

The Moment of Death

Here are some signs your pet will exhibit once they have passed away.

  • Their body might slightly deflate as the air leaves their lungs.
  • There is a release of bowel and bladder muscles.
  • Their eyes will be open, but there will be no movement.

If your dog or cat no longer has a heartbeat and is no longer breathing and has been this way for 30 minutes, your pet has moved on.

Natural Death vs Euthanasia: A Controversial Subject

The topic remains subject to controversy. We will now be looking at both sides and using some references to gather different views so you can make an informed decision. Veterinarians, of course, will recommend euthanasia, because that's what they are used to doing and some may not be familiar with hospice care or holistic treatments. However, it is also true that vets know the pet's condition best and are extremely knowledgeable about which diseases are prone to cause a very painful ending.

Dr. Gladstein says, "If your animal is in pain, then it becomes much more of an immediate issue, and letting them die naturally is really cruel and unusual punishment. We're really privileged in the animal community to be able to euthanize [and relieve animals of suffering]."

She says that if you determine that their pain can't be mitigated by any mild pain relievers, then the decision should be made to let the animal go.

Eliot D. Cohen, Ph.D., one of the principal founders of philosophical counseling in the United States, grappled with his decision to put his sickly dog, Bentley, down. He feels guilty that he put to death his companion of 13 years. "I would estimate that Bentley had the intellect of a very intelligent two-year-old human, which is quite intelligent indeed. But, had Bentley been a two-year-old human instead of a dog, euthanasia would not have been a legal option."

A common question posted by people living in countries where pet euthanasia is still uncommon is "Would you put your elderly grandma to sleep?" However, it's also true that hospice care is much more advanced for humans, and the ill are kept heavily medicated to not feel pain.

At the same time though, one must consider that many people who are suffering from terminal illnesses wished there was a humane way out as it happens with euthanasia in pets; however statistics on this show a whole different story: according to research, it appears that most people chicken out when it comes to the real opportunity for euthanasia in people.

Quoted from the book When Your Dog Has Cancer: Making the Right Decisions for You and Your Dog, Dr. Helene Starks of the University of Washington evaluated the 1998 to 2006 statistics relating to the Death with Dignity Act in the state of Oregon and found that the small number of patients who indeed took the medication to end their lives were neither in a rush to do it nor made the decision due to unbearable pain. In fact, once the underlying issues of many patients were identified and addressed, they no longer chose to end their lives. In 2007, less than sixteen in 10,000 terminally ill people in Oregon chose to take lethal medication, which means only 0.2% took the opportunity to end their lives prematurely!

Ultimately, it's important to realize that end-of-life decisions for pets are not a one-size-fits-all affair. An important consideration to keep in mind is that you may have no control over when your pet will die, but you can at least think about how you want them to go. Consulting with your vet and inquiring about how you can make your pet more comfortable is recommended. You can also call the dedicated hotline the ASPCA has for those dealing with the difficult decision of euthanizing a pet. You'll be able to talk to someone about the grief process and whether or not euthanasia might be the most humane thing to do in your case. You can reach the hotline at 1-877-GRIEF-10.

Can I Euthanize My Pet at Home?

Fortunately, there are now options to euthanize your dog at home by having a vet travel to you. Some people look for ways to put their dog or cat to sleep without a vet due to cost or lack of access, but this isn't a good idea since you could cause harm to yourself, put your pet in even more pain, or have difficulty picking out the right medication. You should always let a vet handle euthanization.

If you decide to let your pet pass away naturally, make sure you contact your vet in advance and arrange a plan should they suddenly deteriorate after hours. It's a good idea to have several emergency numbers to keep on hand should your vet not be available for some reason. There's nothing worse than watching your beloved companion take a turn for the worse and not being able to find a vet to come to your home to allow them to rest in peace.

Grieving a Pet Loss

Regardless of if your pet dies at home or is put to sleep, you're going to need time to grieve over the passing of your furry companion. You might be filled with guilt for euthanizing them or you might worry that they suffered in their final moments. The loneliness in the house is too much to bear. Be kind to yourself. Remember that there's no timeline when it comes to grief.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

Questions & Answers

Question: My dog died naturally. Is it wrong that I wanted to be there for his last breath?

Answer: Not at all. Dogs have been always there for us, when we were happy and when we were sad and it's perfectly normal to be with them until the very end. More and more dog owners are choosing natural death over euthanasia, and there is nothing wrong with that, as long as the dogs are kept as pain-free and comfortable as possible and their underlying condition is well-managed. Veterinarians, especially those specializing in hospice, can help provide end-of-life care. Your dog was very lucky to have you next to him until the very end.

Question: My dog is dying. Is it okay to let him die naturally?

Answer: It's a personal choice. I would suggest consulting with a vet to make sure your dog is comfortable. There are vets now who specialize in hospice or geriatric care and can come to your home and discuss quality of life and help keep your dog comfortable.

Question: My dog is suffering from liver failure. There is nothing they can do. Should I put him down, so he doesn't suffer?

Answer: This is a very difficult question to answer. Euthanasia of a pet is a personal decision. Your vet may be the best person to ask. Another option may be to get a second opinion from a different vet.

I have known some dogs with severe liver failure live for weeks and even several months. There are several types of liver failure and not all necessarily have a grim prognosis. It may be insightful determining what exactly is going on.

If finances permit, sometimes pursuing advanced diagnostics can help make a decision. Sometimes this may require advanced imaging such as an ultrasound and/or referral to a specialty practice with 24-hour critical care available.

If things look grim, there are little chances for recovery, and quality of life is poor, then euthanasia is the ultimate gift of love a dog owner can make. Hope this helps. So sorry your dog is going through this.

Question: How do you know when is the right time if your pet is a senior dog?

Answer: With older dogs, the best thing to do is to talk with a veterinarian. Only you and your vet know your dog best and can make an informed decision. Often, there are options to treat some disorders associated with aging. For example, when our dog developed severe neck pain due to disc disease, a combo of a various pain meds that had a synergistic effect helped a whole lot. For joint pain, we found some awesome supplements that worked like a charm. Sometimes, there may be un-diagnosed disorders that may be treatable. There are drugs to reduce leakage in incontinent female dogs and acupuncture sometimes can do wonders for some dogs. When our dog was struggling to get up, we used a blanket under her to help her to help her get up, invested in non-slip mats and used toe-grips.

Question: Aren’t there vets who can come to your home to perform euthanasia?

Answer: Yes, there are several veterinarians who do house calls and will perform euthanasia appointments at home. Of course, there are some drawbacks such as the fact that they may not be available when you may need them the most because of their busy schedules, but if you plan in advance they should be able to accomodate. They may also charge extra fees, but it may be worthy, considering that, the pet is at home where most comfortable and doesn't have to endure the stress of a car ride and being taken to a place he or she may fear if the dog was never fond of going to the vet.

There are also companies that have on board veterinarians specializing in hospice care and provide end of life consultation. One example is a company known as "Lap of Love."

© 2013 Adrienne Farricelli


Adrienne Farricelli (author) on July 04, 2020:

Hi Linda,

This is very saddening to hear, but glad your dog is OK! I have dealt with something similar when I worked for a vet. One vet offered to put a dog to sleep because the dogs was very ill from ingesting plastic and was suffering a blockage, while another vet gave hope and did all she could to treat. The dog healed well and it had a happy ending.

Linda Mc Gregor on July 04, 2020:

My Shih tzu dog aged 13 had to go to vet ,as he had sickness and diarrhoea. The vet said my dog wasin a bad way ?and needed to get euthanized?.I disagreed and went to another vet for second opinion. The second vet disagreed with the first vet and said my dog has a virus .Now my dog is running around perfectly healthy .If I has listened to her ,my dog would not be here today I feel something should be done anout her ?

Michelle Zito on January 15, 2020:

I lost my beloved dog Mazey yesterday due to complications of renal failure. She died at home, and in some pain, as I waited and waited for mobile vet to arrive. I live alone and so I couldn't carry her to my car to take her to the vet...not without causing her more pain -wrestling a big dog into my truck! And my personal vet office was closed anyway! My dog was incontinent and unable to walk. I made the decision to wait for the mobile vet who finally showed up too late, the next day. Her decline came on very rapid after several bouts of antibiotics, vet visits, tests, etc. The medicine made her very ill and I regretted giving it to her...finally she seemed to get a little better, until about four days ago, and over the weekend when the vet was closed. I stayed up with her all night watching her labored breathing, lying on the floor next to her, gently rubbing her neck and telling her I love her and not to be afraid. It was pure agony, for me and for her! I actually prayed for god to take her and end her suffering. (What can you say of a vet that insists we try "just one more round of meds?" ) I wanted to be hopeful. My dog is over 16 years old. With chronic renal failure how good could the prognosis be? In retrospect, I wish I'd handled things differently. I wish I'd euthanized while she was still feeling ok as opposed to suffering. It was a long weekend and I knew she was dying. The mobile vet was overrun with calls..."we'll come tomorrow" It was the longest night of my life. Mazey passed in my arms 4 full hrs before the vet was to arrive. Shouldn't a vet consider the prognosis of a pets illness with regard to an animals age? Why did my own vet not even mention euthanasia but instead had me order more expensive drugs that made my dog ill. But who am I to intervene and say enough is enough? I am heartbroken. I lost my girl and she suffered instead of going peacefully. I will never know if my vet was just doing her job or trying to be a hero...or? I am better informed now. I will never allow a dog to suffer again. Euthanasia can be a blessing done at the RIGHT time.

Diamond's Mom on November 22, 2019:

I let my beautiful beloved Westie of 12.5 years die at home. I wanted her at home. I have been in the same home for 20 years and she knew no other. I didn't want to play GOD. She had surgery in March, but problems started again. She did not seem to be in any pain. Like you said, first her appetite subsided, but she continued to drink water. She got really weak and wobbly with her walk. Still went outside to relieve herself, but I need to bath her, but she was trying. After awhile, her hind legs didn't work any longer. So, I cleaned her up often and offered her water. She never complained, not even a whimper. When the morning came, I looked at her and she sat up. I told her to rest herself and she had done a great job here, but it was time for her to go. I walked out of room for a second, came back and she had passed. Just that quick. Heaven gained another angel, and I gained another hole in my heart. What ever decision you make, saying goodbye to your bestest friend forever is never easy. Good Luck everyone.

Tina on November 19, 2019:

after 13 years my dog was put to rest she had a yeast infection i wanted to keep her blanket to help with her passing is it safe ?

LEMILTON on July 05, 2019:

I would like to also add that euthanasia can also take place at your home. If you know your pet may not live much longer, you can arrange with a Vet or an animal mortuary to have a person on call. Many provide 7/24 hour services. It was too late for me to make arrangements. Your Vet should have a list of recommendations, talk to them about it. I hope this helps others. I realize when writing an article you might be limited.

Tiffany Johnson on July 02, 2019:

My 16 year old dog is scheduled to be euthanized tomorrow, but my fear is that she may die naturally on her own before the hospice nurse arrives (14 hours from now). Should I let my dog die naturally or rush her to the vet for euthanasia if she starts actively dying today?

Gay Watton on June 04, 2019:

Thank you so much for writing this well thought out, sensitive and knowledgeable article. I am in the UK and for the past year have been caring for my best friend's elderly cat. I was sitting holding my best friend's hand when she died and saw the pain she endured each time the effect of the most powerful pain killers wore off. I will not let Jumble suffer as my friend did but I will be talking to him and tickling his favourite spot behind his ears when he has his injection. Thank you so much for writing this and helping me to decide what to do and greetings and love to all you pet lovers out there facing this tough decision.

Joe on May 22, 2019:

" Many people wish euthanasia was a legal option for humans because it could potentially be a blessing for the terminally ill. In the first euthanasia appointment I assisted with, the owner cried as he hugged his family and said, "It was so peaceful." I'll always remember these words." really a political message in an article on pets pushing Euthanasia of people. Just wow.

Natalia Quacquarelli on April 22, 2019:

Thank you for this article. I am so glad I read it. My cat has just died at home, on my bed, her favourite place to be, I am so glad I didn’t take her to the vets and make it more stressful and awful than it needed to be. She is now at peace. I am both relieved and devastated.

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on March 26, 2019:

Eiramizus, so sorry for your loss. Losing my dog was the hardest thing that happened in my life. Similar to your dog, my dog had spleen cancer and there was a risk for it hemorrhaging at any time. We lost her suddenly one morning as she was acting weaker than usual, and of course, since we live in the boonies, we had no time to get her in the car to see the vet. Like you, regret started to take over: what it I would have put her to sleep with the vet earlier, what if I rented a home near an emergency vet so I was prepared, what if I did surgery (although the prognosis was rather grave ), what if, what if, what if. Further research revealed that regretting is part of the grieving process. I had to research my feelings of deep grief to better comprehend what was going on. I hope my findings on the stages of grief may help you through this difficult time. Sending you my deepest condolences.

Eiramizus on March 26, 2019:

Thank you so much for writing this article. I lost my 11 year old vizsla this morning, but his pain started many many hours before. It was sudden and aggressive hemorrhaging from stomach cancer. I knew he was getting old and into his senior years but I just feel so naive for not being more prepared and thinking he would just go in his sleep. He spent so much time suffering but all I could do was comfort him until the moment I could get him to the vet. It was a heartbreaking experience and I have read so many articles that have felt shaming as if I “should” have been more prepared ...and my internal voice is already screaming that at me in my grief. Thank you for writing an article that explores both natural death and euthanasia in a neutral and compassionate way. I really needed to read this today. My heart is broken and I know I will always wish I could have done more, better, faster for him because he loved me unconditionally for years and I would have never wanted him to suffer. He, and no animal, deserves that. I know that IF I ever get another pet I will try my best to be more than adequately prepared for this very hard decision and time at the end of their life.

Melanie on March 02, 2019:

My mom's friend's dog is really old. Her name is Scarlett. She is going to be put down next weekend. The worst part is, I am staying with my mom THIS weekend and I won't be here NEXT weekend. Scarlett will always be in my heart

C on December 29, 2018:

Why can’t a doctor help her own pet pass?

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on December 27, 2018:

Michael Scott, so sorry you feel this way. Hospice care for animals is like human hospice care, it's important to have pain meds or a vet on call (or at least easily reachable) to rely on in case of a "crisis." I find that this was important to point out.

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on December 27, 2018:

Jillian, so sorry you are going through. My thoughts are with you during this difficult time.

Jillain on December 22, 2018:

My cat named Holly Berry has been with us for about 14-15 years. I'm 16 so I been with her for my whole life. I want to do a natural home death. And I made her a bet, got a blanket over her and she is near my bed. It's really hard to see this but I keep telling her that she can be free, she can go. It's hard.. And she is allowed to be free and finally go be in peace.

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on September 23, 2018:

Sandra, so sorry for your loss. Without knowing the exact dynamics about what happened and why your dog was put to sleep, I can't really comment. All I can say, is that if your dog attacked another dog, that was an accident and you did nothing wrong.

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on September 23, 2018:

Dear Pauline, it just seems that in one way or another, we must always feel guilty, don't we? But we must think guilty about what? I think that death is hard to accept no matter how it happens. You may feel better reading more about hospice care for cats and dogs and the natural process of dying. Look for info on the Spirits in Transition website and Brighthaven. So sorry for your loss.

Sandra on September 22, 2018:

My healthy dog was put down for no ill reason.Im sad he attacked another dog and didn't make it.I ask myself what did I do wrong ? My boo boo was pit bull mix and had her for 8 yrs. Sweet and loving.

Pauline J on September 12, 2018:

My beloved cat had a brain haemorrhage a week ago in the early hours. We sat with him and several times he seemed to stop breathing but would sigh and start again. We considered euthanasia but he seemed close to passing so we sat with him. He was not conscious but we believed that he knew we were there. It took many hours after that for him to leave us and now we are absolutely wracked with guilt about it thinking we should have taken him to the vet but at the time it seemed unnecessarily cruel to do that when he was close to death. I have been through euthanasia twice previously with other beloved cats and left traumatised the first time 16 years ago and which haunted me for years. The second time left me empty, distraught and guilty too which may be why we hoped that a natural death would be easier for us all. It wasn't and now I dont know how to cope with the guilt. Can anyone help?

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on August 03, 2018:

Nina if your cat is afraid of the carrier and going to the vet, there are vets now that can come to your home to perform euthanasia. Many mobile vets offer this service. Also, see if Lap of Love works in your area.

Nina on August 02, 2018:

My 21 yo cat is dying . I have been agonizinng all day about what to do. Last night her hind legs gave out . She’s drinking water but has not eaten in 2 days. She always sleeps on my bed but last night and tonight she’s tucked away in a corner of the room. She doesn’t want to be up in the bed with me. She’s not purring when I pet her. The only time I heard her cry was when she tried to go downstairs. She hates going in the car and sure enough when I put her in the carrier... which has only happened 3 or 4 times... she started howling. I took her out immediately and put her back in the bedroom. I intended to have her put down. My anxiety about seeing her this way is just too much for me .

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on July 18, 2018:

Denisr, I am so sorry you are going through this. When hospice care is chosen, it's important to keep in good contact with a vet so to know what to do in case of a crisis. Of course though, things always seem to start going south when they are closed. Also, one must consider that there is quite a shortage of vets offering hospice care and there is not much info about it.

Hospice vets are best equipped for this. They may provide injectable meds for the owner to adminster in case of a crisis. Homeopathic remedies to calm dogs down are also a good option as they can melt in the mouth.

As much as it sounds like your doggy was struggling, at least she was with you during this challenging time. Sometimes things can get rough during hospice and that's when euthanasia is often chosen if the pain cannot be kept under control. It sounds like that was your plan once your vet opened.

Denisr on June 16, 2018:

I am struggling my small Yorkie mix is at the end of a long battle with liver failure among other issues. She has been very confused and stopped eating a drinking. She is very weak and started pacing yesterday, very confused with her head down and stumbling and walking into things. She wouldn’t relax. I finally got her to relax in my lap as we discussed what we needed to do but then she was completely limp and unresponsive and lost bowel and bladder control. Her respirations became shallow. We thought it was just a matter of time. I put her on my chest and held her. All night I would check and her little heart was still beating. Shallow breathing and drooling. I kept telling her to go be with her brother at the rainbow bridge. Now this morning all of a sudden at 6:00 AM she is moving and restless and very confused again. Won’t settle in my arms. I am waiting for the vets office to open at 8 but my heart is breaking that she is in pain. This is so hard.

Dyan B. on June 13, 2018:

I have a cat who has lived on my porch for 17 years.I go out twice a day and sit with her and feed her.She would never come in.It took us 3 years to capture her to get her spade.She had many litters and we did find homes for all her kittens but she never wanted to come in.So I put a sleeping bag over a chair and put a heated pad in her little set up and in winter I would sit on the porch with her on an electric blanket.It was the best I could do.It took 10 years before she would let me pet her.When she had enough petting she would swat me.I live in a condo and she would roam the neighborhood. I feared so much that she would get hit by a car but fortunately, she never did. She recently lost a lot of weight and I knew she was dying.She has now stopped eating and drinking.This morning my neighbor called me at 6a.m. to say she was near the street just lying there. I knew she was trying to leave me to go and die.I brought her limp body back up on the porch and sat with her and told her I loved her. She has cried twice.Once when I picked her up and once when she tried to move.I can not take her to a vet because I know it would be too upsetting.I just pray she goes quickly.I don't really have an answer.My last two cats were both indoor and I had them put to sleep.One went peacefully and one struggled.It's hard whatever you choose.

Jj on May 19, 2018:

Lost one to hemangiosarcoma and in the end she lost her dignity and I regret that.

13 yo canine now suffering dramatic seizures and I'm not so sure I want to drag this out with meds and treatments and a horrible decline.

Better I think for everyone one day too soon than one day too late

Ben on January 10, 2018:

We recently put our 17.5 year old cat Maxine down. I'm 30 years old and she's been around me for more than half of my life. In early December, we noticed some weird things she begun doing: Her "meow" changed and she almost sounded like a duck when she would meow. She was a bit more anti-social than normal and she had lost a lot of weight. She had been diagnosed with Kidney issues years before and was on special food.

At the time she started meowing strangely, it was also time for her yearly checkup. The vet gave her a week, and said she was in Kidney failure and had a mass in her stomach that was most likely cancerous. It would have cost a lot of money in x-rays and you can't do surgery on an elderly cat as she most likely wouldn't wake up. We had to make a decision. After we brought her back from the vet, she wanted nothing to do with us. She hated the vet and hated us for bringing her there.

After a few days she warmed up to us again. I had begun what I called "cat hospice," essentially giving her tuna juice and tuna or chicken with a bit of Pedialyte. She made it past her week. And then another week. And then another week. And into the new year.

This last week, she declined rapidly. She would meow for water and jump into the tub, but just stare at the water on the floor of the tub like she forgot how to drink. She was barely drinking a quarter of a saucer full of tuna juice.

My mom and I made the choice to put her down after my mom found her in the tub crying and crying for water. There was just nothing left anyone could do.

It was the saddest thing I think I've ever had to go through. I have a dog that I know I will have to do the same thing with, but it won't be any easier. The pro's were it was extremely fast. Unbelievably so actually. The difference between life and death is such a fine line. We held her the entire time. I feel that we were with her in her early days and she needed us in her last moments. How unfair to let her go without us around her.

I'm still way more emotional about it than I ever thought I would be, but it was the best thing we could have done. While we would have prefered for her to pass at home, she was a survivor and was holding on for everything she had. It would have ended poorly and I couldn't have dealt with her having a seizure.

I hope this helps some people making the same choice. It sucks but it honestly might be the best gift you can give them.

Kathleen on January 09, 2018:

My four angel cats died at home with me. I took off time from work to be with them and had instructions from my Vet. My decision has been supported by my/their Vet. I probably am unfair to others when I assess their choice to euthanize and "dispatching" their faithful pet. Am I guilty of Anthropomorphism with my pets, without a doubt I bond deeply, but I realize they are not humans. I think that science has much to understand about pet behavior and pet bonding. We as a nation traditionally view animals has beasts of burden, has labor to be replaced when their value is diminished. What I so appreciate about this article is the fairness in which the options are presented. My experience is that the topic is difficult to discuss w/o being shamed by those who have chosen to euthanize. What I know is that all four of my pets had a different death experience. Each appeared to appreciate my talking with them while holding them all bundled up. I tell them about their adoption story, sing songs and talk about our life together. Not one time did any of them appear to be in severe discomfort. As a nation we are not good with death and dying, I am not. I have learned so much from being with my pets at the end. Thank you.

Emma on December 10, 2017:

Thank you for this article.

Debbie on October 31, 2017:

Thank you for setting my heart & mind more at ease letting my dear old little "Kitty" die in the comfort of her home with her family around her. What is heart breaking is like you said, seeing them slowing get weaker by not eating or drinking and shutting down. we're going on 2 weeks, but the day is getting closer, I'm trying to be ready for this, that's what brought me here. Thank-you to All Pet-Lovers!

maxine brundige on October 02, 2017:

I will never ever take an animal to be put down. My vet had no compassion at all. He left him sitting up and didn't make it so he wouldn't feel it. My dog moved on the second shot and howled.,plus the hair stood up on his whole back! It was the most horrible experience I have ever experienced, plus awful for my pet who was like my child. He had liver failure, but the whole thing was wrong. I didn't want him to feel anything. From now on all my pets will die a natural death at home with the people who love them. I cannot believe this happened! I wish I had never taken him. Now I feel so guilty and I still see those awful images of him going through that! How do I forgive myself? I thought my vet loved animals, but I guess not!

He was the best dog I ever had! I did this to him! I am having a very hard time getting over what I have done!!

Diane on September 30, 2017:

My sweet girl is dying. Years ago, I was dropping off records at a new vet in a new town, and she was sitting in a cage on the counter. I had to ask what she was doing there. I assumed her person was due to pick her up, but she didn't have a family, feline or human. She was found in a wooded area with her family. The rest had already been put down. The vet was waiting for her to be picked up. It was against regulation for that facility to euthanize her. They said there was nothing wrong with her, so I asked when the pick up was expected. I wasn't prepared to take her home, but I made it back in time, signed some documents, and got her shots. It took time and patience to tame Faith. She lived another 17 years. Her early years were spent flying from state to state and continent to continent, but the two of us settled down 12 years ago. She has had a peaceful life in the country ever since. I want my dear Faith to die naturally. She doesn't seem to be in pain, though she's sleepy and weak. Her eyes are clouded over, and she seems unaware of her surroundings. She doesn't even react when our 6-year-old lab bounds into the room. I pet her and tell her how much she has meant to me, and she nuzzles me in return.

Andrew on September 14, 2017:

Vintage, my cat was exactly the same the day before she died peacfully but only meowed a couple of times but then again she was always a quite cat. My heart goes out to you, I struggled for days about whether to go to the vet or not but knowing her for such a long time I do genuinely feel that she was not suffering and going to the vet to be euthanised would have made her suffer and I'm not going to lie it would have made me suffer more too. I'm no Vet but when breathing seems shorter and more labored the time is near, at least for Lara it was.

It's such a hard decision to make. I would say at least speak with your Vet for more advice and if he/she thinks your cat is suffering then euthanasia would be the only way to go - difficult as it may be.

Vintage on September 13, 2017:

We're struggling with the decision to have our 19 year old cat euthanized, or let him die here at home. He doesn't seem to be in any pain, but how do you know? He is terribly thin, bony and frail, and his back legs are weak and collapse while he is walking. His eyes are glassy, and I don't think he can see anymore. He has started making a pathetic high sounding "meow". It sounds unnatural and sad. His breathing seems normal. He has only licked at the sauce in his food, but not actually the food itself. His litter box has nothing in it. I'm so torn as to what to do.

Andrew on September 12, 2017:

My beautiful little friend Lara passed away early this morning. I just wanted to post here to hopefully provide some comfort to others in a similar position. I say little friend because although she was 14 she was always a small cat and not much bigger than a large kitten. Being small didn’t stop her having a very bit attitude towards life – more than once she has chased dogs out of the garden 3 times her size!

Lara has been terminally ill for a few months but slowing down for over a year – the vet said she was quite an old cat for her size. A few days ago when she took a turn for the worse I absolutely agonised about whether to have her put to sleep at the vet or let her die at home, a home death being much more preferable but hard. Like a lot of cats she never travelled well and really didn’t like the vet. She wasn’t suffering and would still respond to her usual pampering on my bed or my work desk. Yesterday was so hard, I knew the end was near and was still battling with the decision of whether to take her to the vet or not. I am normally a strong person but trying to make that decision has really broken me. After speaking with the vet he advised from what I relayed to him that there were no obvious signs of pain or discomfort which I know is very difficult to tell in cats of any age.

I decided to lay her on my bed last night – her favourite place. It was her room and I was always just a guest in it I lay beside her stroking her and with what little energy she had left she raised a paw and placed it on my hand – I know deep down she was telling me it was ok. She died very peacefully early this morning, no seizures, no nasty noises and a beautiful red dawn was just breaking. I honestly couldn’t have wished for a better way for my beloved and dearly missed little friend to pass. She’ll be buried in the woods were she would roam later today.

I struggled so much with the decision of whether to put her to sleep at the vet and am so glad I didn’t. But, I do know that every situation is very different and in the end you need to make the choice based on your situation.

I will always miss her but know deep down I will see her again.


Adrienne Farricelli (author) on August 13, 2017:

Doglverindc, I would recommend consulting with your vet or trying to consult with a vet specializing in home hospice care. There are chances that there may be medications to stop the vomiting. I would also discuss (if you haven't done so already) with your vet about the fact pain medications were stopped. There may be alternative options.

Dogloverindc on August 12, 2017:

All of our dogs and cats have died at home and I always regretted not euthanizing them. It is hard to know how much pain they are in and I hate the thought of them suffering if there is another choice.

We currently have an old dog who is refusing food and is extremely lethargic (day 3). She is drinking water but unable to keep it down. We are confident she is dying but my husband does not want to euthanize her.

Prior to this, she was taking multiple pain medications, mainly for her arthritis (tramadol, gabapentin, prednisone). I am wondering whether we should force these medications down her throat to make her more comfortable. Any suggestions would be helpful.

Thank you.

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on August 06, 2017:

So true James, and now there are more and more vets who come at home and provide in home palliative and hospice care for old and ill pets.

James on August 05, 2017:

If you plan to let you pet naturally at home, talk to your vet about pain management first and foremost and inquire if sedatives can be administered at home towards the end. I think same as people in hospice (we have lost 3 family members in hospice), there is no reason a pet should be in a lot of pain at the end (although there could be other issues such as seizures that need to be considered). We have taken pets in for euthanasia over the years, and have lost 2-pets naturally under pain management sedation at home. We are facing another loss to cancer soon and hope she can die naturally at home. The difference (for us) emotionally is big. Of course if a pet is in pain, we would take them for euthanasia or have a vet come to our home - but strong pain medications prescribed by a vet are enough to keep a pet comfortable in many cases. The pet's breathing changes noticeably towards the end and for us it's a time to sit or lay with them so they can feel your presence as they slip away. Consult with a compassionate vet and do what's best for your pet and you, and do it in the most informed and best way possible.

Pat on February 05, 2017:

My female rat terrier will be 18 in April. This past winter has been tough on her and she seems disorientated and has trouble manipulating her back legs. She is in no pain and eats very well and drinks water. She has become incontinent and bowel movement is quick to happen. I have put many dogs cats and horses to sleep by euthanasia. I hate the fear of taking my dog to the vet because she is so afraid and knows where she's going and something always painful happens when she's at the vet. I'm really contemplating letting her die peacefully at home as long as she's still eating and drinking. She does not seem to be in any pain and a lot of times when I think I need to do this she Springs back and runs around like she's ten years old. Putting an animal to sleep is not something you want to make an appointment for. If I decide to have her euthanized I want to be able to make a call and say I'm bringing her in. Do most vets try to help you with this decision. It hurts me to make an appointment a day or two out and then she has her outbursts of feeling so good. Please someone give me advice as I have always euthanized my pets that were ill and this one I just feel she needs to be at home to go peacefully.

Gman on December 13, 2016:

I scheduled a tooth extraction today because of a cracked Canine tooth and we thought it was causing some discomfort and it was. But Vet called and said your 7 year old has a Mass on his Spleen. I almost pulled the plug on him after hearing this but seeing him today with his tail wagging and still plenty of spunk in him, not sure if I should pull the plug on one of the best dogs I have ever had, I have had a sick dog before and I knew when it was time, just unsure as I see little if any signs of suffering. Plan on using Meloxidyl to manages his pain and keep an eye on the signs, just think it's way to early to call it quits. When the dog loves walks and seeing other dogs and people.

Carolyn from Northamptonshire on July 20, 2013:

Fantastic hub, I had two dogs one who died at home in his sleep, he was as you described, not crying, just lethargic and uninterested, the other we had put to sleep he was 18, had had two strokes he recovered from enough to still escape the garden, and could not really see, we he collapsed the third time we decided he had had enough. We have had similar experiences with pet rats too.

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on July 01, 2013:

It's great you found an amazing vet willing to do all that and I am sure his care and kindness was helpful at such a hard time. Parvo is such a devastating disease! Yes, I am doing better, thanks for asking. As the days go by, it gets better. Thanks for stopping by!

Heidi Thorne from Chicago Area on July 01, 2013:

I know you've just been through this. So this hub is probably a good way to help put this difficult time into perspective. Glad you were able to do it.

I've only had one parvo puppy who had to be put to sleep when I wasn't there (I regret it to this day). But our vet at the time was amazing and venturing into the hospice arena. Because of the quarantine, he even stayed with him overnight because we were just exhausted from round the clock home care. So I knew our little pup was handled with love and kindness even to the end.

Otherwise, with every single one of my dogs, I've had to make that decision we don't ever want to make and been with them to the last moment. But it's odd. I've always had a sense of when it was right. It never got easier, but I always knew I was doing the right thing to end their suffering.

I hope you're recovering from your recent losses. Take care!

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on June 29, 2013:

It is tough, every time we lost a pet we always said no more pets, but then for some reason we ended up with another one.

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on June 29, 2013:

Unfortunately, that's the disadvantage of natural death; you never know how things may unfold, and if the pet may start suffering, you may not have a vet handy at the time of greatest need. I think too,

Gypsy Willow from Lake Tahoe Nevada USA , Wales UK and Taupo New Zealand on June 29, 2013:

What a great hub. Many people will be fortunate enough to read it before making a decision. I have just had to part with my 16 yr old dog and we chose euthanasia as her quality of life had deteriorated so much. Although the vet was wonderful, Reassuring and comforting. It was one of the most harrowing experiences of my life. I don't think I could go through it again. Thanks for such a great hub that should help many people face that awful final decision.

Elizabeth Parker from Las Vegas, NV on June 29, 2013:

Great hub. I've had the unfortunate experience of choosing to put a few of my pets to sleep and it has never been easy. It is a decision I'd rather leave to natural causes, but I can never stand to see a pet suffer. So, when I saw them suffering, I chose euthanasia. Like you said, it is a personal decision and one that isn't taken lightly. Great information for both those who have not been through it yet and for those who have.