As a home hospice and euthanasia veterinarian, something I frequently hear from grieving pet parents is, “I was hoping she’d just die peacefully in her sleep”. We all hope for that. I think that’s the way any of us – dog, cat, human, or otherwise – would like to go, drifting quietly into oblivion, or away to heaven, just like in the movies. In this guide, we’ll explore the considerations between choosing euthanasia and natural death, helping you navigate this emotional journey with compassion and understanding.

Written by: Dr. Lauren Barrow, Hampton Roads Veterinary Hospice Veterinarian

The Heart-Wrenching Decision

Because we have the option to help our beloved pets pass when they are suffering, it also means that someone has to make that decision. Someone who loves that dog or cat has to pick up a phone and ask for help or make an appointment, which can be one of the hardest decisions that person may ever have to make. I think most people would rather their pet pass peacefully on her own, without interference or pain and suffering.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen as often as we’d like.

There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with a natural death. After all, every living being must die eventually. But when we’re given an opportunity to give meaning and kindness to a loved one’s passing, we should take it.

Is Euthanasia the Best Option?

Reasons to Choose At-Home Euthanasia:

  • Pets may suddenly become more painful or anxious as the end approaches.
  • Sometimes the physical act of dying can take many hours or even days.
  • You can control where your pet dies.
  • You can control who is there when your pet dies.
  • You can be sure your pet passes without pain, anxiety, or undue stress.
  • If your pet doesn’t like going to the veterinarian’s office, choosing an at-home euthanasia will alleviate the need for this unpleasant, final experience.

Scheduling a humane euthanasia (or a painless, veterinarian-assisted death) gives you an opportunity to take back some control in an otherwise potentially unpredictable situation. Scheduling a peaceful passing, especially at home, in your pet’s own bed, with his loved ones there, can be a real gift.

Considering Natural Death for Your Pet

If you prefer, a natural death at home may be an option for your pet. This will depend on many factors including your family circumstances, your family members’ personalities and beliefs, your pet’s environment, and especially your pet’s medical conditions.

If you have the time and resources to care for your pet as the end approaches, there are some things you can do to make her more comfortable:

  • Properly manage pain and anxiety – talk to a veterinarian for help with this.
  • Provide a comforting environment – soft beds and blankets, soothing music, protection from children and other animals in the house.
  • Don’t force her to eat or drink – this can lead to more problems and anxiety.
  • Be ready to see difficult things – seizures, gasping for breath, bleeding, crying, and
    whining are all common, depending on your pet’s medical condition.
  • Be calm – it can upset her to see you sad or stressed.
  • Have an aftercare plan – know where you are going to bury or cremate her body, if you want any keepsakes, and have arrangements made ahead of time.

If your pet is struggling to breathe, or is having uncontrolled pain, you do not have time to wait and see if she passes on her own. You need to get her to a veterinarian, or have one come to you, right away.


Recognizing End-of-Life Symptoms

In many cases, you may have noticed your dog or cat not feeling well, and your veterinarian may have already diagnosed a serious disease such as cancer or kidney failure. In other cases, your pet is obviously sick, or very old, or is just not acting like herself, and you’re not sure what’s wrong but you suspect it’s serious. How do you know when it might be time to say goodbye? If you haven’t already, take them to a veterinarian, or have one come to you, to have them evaluated by an expert. There are often diagnostics, treatments, and management strategies available.

Signs of Approaching Death:

  • Loss of interest in activities or acting depressed.
  • Sleeping and hiding in unusual places.
  • Difficulty breathing or strange breathing patterns.
  • Lethargy, or extreme sleepiness.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Drinking a lot more or a lot less water.
  • Gastrointestinal signs, such as vomiting or diarrhea.
  • More frequent accidents in the house, or outside of the litter box.
  • Acting clingy or seeking more comfort from you.
  • Acting more aloof, grumpy, or avoiding being social.
  • Gums are pale and sticky to the touch.
  • Unexplained weight loss or muscle loss.

Please don’t try to interpret these symptoms yourself, and please don’t ignore them. If you see any of these, have your pet evaluated by a veterinarian. Your vet can help decide what is treatable, what is manageable, and what is a true sign of the end.

Palliative and Hospice Care Options

If you are not sure about euthanasia versus natural death, if your pet is approaching the end of her life, or has recieved a grave prognosis, palliative or hospice care may be a wonderful option. Palliative care is relieving pain and other symptoms of disease. Hospice care is really the same thing, just closer to the end of life.

Benefits of Palliative Care:

  • Creating a personalized plan for comfort and support
  • Accessing medication, therapies, and emotional guidance for pet parents

Embracing Support and Guidance Through Pet End-of-Life Decisions

The loss or expected loss of a beloved pet is extremely painful and you do not have to handle it alone. If you suspect your dog or cat is dying (or she’s already seen her veterinarian and you know she’s dying), give Hampton Roads Veterinary Hospice a call. We can help you approach these last difficult days with purpose and confidence, meaning and kindness, whether you choose euthanasia or natural death for your pet. These are your last days together – let’s make them good ones.

Written by: Dr. Lauren Barrow

A Colorado native, Dr. Lauren Barrow graduated from Colorado State University with a bachelor’s degree in Equine Science in 2002. She spent the next few years starting a family and working as a veterinary assistant before returning to Colorado State University where she earned her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree in 2012. After a short stint in mixed animal medicine, Dr. Lauren found a home at Parkside Animal Health Center, in Aurora, Colorado, where she worked in companion animal general practice for nearly ten years.
In 2023, Dr. Lauren and her family moved to Virginia Beach to be near the ocean. She worked in the area as a general practice relief veterinarian for a few months until joining the Hampton Roads Veterinary Hospice team. Dr. Lauren is honored and thankful to be invited into people’s homes to help care for their family members in their last days, and, when the moment comes, to help their loved ones pass peacefully and with dignity.
Mavi Graves

Hampton Roads Veterinary Hospice

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