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Making End-of-Life Pet Care Decisions

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It's so difficult to even think about losing your four-legged family member due to an accident, illness, or old age. But there may come a time when you need to make tough pet end-of-life decisions.

Create a Pet Bucket List

If you've seen the movie or heard the phrase, you know that a bucket list is a wish list of activities someone would like to do before they die. For humans, this can include completing an art project, traveling to a foreign country, or something as adventurous as skydiving.

Pets can have bucket lists too. They can include things you think your pet would like to do or that you would like to do with your pet. Creating a list and checking off the items is a wonderful way to spend quality time with your pet and make memories that will stay with you long after they're gone.

Of course, you don't have to wait until your pet is nearing the end of their life to make a bucket list. Start when they're young, and then you can reflect on all the adventures you've shared over the years as they get older.

Pet Bucket List Ideas

Your list can include things your pet loves doing, like going to the dog park or playing certain games, as well as new activities. Here are some pet bucket list ideas to consider:

  • Schedule a fun photoshoot. Hire a professional to get pictures of you and your pet. The shoot can be a fun time. Plus, you'll have great photos of your pet to keep forever.
  • Spend the night at a pet-friendly hotel. Some hotels offer plush pet beds so your furry friend can snuggle in luxurious comfort.
  • Take them to a doggie spa. Give your dog a day of pampering at a spa that offers services your dog will love, such as a mini massage.
  • Enjoy a drive-in movie. Cozy up with your pet in the car and watch a movie. Bring along special treats for both of you.
  • Hit the beach and spend time in the sand. The ocean air and water can help relieve stress and feel comforting to you both.
  • Give your pet a day of saying yes. Yes, you can have a treat! Yes, we can play fetch! Yes, we can take a walk right now! Shower them with love by letting them do whatever they want for a day.
  • Visit the tranquil mountains. Bring along a hammock to string from the trees so you can relax and enjoy the fresh air with your pet.
  • Give them a present. Get your dog a new plush toy to cuddle with, or bring home a fake mouse stuffed with catnip to make your senior cat feel like a kitty again.
  • Go to a drive-through. Take a car trip to a restaurant drive-through and get them a pet-safe treat.

Be sure you consider your pet's enjoyment, comfort, and abilities when you make a pet bucket list. If there's something you want to include that may be too taxing for your pet, you could make modifications.

For instance, let's say you've always wanted to hike a certain trail with your pet, but you're not sure they have the energy for it. You can shorten the hike and take lots of breaks. Depending on your pet's size, you could also bring along a pet backpack to carry them when they need a rest.

As pets get older, their needs change. Get tips on caring for a senior pet to help ensure they live a long and happy life.

Pet End of Life Options

Your veterinarian can help you determine how to deal with end-of-life pet decisions for your four-legged family member. They can guide you through the last months, weeks, and days of your pet's life as things change for them.

Palliative Care

If your pet is suffering from a terminal illness, failing to recover from severe injuries, or declining due to old age, your veterinarian may recommend palliative care. This end-of-life pet care shifts the focus from curing your pet to keeping them as comfortable as possible.

Palliative care can include medications to reduce pain and alleviate other symptoms that interfere with your pet's quality of life. Depending on your pet's situation, you may be able to care for them at home with your veterinarian's guidance.

Pet insurance can help you cover the costs of palliative care, such as medications and veterinary visits. See coverage options for your pet.

Hospice Care

If caring for your pet at home isn't possible due to their complex medical needs or your family's schedule, you can discuss hospice options with your veterinarian. Like hospice for humans, pet hospice is dedicated to keeping their patients comfortable.

Their staff is also available to support caregivers. You can lean on them to help you make medical decisions and talk through the grief and other emotions that come up during this time.


Some pets pass away naturally while they're receiving palliative or hospice care. Others may get to a point where euthanasia is the most compassionate option. You can look to your veterinarian for guidance as you navigate these waters.

You can also think through these questions, which can help pet parents make end-of-life decisions for pets:

  • Is your pet suffering or in pain? You'll want to assess their current level of suffering and pain as well as whether it can be managed in the short and long term.
  • How is your pet's quality of life? For instance, are they eating and drinking, interested in day-to-day activities, engaging with you and your family?
  • If it's available, how will further treatment affect your pet? Think about how long the treatment could extend your pet's life and how it will impact their quality of life in the time they have left.

You'll also need to consider the expense of end-of-life pet care. How much will it cost to provide additional treatments? Can you afford those costs? And how much will your pet benefit from them? If it's a short extension of life, it may not be the right choice for you or your pet.

Keep in mind that euthanasia is very humane. It's fast and not painful for your pet. First, your veterinarian will give your pet a sedative. Next, they'll inject them with a medication that causes them to lose consciousness and stops their heart. Your veterinarian will walk you through the process, and you can stay with your pet if you like.

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Cost of End-of-Life Care for Pets

Costs for end-of-life care for pets vary based on the situation. You may need to cover expenses for palliative and hospice care over the course of days or weeks. There may also be the costs of euthanasia if your pet doesn't pass away naturally.

In addition, there are costs associated with the aftercare of your pet's body. Your veterinarian or hospice team can help you understand your options and make those arrangements.

Some pet parents choose cremation. You can keep their ashes in an urn or scatter them in a special place. There are even jewelers that can make a necklace charm using the ashes so you can keep the memory of your best friend close to your heart.

Burial is another option. You can work with your veterinarian to engage a service that will bury your pet at a farm or other location. If you're considering burying your pet at home, make sure it's legal in your state. Some states have restrictions regarding pet burial.

Grieving a Pet

Grief for a pet can begin even before they pass away. This is called anticipatory grief, and it can involve waves of sadness and pain as you imagine life without them. If you're experiencing anticipatory grief, it can help to talk to friends, family members, and your veterinarian. Remember, these are natural feelings, and it's OK to have them even before your pet dies.

After your pet passes away, reach out to others for support, and don't hesitate to seek help from a professional grief counselor. There are also end-of-life rituals for pets that might give you some comfort. For instance:

  • Create a photo album or scrapbook. Include pictures and memories to help you recall the fun times you had with your pet.
  • Plan a celebration of life. Gather with friends and family to celebrate your pet's life and share stories about them.
  • Make a pet memory box. Decorate a box and tuck photos, your pet's collar, a favorite toy, and other special items inside.
  • Write your pet a poem or a letter. Put your feelings down on paper in a poem or letter dedicated to your pet.

As you grieve, be sure to give yourself the time and space to experience your emotions. It's easy to get caught up in work, hobbies, and family life, which can be a way to avoid the pain. Take a long walk, meditate, listen to relaxing music, or just sit still for a few moments. Do whatever allows you to acknowledge and release your feelings.

And remember, there's no right or wrong way to grieve, and feelings of loss may never fully pass. But they do get better over time.

The information presented in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute or substitute for the advice of your veterinarian.


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