I know, you don't wanna go there. Most of us don't want to contemplate those final moments with their animal companions. Thinking about a pet's last day can be just too much to bear, especially if you're already frayed from providing hands-on hospice care day and night. Your emotions are raw, your body aches, and you just want your dog or your cat or your horse to stay with you for the rest of your life. But of course, that's not possible.
In my case, it was kinda the opposite. I thought about those final moments all of the time, knowing that they would coming and wanting to make sure they were as comfortable and sweet for everyone as they could be. We had committed to making our cats as pain-free as we could so that they could pass away at home when they were ready, and that, for me, meant preparing for a schedule that I could not control. You may choose euthanasia for your pet instead, but regardless of which road you choose, having a plan for your pet's final days is super important. After all, you don't want to be taken by surprise and find that there's chaos, distraction, and terror (for everyone) in those last moments.
Yes, it's scary to contemplate. But trust me, if you take the time to do a little prep-work ahead of time, you will find your mind can relax so that in those last days, hours, and minutes, you're able to focus on what matters most: making your pet's transition beautiful and meaningful and full of compassion. So my tough love is this: take a deep breath, read through these big ideas, and then commit to allotting some time to do the work of getting ready for the final days.
Spoil Your Pet with Love and Treats
If you've got the luxury of time and your pet is feeling not too bad, then make it all about his or her enjoyment! Create pockets of fun and frivolity with your sweet one by making it super easy for them to revel in time with you and their most cherished activities. So here are a few ideas of how you can make your pet's final days really sweet and lovely:
- Build a buffet of all of their favourite foods (as long as they don't cause GI distress)
- Set them up with easy-access to all of their most-love toys
- Take your dog for play time in the park or let him hang his head out the car window
- Let your cat wander around the garden to sniff all of her go-to places
- Invite your pet's favourite people and fellow pets over for a visit and some play time
- Go for a fun day of grooming (assuming this is a fun activity for him or her)
- Make all of the conditions in your home (temperature, light levels, noise) perfect for him or her
- Take days off of work or school if you can and give the gift of your undivided attention and a whole lot of your time
These are also GREAT opportunities for capturing some fun photos and videos, too! Which leads to my next idea...
Take Every Last Photo You Can Think Of
These are your final opportunities to capture those pet photo and video memories that you'll want to have available later. Grab a video of you giving a kiss (or getting one) and take all kinds of selfies together. Get in there and snap a close-up of your dog's cute nose or your cat's beautiful fur. Whatever expresses the love you have for your pet, get it on some kind of film or digital device. You won't regret having more than you need later; you may well regret not having enough.
Relax the Rules
There were times in the final days of Tia's and Spart's lives that my partner and I struggled to know how to make decisions. All of their lives, we'd selected the healthiest foods, and prevented them from gaining weight, and kept them away from medicines that could have long-term side effects. We wanted to make sure their bodies were as youthful and unspoiled as possible so that they'd live as long as they could. But in those final weeks and days, we often had to remind ourselves that it was no longer about longevity.
This was a time when it was more about comfort and compassion than focusing on the best and safest. And so we sometimes gave them medications that would help them rest better - things we'd never have considered before. We also let them eat whatever they wanted - including near bottomless treats (which became even more important when they found almost no regular foods palatable). They frequently broke rules about where they could sleep and what furniture they were allowed to scratch at. You may want to consider relaxing your own rules, too, once this time comes. Communicate these wishes to the whole family and then make your priority the comfort of your pet rather than all of those other things that used to be so important.
Put Together a Final Hours Go-Bag
You know that emergency box (for hurricanes and earthquakes) you've been neglecting to get organized? Well this is similar, but perhaps more urgently important right now. What I have in mind is a box or bag full of all of the supplies you'll need when you're faced with your pet's imminent death. This could be useful to you whether you decide to euthanize your pet or you decide to be with them as they pass away naturally at home. Either way, it puts at your fingertips all of the items you'll need to make sure your pet is as comfortable as possible so you can focus on what's most important: saying goodbye. Some of things you may choose to put in a final hours go-bag:
- Fast-acting pain relief medications
- Towels and cloths for cleaning up
- A recording of some peaceful, calming music
- A syringe to wet your pet's lips
- Your pet's favourite blanket(s) and toy(s) to have something that smells familiar
- The thoughts, poems, or prayers you want to say over your pet as you say goodbye - written down
- A candle you can light after they take a final breath
- Pen and paper for recording the time they pass away so you can use it in practices like my count-up pet memorial ritual
- A transition or comfort object to give you something to hold on to once your pet has passed away
As you gather things for your go-bag, consider also discussing with your family where this bag is located, how it should be used, and your plans for where, when, and how you'd like your pet to transition into the next phase of his or her existence. Having shared understanding and goals for this important occasion and agreeing on the particulars will take the chaos and stress out of those final moments.
Writing this has been emotional for me, as I am sure reading it is for you. But I hope that by laying out some simple ways you can get ready for your pet's last days, I've helped you prepare in a way that will give you and your animal companion a goodbye you can remember well for years to come.
Health Disclaimer: I’m passionate about wellbeing and health but I’m not a medical professional, nor am I a licensed therapist. Any content you read on this site is intended for inspiration and for information only – by not means am I providing medical advice. Please consult your certified professional for personalized recommendations on the mental health or physical health ideas I write about.