Whole Dog Journal's Blog February 1, 2011

Death at Home: Is Veterinary Euthanasia Better?

Posted at 09:21AM - Comments: (17)

I came home on Sunday evening and played the messages on my answering machine. I instantly recognized my sister’s voice. She was sobbing. Though I could barely understand her words, I knew what had caused her such pain.

For weeks, she had been tending to Sophie, her 15-year-old Jack Russell Terrier. We’d had a number of conversations about what to do when it became clear that it was Sophie’s time to go. Sophie had taken a turn for the worse a few days ago; she stopped eating anything, barely drank water, and mostly just followed my sister around, wanting to be held. The vet agreed there wasn’t much she could do for Sophie, except provide for a humane euthanasia.

Sophie had always been scared and shaky at the vet, and my sister was determined that the little dog would have an opportunity to die at home, if at all possible; she couldn’t bear the idea that Sophie would die at the vet’s office. But she didn’t want Sophie to die in any discomfort, either.

Because I knew my sister would do whatever she needed to do to keep Sophie comfortable, I was not worried that Sophie would suffer. I was more concerned that my tender-hearted sister would be able to handle it if things got gritty toward the end.

From what I could understand, Sophie did die at home. My sister indicated that she was going to bed and I shouldn’t call her until tomorrow.

I’ve been at the deathbed of a beloved (human) family member who passed away at home and one who died in the hospital. If I had a choice, I know I would choose to pass at home instead of a hospital. But it’s a lot to ask of whomever is in attendance. The very end of a life can be rough to witness. The canine deaths by veterinary euthanasia that I’ve witnessed, in contrast, were very quick and seemingly peaceful, but each time I’ve arranged for and been present for one, I’ve worried that I’ve hastened the animal’s death before his or her spirit was ready for the transition.

We discussed these issues in detail in “Canine Hospice Care Options” (March 2010) and “How to Prepare for a Dog’s Death” (May 2010).

I haven’t personally been through a dog’s death at home, unassisted by a veterinarian, and although it seems like this would be ideal for the dog, I’m not sure I could do it.

What do you think? What have you done when faced with this sad situation?

Comments (17)

On Feb 9, 2011, in front of the fireplace, with candles lit, music playing, incense burning, surrounded by loving family, and the devoted vet and energy worker who have cared for her in recent days, my sweet little dog, Belle, a Bichon, has transcended to the next existence. She had stopped eating several days earlier, and was so very tired, and ready to go.

It was very comforting to have us all together, at home. Belle passed in my arms, in her home, and not on a cold metal table away from the home she loved.

We also have a "mobile vet" in our area who will do euthanasia at home, and we said goodbye to our elderly ailing cat Cali, who was in kidney shutdown, at home. She hated going to the vet, and I had promised her on her last hospitalization that she'd never have to go again. It was peaceful, and so much easier than that last drive to the vet.

I don't know that I'd ever be able to go to a vet's office again, after the wonderful comforting experience of being at home with my sweet little pets for that last goodbye.

Posted by: MaryS&Bichons | March 1, 2011 5:54 PM    Report this comment

The best advice is to be with your dog when they pass. There are some people that take their dog to the vet's office and leave because they don't want to witness the death of their dog. Please look at the big picture and be there for your dog when your dog needs you. (There is nothing you can do if your dog dies while you are away from home, maybe at work.) Christy K., Ohio

Posted by: Chris K | February 9, 2011 8:30 AM    Report this comment

My beautiful much loved Golden Lab Rusty went to forever sleep 21st July 2008 at home wth myself and my two sons present and our moggie Morpheus, assisted by our Vet and a vetinary nurse. The Vet waited for my two sons to arrive home from school so we could have some final prescious moments with Rusty alone and make the final arrangements. Although parting with him was unbearably sad I feel that doing it in the privacy and comfort of our home was best for not only Rusty but for all of us and certainly very important overall in the grieving process that follows, we decided to have him cremated and his ashes are kept in a beautiful urn in my room. I find it gives me great comfort knowing he's still with me, especially at night as he used to sleep on my bed. As hard as it was to have to part with him I'm glad he went peacefully surounded by his beloved "pack" in a fitting send off for such a devoted, truly magnificent companion and I am forever grateful for having him in my life and the times we shared and for making me a better person. He remains forever in my heart. Janine W.VIC/AUST

Posted by: luvsahound | February 5, 2011 11:33 PM    Report this comment

I have just read each and every one of everyone's stories. First let me say how sorry I am for all your losses. It is never easy. I, too, have lost 3 dogs, one many years ago, another 10 years ago and most recently one just last September. All three of my beloved dogs went to their forever sleep at my vet's office. My vet and staff all knew my dogs very well and did everything possible to make them/me comfortable at this sad, heartbreaking time. My boys told me when it was time and I was with each of them, with their heads in my lap or holding them in my arms, petting them and talking to them to let them know how much I loved them and would miss them. They knew I was there with them and my first two gave me one last kiss and looked at me and said "thank you, I love you, too". My first two had been sick for a while, my collie with renal failure and my Lab with cancer and I knew that I would be loosing them and had time to prepare myself for the enevitable. My last little guy, a Shih Tzu, that I just lost was very sudden and unexpected. He had been diagnosed with a sudden onset of blindness, and within a week he was gone due to an infection that had attacked his immune system, causing him severe pain and nothing could be done. I didn't know, maybe it was denial, that I wasn't going to bring him home with me. Though he couldn't see me, he knew I was there with him, loving him and holding him in my arms. He tried one last time to give me a kiss, but it was too painful for him. His illness will always be a mystery. My other Shih Tzu has been a great comfort to me during this time and I don't know what I would have done without him. Loosing a beloved pet ia always a painful experience no matter where you decide to let them go for their forever sleep. But should it be at home or at your vet's office, always know that you're doing the right thing. This is the unconditional love we give back to our pets that they have given us.


Posted by: Unknown | February 2, 2011 6:40 AM    Report this comment

Over the years we have had several dogs and cats. We have lost two at home in my arms and taken two to the vet. The ones at home were very difficult ~ they didn't go as peacefully but they were in my arms. One was expected but not so soon and we just didn't make it to our check up that day. Most pet lovers will understand what I mean when I say the other two both "told me they were ready" ~ they communicate with us every day and I just knew they were tired and ready. They were loved by each family member and with their buddies before we went to the vet and I was there to hold, love on, and talk with them as they "went to sleep".
I have a 13 1/2 yo cat who has be a special needs guy for 3 1/2 years. We've been through sooo much with him. And, a 13 yo dog that has Cushings. We will be facing their losses in the coming months and I will know when it's time and will be there with them in their last moments. I wouldn't miss it for the world. I have never thought of doing so but I have a very close relationship with our vet and believe she will come to our house if asked.
I am always sorry for anybody's loss of their companions ~ they love us so and leave such sweet memories in our lives. For me, I can't let their last moments be alone. Even at the vet they were comfortable....
My best to each of you no matter what decision you make. It's never an easy thing to do.

Posted by: Letha | February 1, 2011 7:39 PM    Report this comment

i live in the country so finding a vet to come to my home has never been a problem. i feel that letting the animal quitely pass in its favorite comfortable spot is preferable. all of my dogs in my adult life have been able to be at home when their time came with the exception of one, and he was in an icu. i had a cat that loved the techs at the vet clinic so i opted to take him there so that he could be with some of his favorite people. although i did this once, i would not do it again if given the choice. i feel that the pet is more relaxed in his home enviorment.

Posted by: steph1 | February 1, 2011 4:45 PM    Report this comment

I had to put my beloved Sugar to sleep at home. She had inoperable cancer and all the trips to the vet were too stressful for her. She helped me through all my chemo treatments and surgery and by the time we found out she was sick it was too late for her. My vet offered to come to the house to put her to sleep and I'm eternally grateful. I invited several of her doggy friends and owners to come over so they could all say goodbye. I rocked her in my arms and whispered to her how much I loved her, etc. I still cry to this day and it's been almost 2 years. However, I do believe it was necessary for her friends to sniff her and see that she was gone so they wouldn't look for her.
I have 2 dogs now and should I have to put either of them to sleep it will be at home. I will never regret this decision.

Posted by: Unknown | February 1, 2011 4:04 PM    Report this comment

Most of my pets were euthanized at a vet's office, but my last dog was a basket case at the vet's, so when his time came I found a vet who came to the house, he went peacefully and with all of us around him. Circumstances permitting, it is the best way.

Posted by: Amy M | February 1, 2011 2:09 PM    Report this comment

I liked what Joyce had to say about all the other animals saying goodbye because to this day....i lost a dog in surgery. She was full of cancer so they just let her sleep away peacefully once they realized it was not doable surgery. I did get to say good bye night before and Vet Tech sent me photos all way from Denmark.
But her buddy, Doc, a Queensland, still misses her to this day and hates that he had to step into her alpha roll. Neither were aggressive dogs. Thy just want to have fun and love each other.
Same time my husband moved out due to addiction problems and that broke Doc's heart even more so. We both had broken hearts and did not move for month much out of bedroom. Slowly started walking with Doc but was too lonely with one dog.
Eventually i rescued a chocolate lab pup that had been abused by owner and it's papa. He was mellow and sweet and just needed love and boundaries. Well, the aussie is the alpha since 1st dog but he hates it. Lab does not want to be....i also got a jack russel female and now she loved to be it but she is middle dog..so Doc allows it kind of but he mainly does his duty and duty it is!! lol!!
But i think it is great for each dogs to be allowed to say goodbye and mourn.
Watch Elephants funeral on tv ...it is so moving and heart breaking and shows that animals are so much more than what many people try to say they are. Thanks for allowing me to share ... Animals period are the best!
take care for all who are making the choice for their beloved pet now...i am here if any of you should want to email/talk, love to our pets!! lg

Posted by: atticus | February 1, 2011 1:53 PM    Report this comment

We, thankfully, have only lost 1 animal in our young family: a 2 year old tabby cat named Dexter. He died young after a short battle with FIP, a quick and fatal disease. We brought him to the vet's office to be put down when his quality of life just wasn't what it should be for his young body. The vet and vet techs were very kind and the euthanasia was performed quickly and respectfully, giving us time with our Dexter after the procedure. I wish I could have held Dexter as he passed away, but protocol is such that he needed to be put on the table. I hope to never go through this again, but realistically I know we'll have to. Ideally we'd be home where we and the animals are most comfortable, but my experience at the vet's office was as good as to be expected. I'm not sure if our vet does house calls, so I think I'd rather take our animal to our vet rather than have a new vet come to our house.

Posted by: Alissa H | February 1, 2011 1:35 PM    Report this comment

I have not yet read all the comments because i know there is no right or wrong answer about this decision.
What i do want people who have been through this heart breaking experience that when done with the right Vet and place, it is a very spiritual experience.
When i found out my adult blk lab tarie, had cancer in her facial bones/snout area/sinues my vet was crying when he told me. I asked about chemo since i lived near Davis. No! he said..she is too much like your child.
I had lost my brother 3 months earlier at age 34 with 2 small kids from auto immune illness that they now know tons than they did not. I Have similiar illness so was taking care of is kids on days off for his wife. So i was already grieving.
Tarie kept hanging on longer than the Vet thought but we came home one night and saw how she put on a mask much like i did at work when i felt sick. So we knew it was soon. We choose to bring her their since we loved everyone at Vets and they did tarie as well as us.
When it came...and needle inserted...i sent her all the love in my heart with her..my vet was crying..he is man..but knew he loved her too. My husband had his arms holding her and it got quiet...he looked at me than our vet..we looked at each other...we had all 3 felt her pass. I knew my best friend in the entire world was no longer bones and fur but something so much more!
I hope this gives you comfort if you will having to to be making this choice soon. I hope to do my next dogs/cats at home...but will depend. Not worth it if stress others out more.
Do what is right for you and your friend...that is all that matters. LOve them most while they are here. Use vets that are more like friends than strangers...same as your doctor and do not feel silly getting a memorial plot or urn or what ever. They may have been closer to you than any human so honor them. Most of all be so proud that you loved them that well..love to all our past pets! loree

Posted by: atticus | February 1, 2011 1:31 PM    Report this comment

When the time for making that hard, sad decision has been at hand I had always struggled with the fact that going to the vet office (or simply traveling in a car for most cats) was distressing to say the least. Five years ago when confronted with a dear kitty whose immune system had totally collapsed due to lymphoma I knew the time had come: she clearly was drawing no more joy from being a kitty. I had become aware of vets who actually made house calls and so enquired at the OSU vet clinic which had been treating her about vets that might come to my home for helping with a humane ending. I was given several names and found that this horrible experience was made somewhat less so by a kindly person and with the kitty in her comfortable post in a chair.

I've since helped a number of friends similarly challenged by that last decision and in all cases the experience has been judged to be better in all ways than the alternative of either going to a vet or keeping the animal at home and waiting (which if the animal is in pain or serious discomfort is not an option). So I would recommend checking around to identify such vet services before they are actually needed.


Posted by: Robert Foulk | February 1, 2011 11:40 AM    Report this comment

I have had many dogs, but this was a bad year for our family. We lost two of our dogs. Our 15 year old yellow lab & our 141/2 year old black lab. Both died at home where they were the happiest. One death was very painful for me. My Lucy collapsed, & I knew there was nothing that could be done, I called the vet to come to our house but Lucy died before she could come. I laid on the floor & petted her & told her how very much I loved her - it was not a pretty death & I question as to whether I had been fair to her at the end. A few months later, my Molly was unable to stand or walk. After carrying/dragging this 60 pound dog in & out of the house for 2 weeks & the vet could see no improvement, we made the decision to put her to sleep. It was not an easy decision - as she was very alert, still eating - but unable to move.
The vet came to our house (where my Molly was most happy), inserted a catheter & in a few moments she was gone. I still feel that I betrayed her, but I physically could not keep going.
All in all, I honestly believe that dying in the loving atmosphere of their home with the people they love around them is the best possible death for our beloved furry children.

Posted by: sandyz | February 1, 2011 11:27 AM    Report this comment

I've done both, according to the dog's wishes, as relayed to me by animal communicators. The last dog insisted on leaving her body in her own time; she then blessed me by sharing that last breath and exact moment with me, a Glorious experience of immeasurable Light and Love. Another dog gave the signal she said she would (through the animal communicator) when it was time for euthanasia.

I will always engage the services of an animal communicator for such important decisions, because the animal may have different ideas than we do.

Posted by: BRIGITTE B | February 1, 2011 11:14 AM    Report this comment

In October I had to let my heart dog go due to bone cancer. When she was having difficulty walking any distance and her lungs were filling with blood due to the tumors, I decided it was time. Since Girly Girl has gone through so much medical treatment as a result of the cancer (amputation, multiple rounds of chemo), I wanted her last moments to be at home with those of us who loved her. My vet came to the house and out in the backyard, in her favorite spot, with her grammy and family by her side, we let her go. It was the hardest thing I've ever done but would do it again in a heartbeat.

Posted by: YIKMDLF | February 1, 2011 11:08 AM    Report this comment

Depending on the animal, I much prefer home. My Sasha had one of the best deaths possible. We had a line put in her leg by the anesthesiologist at the vet school who was the most skilled at doing the task. We spent the day with her petting her and feeding her what she loved. At the end of the day she was laying on her chair dozing as the family came to the house and gathered around her.

Her vet and her long time vet tech came to our house. We talked about how wonderful Sasha was. The vet gave her a tranquilizer. She was petted and admired as she drifted off to sleep. When she was sound asleep and we were ready, the lethal drug was administered. She was gone.

While I cry as I write this, I know it was the best we could do for her.


Posted by: Furrykids | February 1, 2011 10:55 AM    Report this comment

Of all the animals who have been my companions in the past, only 1 has died at home. Zach was a gorgeous big old boneheaded Golden Retriever who for had congenital sub-aortic stenosis, and had been plagued for years with mast cell cancer. He was 12 years old when he had a heart attack at home one Saturday morning and died peacefully. I knew Zach would go in his way, in his time. I have been tortured thru the years with each animal I've had to make the decision for, and have been at the veterinarian's office as if anything went wrong I'd rather they be there. But, I do think they're being at home would be preferable if possible - especially so any other animals can bear witness and will know where their "friends" went. When Zach passed, all the others came one by one to sniff him and they understood his passing.

Posted by: Joyce L | February 1, 2011 10:54 AM    Report this comment

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