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What Happens After My Pet Dies? A Guide to End of Life Planning for Pets

Written by Elsa Mou

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Posted on June 26 2024

End of life planning for your companion animal is probably the last thing you want to think about, especially if your pet is in good health. Yet, planning ahead is important to ensuring that you are prepared and that your fur baby experiences the smoothest possible transition.

Every life is unique, and no two end of life journeys are alike. In this article, I hope to lay out the options and resources that facilitate decision making. Ultimately, remember that you know your pet best. No one can better make that decision than yourself, the guardian of your pet’s livelihood and carrier of their legacy.

What Happens After My Pet Dies? A Guide to End of Life Planning for Pets

Quality of Life v.s. Life Extension

As your pet ages or receives treatment for terminal illness, your vet will walk you through end of life timelines and options.

In conjunction with your vet’s advice regarding these options – ranging from at-home palliative care, checking into a hospice, or euthanasia – a good starting point is taking at least 2 different Quality of Life Assessments for a “second opinion”.

Quality of Life Assessments consist of questions that could help you and your vet understand their level of pain and, in turn, devise an end of life plan that minimizes pain.

Read more about Quality of Life here.

End of life care is a delicate balance between “life extension” and “comfort”. While pet parents might do anything for more time with our companions, pets don’t always make their suffering known, so it’s up to us to safeguard their well-being.

Pain Management Options

If your pet is recommended for palliative care, they may benefit from specialized care for incurable illnesses while optimizing for quality of life in these final days. A palliative care plan could include medicine (e.g. pain killers), treatments (e.g. acupuncture), and a home set up that optimizes for wellness (e.g. adding non-skid surfaces).

Palliative is different from hospice care in that hospice providers focus on comfort instead of treatments. While many pet hospitals offer hospice care, at home options are available.

Read more about pet palliative v.s. hospice care here and here.

The Gift of a “Good Death”

“Euthanasia” is derived from the Greek term for ‘good death.’ While it may pain us to think of putting our loved one down, euthanizing at the appropriate time may be one of the best decisions we can make, giving the gift of a painless death. As for what the “right time” is, that really comes down to our understanding of our fur baby and advice from our vet(s) and quality of life assessments.

Vets at your local clinic or animal hospitals should offer at-home or on-site euthanasia to help your fur baby go easy. Vets who do not offer at-home or on-site euthanasia likely work with a third party specializing in at-home euthanasia. The at-home option could be appealing as the home environment often offers more comfort to both pets and paw-rents.

Learn more about how to care for a deceased pet at home here.

The Bucket List

As you prepare to say goodbye, I invite you to check off your “bucket list” together. What are your pet’s favorite activities, people, or food that they could enjoy?

Whether it’s taking final photos together, devouring a juicy cheeseburger, spending an afternoon full of belly rubs from favorite humans, or taking a breezy nap on the beach as the sun sets over the ocean – you know your fluff best and have all it takes to plan their “best last day” before the rainbow bridge.

Counselling

The weight that euthanasia can bear on the decision maker is real (Couldn’t our fur balls just tell us what to do?!) If you feel conflicted about making such life-altering decisions on behalf of another being, know that you are not alone. Reach out to a pet death doula, pet grief counsellor, or your therapist to talk through anticipatory grief and other emotions that arise before and after death.

Should I Cremate or Bury?

After your pet dies, your vet will share cremation or burial options offered by third party crematories or cemeteries (very few vets today offer on-site cremation). You always have the option of planning ahead by exploring other crematories and burial grounds in your area.

Ultimately, whether to bury or cremate, and picking a provider to work with, comes down to your budget and desired experience, guided by your answers to questions such as:

  • Are there religious or spiritual beliefs you’d like to honor?

  • What is your budget? Burial and placing cremains at a permanent memorial location tends to command higher budgets.

  • Burial:

    • Would you want to visit your pet at a cemetery close to where your human family members are resting?

    • Do you wish to bury your pet in a casket, colosseum, or eco-friendly burial cocoon? Note that home garden burial may be illegal in many States.

  • Cremation:

    • Cremation is generally more cost-effective than burial. Which of these 3 cremation options resonate most?

      • Communal / group cremation where you don’t receive the cremains. This is the most cost-effective.

      • Semi-private / partitioned cremation where your pets are cremated in a small group partitioned (ashes might mingle a bit).

      • Private / individual cremation where your pet is cremated alone in the chamber. This commands the highest budget.

    • Do you prefer aquamation – a more “gentle” cremation technology that could lend environmental benefits – or traditional cremation, which can be more cost effective?

    • Do you prefer to keep the ashes close to you, or at a permanent location such as a pet memorial garden?

  • What about taxidermy – would you want to preserve your pet’s body?

Celebration of Life

As the owner of a pet urn brand, GNight Fetcher, I have observed that 80~90% of pet parents choose to cremate. The ashes are then spread somewhere (barring legal restrictions), donated, shared with other family members, or kept in an urn in the garden or indoors at home.

Some paw-rents get creative and wear a portion of ashes as cremation jewelry, or turn ashes into memorial diamonds, pearls, or stones. I’ve even heard of a service that uses hair and nails to grow another pet from the same gene base!

Beyond what to do with a pet’s body, there are further opportunities to celebrate their life and pay that love forward:

  • Hold a remembrance event at home or at your crematory / cemetery’s space, and work with a professional pet chaplain or a family member who your pet loved to officiate

  • Have everyone write down their favorite memories of your pet

  • Make an online memorial page

  • Arrange a memorial space in your space for their photos, paw prints, and urns / other keepsakes

  • Get a tattoo of your pet’s paw or nose print

  • Turn your pet’s favorite toys into a blanket

  • Donate your pet’s food and things to an animal shelter

  • Get a portrait, sculpture, or stuffed animal made to resemble your pet

When it comes to remembering loved ones, no idea is bad. As we increasingly care for our pets as children, I can only envision more personalized celebration of life opportunities for paw-rents. Trust that you will hear from me again soon, as there will be no shortage of need to update this article with new ideas.

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