Planning for the end of your dog’s life – the difficult questions

Unfortunately, one part of living with a pet is planning for the loss of the pet.

My dog Ace and two cats are considered “seniors” now by most standards. Their ages are 10, 11 and 13.

I hope they have many happy years ahead, but I decided to start a conversation with my husband about our general beliefs and plans for our pets as they age.

We have both lost pets before, but never together.

It’s impossible to know what the other person expects or believes when it comes to losing a pet, unless we talk about it. I believe it’s good to do this well in advance before emotions are taking too much of a toll. We’ve been through an emergency vet incident with Ace once already, and emotions definitely got in the way.

So, I wanted to list out some of our questions to give each of you ideas on what to think about with your own families. Please add additional ideas in the comments.

[quote_center]We have both lost pets before, but never together.[/quote_center]

Questions for couples and families to ask when thinking about the end of a pet’s life

senior golden retriever

1. How much money are we willing to realistically spend on a dog or cat’s veterinary costs? How much debt are we willing to take on?

2. What kinds of diseases/injuries would we be willing to treat? (cancer, torn ACL, diabetes, emergency surgery, etc.)

3. If a serious illness or injury comes up with a pet, what are some important questions to remember to ask ourselves? How would we answer those questions right now, when emotions are not getting in the way?

4. How do we determine when euthanasia is the right choice for a pet? If we decide to euthanize, do we want to be present? Do we want the vet to come to our home if that is an option?

5. What will we do with the pet’s body? What are the costs involved with these options?

6. What do we want to do to honor/remember each pet?

7. What can we be doing now to plan and prepare for all of this?

8. What can we be doing now to increase their chances of longer, healthier lives? (raw diets, annual exams, blood tests, exercise, dental cleanings, etc.)

9. How do we expect to grieve? How can we support each other during the grieving process? (For example, I know I will need at least one full day to just embrace and accept the sadness before I can move on.)

10. How will we include our children in the process? (This one doesn’t apply to us.) Also, how will the other pets handle the loss?

*My heart goes out to everyone currently dealing with the potential loss of a pet.

Are there any other questions that you think should be added to the list?

The photo is of my last dog, Brittni, who passed away at the too-young age of 7. Love you, Girl.

26 thoughts on “Planning for the end of your dog’s life – the difficult questions”

  1. Mom worries all the time about Katie who will be 12 next month, but on the other hand, something could happen to any of us at any time, so she needs to be ready for anything. You can’t forget that the other pets will be grieving and need special attention too when a pet is lost.

  2. I’m already terrified for the day Captain goes. He’s 13 now and seems healthy, but at his age, I know the dreaded is coming sooner or later. I researched options for what to do when the time comes, and I did decide on cremation. It’s cheaper than I expected, and I’ll get to keep him with me. I bawled even thinking about it though. As far as how much I am willing to spend on him though before that time at the vet, is harder. Gosh, why can’t pets just be invincible?!

  3. We have some time yet with Donna since she is 5. I do hope that *fingers crossed* her mutt genes will give her good health for many years ahead! But those are some relevant questions to ponder.

  4. Oh boy, I’ve been through those questions and been though thousands and thousands of dollars in my lifetime doing everything possible to save all my pets.

    I know one question was a hard one for me when the time came after I lost my cat Spotty. How soon was I ready to adopt another pet? I struggled a little bit with this as I was in a situation where I rescued a feral soon after I lost both Spotty and then my other cat Snickers 6 months later. It worked out though but sometimes knowing when you’re ready to open your heart to another family member is tricky. My heart is always open for furry 4 leggers though. Great article Lindsay.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Thank you for adding that. I hadn’t even thought about when I’d be ready to adopt again.

  5. The photograph of Brittni is lovely.
    We have discussed how we feel about treating various problems and what lengths we would go to. It is better to discuss these things before we need the answers.

  6. As you know, Jake is now 14 years old. I dread the day he goes. Husband has instructions to cremate me and mix my ashes with the ashes of all my dogs and sprinkle us at a special place in Wisconsin.

  7. I am 54 years old and I have had the misfortune of out living 2 of my best friends,.. I try to live life in the moment, but at times like these, the other side of the mountain looks far, far away. Thanks for sharing such valuable information, any help does indeed make the process a little easier.

  8. Great post. It’s hard to talk about these things, but so important to be prepared and on the same page with your partner. The hubs and I have, sadly, now lost 2 pets together, so we’ve had to answer most of these. Sometimes though, the answer changes according to the dog’s personality. Our first dog was terrified of the vet’s office, so we had her euthanized at home – I couldn’t bear the thought of doing it at the vet’s office and having her be afraid (much as I love our vet). But our 2nd dog LOVED going to the vet. She was a total rock star at their office, so we took her there for the final appt. 🙁 She was wagging her tail and so happy to see everyone. She went out happy. (Stupid cancer.)

  9. Great article on an issue all pet owners have to face eventually. My husband and I have been married 24 years and so we have had to answer all of these questions together over the years. I do see were different outlooks or expectations could cause a problem in a relationship, when the time comes, if you haven’t discussed the issue before hand. It’s is always hard but being prepared can help alot.

  10. I have given some thought to this, as my pets are considered seniors as well, but I hadn’t thought about how the remaining pet would grieve. Do you have any thoughts as to how to help a grieving pet? I don’t think I want to go out and get another dog, but do you think the remaining dog might need another companion?

    I’ll definitely be giving this more thought, and researching ways to help a grieving pet. What a great, thought provoking post.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Hi Jodi.

      I think it depends on the dog. I’ve never had a dog that bonded closely with the other pets. When my family’s golden retriever passed away, our other golden seemed indifferent. And my dog Ace does not seem sad when my foster dogs get adopted.

      I’ve had others tell me their dogs seemed sad, though, and would walk around looking for the other dog for months. Others set up playdates with other dogs so the dog could interact with doggy friends.

      And a pet sitting client of mine brought her second dog to the vet when the other dog, Morrie, was euthanized so they could be together during Morrie’s last moments. That wouldn’t work for everyone, but the idea sounded sweet to me since the two were good buddies.

  11. i am 60 i have lost 6 of my fur babies i lost them to old age and illness i hated agreeing to pts but i didn’t want them to suffer at one time i had dizzy kish and spud my last fur baby dizzy died 4years ago kish died 2 years ago and spud my boy was diagnosed with lymphoma the vet said there is nothing for him but he isn’t in pain so i decided to let him pass at home with us this was over 6 week ago he is still eating and wants to go out he sleeps more and he retches bile up but i can cope with that he is 14 we adore him and we are dreading the day coming because we know we pamper him even more now he is such a loving jack Russell i just hope he goes in his sleep and we hope we made the right decision

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      I can only imagine how hard it must be for you. I hope you get to enjoy many special moments with your dog in the days ahead.

  12. A difficult topic to think about, I know my humans will do all the medical stuff as I have insurance, but it’s a good idea to think occasionally about the other aspects too!

    Wags to all,

    Your pal Snoopy 🙂

  13. You have to know when to quit. My 12 year old was going blind so he got cataract surgery and a lot of pharma drugs. A month later he had some type of cancer and I allowed them to give him Chemo. He died during treatment. I learned a lesson: He was a happy dog even going blind and I made a terrible mistake trying to cure blindness. The drugs caused his next problems and the chemo killed him. I will always regret what I did and can say today that my 103 lb 13 year old dog will never be subjected to treatments that would make him uncomfortable or stress him. If he can’t live comfortably I will have a Vet come to my home to let him die in peace.

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