Planning For The Worst

a spreadsheet with different information for dog ethanasia

Jane Davidson RVN veterinary-nurses

Planning for the worst


As an ‘oldies lover’, I’ve probably faced the worst decisions surrounding euthanasia more times than is usual for a pet owner. It’s really the only downside I can find for the amazing love our older pets bestow on us.

Rehoming older pets and those with health needs means we know they may not spend as long with us as puppies or kittens. Despite this I’m not always sure I’m prepared for all the decisions that are needed once you have decided it is time to say goodbye.

The decision to let a pet pass in a peaceful manner is enough of a decision in itself, and while I’m grateful for the options we have with pet cemeteries and crematoriums it can be bewildering for owners.


The options – crematoria


There are many options a client can choose from. While some may not be available in every location in the UK it is a good idea to be aware of what a client can find on the internet.


Crematoriums tend to offer similar services. There is standard cremation where the pet is cremated and the ashes scattered at the crematorium. Many have places the clients can visit and while I’ve not found many people take up this the offer of this can be of some comfort. With standard cremation, the pet is not individually cremated and ashes cannot be returned but it is a more affordable option and the pets are still treated with respect and the crematorium still needs to follow. It is worth reading the guidelines from the Association of Private Pet Cemeteries so you are fully aware that your crematorium is a member and what that means.


Premium or individual cremation means that when the pet is cremated, the ashes are available for the owner to have at home. This is a higher cost service and requires some more thought. Ashes may be delivered back to the home or vet practice and there is a casket to choose. This can lead to more decisions and families may not always agree on what they plan to do with ashes. Speaking as an owner we have opted for scatter boxes for our last pets. I intended to scatter the ashes of Wilson and Flump in our garden and in a place by the sea we could always visit. However, the husband has other ideas and some 5 years after they both passed we still have the full scatter boxes in our flat. Luckily the scatter boxes look lovely but you can see why having more options for what you can do with your pet can raise more issues for clients.


There is also the option of plaques or memorials for gardens. These are often helpful if a client hasn’t had the ability to have the ashes returned but a friend or family member wishes to commemorate the pet for them.


The options – burial


There are more pet cemeteries opening as time goes on but the service is still limited by geography. A client is unlikely to want to bury a pet if the cemetery is far away. Burial may be preferred by some people if they have a religious preference for burial and some people just prefer their pets not to be cremated.


There are a growing number of cemeteries that allow joint burial. A place where you can be laid to rest with your pet. I really like this idea and I’m pleased its happening here in the UK, be aware of it as an option that clients may request. If I don’t start scattering my pets’ ashes soon I’m going to need a large plot when my time comes.


Religious needs


I mentioned religious needs in the burial section and it’s important to know what common religions regard as the usual path for the recently departed. As we cannot judge a persons religion by their looks or clothing be prepared to ask if they have any religious beliefs that will apply to the passing of their pet. Many people haven’t considered their religion and their pet and so may be happy with what the practice offers but don’t be afraid to ask if they would like the service personalised to their needs.


As a brief summary of common religions on the UK from Funeral Wise



Religion Cremation acceptable Burial acceptable Specific needs
Jewish Slowly becoming acceptable Burials are usually carried out as soon as practical after a person has occurred so clients may wish the same for a pet. There is a 7-day mourning period.
Islam Forbidden Burials are usually carried out as soon as possible after death and usually within 2 days. Death is seen as a transition from one state to another if a life has been well lived there is only beauty in the afterlife.
Seikh Preferred and ashes may be submerged in a river If cremation is not possible Believe in reincarnation of the soul
Christian There are many varities of Christianity. There will be differing preferences according to type and country. Burial and cremation are often both acceptable.



Some noted differences:


Catholicism – ashes not to be scattered


Buddhist More traditional Differences between different Buddhist “schools depending on country.
Humanist Non-religious ceremonies are held by celebrants



Hindu Preferred Not acceptable There are many forms of Hindu worship, called sects. These may have individual preferences.


Believe in reincarnation. Most people wear white to the funeral. Cremation is preferred within 24 hours after a person has passed away.

Ashes may be scattered in a sacred body of water.



What else can you do?

Even if all decisions are made easily there is still the process of gathering this information, sharing it to those who need to know and getting payment. This can be difficult to achieve in a sensitive manner during emergencies, or if there has been a change of shift and a relationship needs to be built with clients quickly.


I was surprised and pleased in December when we lost LB that the crematorium we used did 2 services I hadn’t encountered. There was the option to plan in advance with the Farewell Planner. Allowing clients to leave on record with you and/or the crematorium their wishes for their pet. This could be so helpful in times of stress to know that the clients wishes have been written down and just need confirmation they wish to proceed with their plans.


Payment for services related to a pet dying can sometimes feel difficult to talk about. Especially if a client feels they would like a more expensive option they cannot afford. This breaks my heart as I know that the love shown for a pet is not demonstrated in the type of casket chosen or the money spent. The love has been in being there until the end. However, there is a payment plan that can be organised with the crematorium. It can be easier for the client to talk to someone else about their finances when it comes to caring for their pet after it has passed. I know many clients feel they should spend as much as they can yet I’m sure most of us vet nurses would rather they spend what they are comfortable with and treasure memories rather than spending their last penny on every possible option in bereavement.


Conversations around euthanasia, and what to do after a pet has died, are never the nicest ones to have with a client. Make them easier by knowing as much as you can about the options available. The decision is still the clients but they will be comforted and more confident making decisions if you can provide information and support.

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