Coping with Loss: Euthanasia vs. Sudden Death or Illness

Every pet, illness and situation is different. There is no single rule that can be followed for when the time comes for you to say goodbye to your beloved pet. When possible, try to get all the facts from your veterinarian on the specific medical conditions that your loved one may face so that you are doing what is best for your pet. Another good idea that you may benefit from is seeking advice from a close friend or family member that you trust in order to gain a perspective on the situation from someone that is not as emotionally driven.


Euthanasia is a compassionate and humane way to end the intense suffering or declining quality of life of a companion animal. It is the decision to stop unnecessary suffering from serious illness or injury. Euthanasia is mostly performed at your veterinarian’s office or sometimes in the comfort of your own home upon request. It is most often done in a two-stage process: an initial sedative that will be given which simply renders the pet unconscious, and a second intravenous injection of high concentrated anesthetic to stop the heart. Most individuals will describe this process as peaceful and painless.

When struggling with the decision to euthanize, some helpful questions may be addressed:

  • Why do I think it may be the time to consider euthanasia?
  • Have I spoken with my veterinarian and found out about all the options?
  • What are my fears and concerns about euthanizing?
  • Am I making this decision for me or in the best interest of my pet?
  • What is my pet’s quality of life? Is he or she still interested in food, playing, walking?

Sudden Death or Illness

To experience a pet’s accidental or untimely death can be absolutely shocking and devastating. We as pet owners often wonder which is worse because not having the opportunity to say goodbye can have a severe impact on your sense of well-being. When a pet dies suddenly or unexpectedly or in an accident, it is often traumatic for the owner because emotions are compounded by feelings of anger and often guilt.

As much as one tries to ensure their pets’ safety, unfortunately accidents do occur. One might be faced with, “if only I had done this instead of that.” It may helpful to think of all the good times you shared together instead – the life, love and protection that you offered your pet are all things you should try to focus on.

Equally shocking to the owner is the sudden death of a pet not caused by an accident. Most often this can be due to an illness, old age, or condition where no symptoms were present. It is of course more upsetting if he/she was young and apparently healthy, but it is very possible that your pet was born with abnormalities that were not detectable by you or your veterinarian. It is therefore unfair to feel guilty for “not noticing,” but you may wish to discuss the death with your veterinarian or consider requesting an autopsy if the option is available to you, because sometimes more information will help the grieving process.

Whether you are dealing with the question of euthanasia or sudden death and illness, we encourage you to seek support. Begin with your veterinarian or your local humane shelter, they often offer pet bereavement support.