Pet Euthanasia During the Holiday Season; An extra layer of sadness

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For many of us, holiday celebrations include our pets. In my home, the dogs have stockings, leftovers are shared, and we will snuggle in to watch traditional holiday movie classics. If we are lucky enough for snow to fall fresh and bright, the dogs will partake in sledding and steal our hats in great fun. Whatever your version of festivity looks like, we are reminded of our good fortune to share in the joy of the season with our pets.

It is common for some to dread the holidays; the busyness, the expense, the absence of loved ones. To lose a pet during the holiday season, be it natural or through euthanasia, can compound our emotions exponentially. A 2018 article, written by social worker Adam Clark, shares quality steps to support pet owners. Euthanasia adds a layer of complexity and means we are actively choosing to say goodbye in the midst of a celebratory time. I think logically most of us know that if suffering is present, we will need to make the difficult choice to let a beloved pet go regardless of the time of year, however deep down we know the loss will be forever linked to the season. This can be very hard for families. The holiday season is just so tough because everyone else is coming together with loved ones and seemingly happy, connected, cherished. Seeing others happy can be an overwhelming reminder of one’s own sadness.

It is common for pet owners to seek euthanasia immediately after the holiday in question. For years, my home euthanasia service’s busiest day of the year was Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving here in the US. We would approach it with an extra veterinarian on shift and be prepared for calls from sunup past sundown. The reason was not because pets would suddenly develop life threatening illness or crisis on that day, but because the pets were dying already, and spending one last special day with family and friends was important. If pets can be kept comfortable to share a final day of special memories, the prospect of another 24 hours together becomes a blessing. If waiting is not an option, we know euthanasia before or on the holiday itself is heartbreaking. As a home euthanasia specialist, I remember gathering for euthanasia near Christmas trees and stockings hung bearing my patient’s name.

As veterinary professionals, our role is to provide a gentle euthanasia experience and be extra aware of the emotional toll the season takes. My team will build even more rapport with clients, acknowledge the added hardship of the season, and honor our patients with social media and website tributes. Many services will host honoring ceremonies, light candles in memoriam, and make donations to charities as the year comes to a close. Pet owners adore the added show of support, which feels like a warm hug in a time of complicated emotions. If euthanasia must be chosen, let us be ready to elevate our love.

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Dr. Kathleen Cooney

DVM, CHPV, CPEV, DACAW resident Founder, Senior Director of Education for the Companion Animal Euthanasia Training Academy

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