Questions to ask your vet – making the right choices for you and your pet.
After hearing Dr James Greenwood talk so movingly and bravely about the passing of his dog Oliver I felt I had to write this post. As you know I am a huge believer in sharing our pet loss stories. For James, the CBBC and BBC Morning Live vet, to talk so openly and honestly about his struggles with pet grief was wonderful. He talked about how he could be doing something completely normal like cooking lunch and then break into tears.
Losing a pet is an emotional experience but if your vet is anything like James Greenwood then they can help you through this difficult time.
Here is my list of questions to ask your vet when your pet is nearing the end of their life or has recently passed away. You can download our simple guide here. It’s really handy for printing out so that you can take it to the vets or have it in front of you if you need to phone them. Or call us and we can pop one in the post for you.
What is your vet’s job?
Your vet’s job is to keep your pet healthy and free from pain. They will advise you on medication and nutrition for your pet. They may form a personal bond with your pet if they have treated them for a long time. And they may find it difficult to talk about the death of your pet, especially if they have carried out your pet’s euthanasia. You wouldn’t speak to your doctor about your cremation so your vet may not be the best person to talk to about your pet’s cremation.
Your Veterinary Surgery
Because pets didn’t traditionally have a funeral our veterinary surgeries became morticians by default and not by choice. It is not the core part of their business, it is a service they offer to their customers. And that service varies widely. Some surgeries are individual practices, some are small groups of practices and some are large corporations. But you have choices and there are vets out there who offer really good options for your pet. It’s important to make sure that you ask the right questions and make decisions that you and your pet are comfortable with.
These are my top questions but please let me know about your experience in the comments below because our shared stories help everyone.
Questions to ask your vet about End of Life Care
Your vet’s job is to keep your pet healthy but as we all know sometimes prolonging their life can mean prolonging their suffering. Your vet will talk to you about the options that are best suited for your pet. You may want to bring a friend or family member with you so that you can absorb more of the information that they will give you. It can be hard to take it all in, especially if you are hearing it for the first time.
What is the plan for my pet’s end of life?
Are they going to keep your pet at the surgery or will you be able to take them home with you? Some people prefer their vet to care for their pet at the surgery and others want to carry out as much of that care as possible at home. There is no right or wrong decision, just what is best for you.
Do they offer palliative care?
Some surgeries offer a specialised hospice vet who can advise you on a treatment plan that you can carry out at home to keep your pet comfortable. It would include medication and dietary advice as well as ways to adapt you home to make it easier for your pet such as night lights and mobility ramps.
What will euthanasia involve?
Some people feel rushed when euthanasia is done in the surgery as the medication is administered without a sedative. You can ask your vet if your pet can have a sedative first so that they are asleep whilst you say your goodbyes, giving you more time to say goodbye.
Are you able to have a home euthanasia?
Many surgeries offer home euthanasia which some people find less stressful. It is also worthwhile looking for a local pet doula who will come to your home and carry out the procedure in your home.
Questions to ask your vet about Cremation and Burial
Most vets will offer to take your pet to a crematorium and have either a companion or individual cremation. You can read more about the difference between the two in my article here. But there are lots of options and it’s important to choose the right thing for you.
What crematorium do they use?
You can ask your vet which pet crematoria they will use for your pet and whether it is local. Ask them if they have visited it and whether they have assessed the treatment of pets, where they are kept until cremation and where the ashes are held until collection.
Is the crematoria they use regulated and inspected by a professional body?
Check online for user reviews or make an appointment to visit, most good crematoria are more than happy to show you around so that you can feel comfortable and confident in your choice.
Should I choose an individual or companion cremation?
The choice of individual or companion cremation is explained in detail in my article here but essentially a companion cremation is where several animals are cremated together and an individual cremation one pet at a time.
If you do not want your pet’s ashes then a companion cremation is safe, respectful and low-cost. If you would like the ashes of your pet then you will need to opt for an individual cremation. These are higher in price but you will receive the ashes of your pet alone. Most crematoria also offer certificates and some offer attended ceremonies so that you can be with them during the cremation.
When will I get my pet’s ashes?
Your surgery will offer to take care of your pet’s cremation. Although it’s not a nice thing to think about surgeries often use a commercial crematorium and will keep pets in a freezer until they are ready for a weekly collection. This will impact how soon your pet can be created and the ashes returned.
If you choose to have their end of life care in your home you can take them to a crematorium of your choice when you are ready. Your vet may be able to book this for you or you can contact the crematoria directly and make an appointment to suit you.
How much will my pet’s cremation cost?
The cost of your pet’s cremation will depend on their size, the type of cremation service you choose and the urn that the ashes are returned in. Most veterinary surgeries will have a range of options that you can choose from. You can check online for a pet crematorium and book it yourself, most crematoria display their prices on their websites.
The cheapest option will be a companion cremation where the ashes aren’t returned. An individual cremation will cost more and you will get your pet’s ashes. Additional extras such as attended services or alternative urns can be added on. You can see approximate prices for pet cremation in the UK here but it is always important to check these prices with your vet and/or the pet crematorium.
Questions to ask your vet about Your Pet’s Ashes
Many people find it comforting to have their pet’s ashes at home or in the garden. Some people choose to keep them in an urn, others decide to bury them in the garden, others scatter them in a favourite spot and have a small amount make into a piece of memorial jewellery or glassware.
How long after the cremation are you allowed to pick up your pet’s ashes?
If you have chosen a companion cremation this may not be possible. Your vet will be able to let you know a time for you to visit the surgery to collect their ashes. You can collect them yourself and this normally 24 to 48 hours after an individual cremation.
How much ashes should I expect to get back?
This is one of the most common questions that people ask me. And the answer is that it depends on the size of your pet. Roughly speaking it will be around 3.5% of their body weight.
A simple calculation that we like to use is pounds to cubic inches, 1 lb = 1 in³ so if your dog weighs 20 lbs then you will need an ashes urn that is 20 in³ (cubic inches), in metric that’s a dog weighing 9kg.
What will they use to contain the ashes and are you allowed to provide your own container/urn?
Most crematoria will return your pet’s ashes in an appropriately sized scatter tube, cardboard box or urn. You vet or crematorium may offer you a range of options but you can provide your own urn if you wish.
My Pet’s Ashes Pet Urns
We have a wide range of beautiful urns suitable for all pets that you can find here. Biodegradable urns for burial, stainless steel garden urns, handmade in Devon wooden urns, scatter tubes or keepsakes for your home. Working with the best quality artists and suppliers we curate choices that are perfect for you.
Being able to treasure the bond and the memories you shared can really help you to cope with the loss of your pet. Doing something meaningful with their ashes can be a special and unique way to memorialise them and the place they hold in your heart.
We can help you choose the best way to celebrate the life they lived. You might want to scatter the ashes in a favourite spot, keep them in the garden or at home or transform them into a unique piece of jewellery or glassware. However you want to remember them we can help you do it in style.
For more help and advice about pet loss you can sign up for our free 12 Step Pet Bereavement Guide