Readers respond to the question of whether fellow pets should be present during a housemate's final moments.
Regarding the "Just Ask The Expert" column on other pets being present for a fellow pet's euthanasia (March 2012), any house call veterinarian sees this situation all the time. When I do home euthanasias, the other pets are almost always around. If they are not present for the actual euthanasia because they are too rambunctious, nervous around strangers, etc., I usually recommend that the owner let the other pets come around the body before it is taken from the home or buried. I don't think this diminishes the mourning some pets go through, but I do think it reduces that aimless wandering all through the house for days and weeks afterward some pets do when a pet goes off to the veterinarian never to return again. Some pets sniff the body, while others appear to ignore it. But we know they sense what has happened and "know" the other pet has died.
Susan McMillan, DVM, JD
Regarding Dr. John Ciribassi's answer about the presence of housemates during euthanasia, I have been doing home euthanasia as part of my house call practice for nearly 20 years. I was quite surprised that the usual preparation I gave owners regarding the transition of their other pets to life without the one being euthanized seemed not to apply. One after another, owners reported that the other pets did not seem to notice the deceased pet's absence, even in cases in which the pets were very close.
My conclusion after this many years is that they simply need information—that is, to know whether or not the missing pet is alive or not. They may have smelled illness when the sick one was taken to the hospital, but that is not the same as the smell once all processes have stopped. I do not believe that it matters whether pets are present at the time of death, but they should be allowed a chance to smell the deceased before moving on. I even encourage owners to take a surviving pet to the hospital in cases in which a housemate dies after surgery or hospitalization. It is hard enough for the people to deal with the loss of their pets, but this experience is compounded by another pet that just doesn't know what happened.
Nancy L. Murbach, DVM
I actually do have an experience regarding having a housemate pet present for a euthanasia. I had a 9-year-old dog, Ribbon, that had lived her entire life with a 12-year-old dog, Beau. Beau got osteosarcoma, and I finally had to euthanize him. I took Ribbon with me—I'm not sure why I chose to do that. While we were doing the euthanasia, she hid under the bench—worried we were going to "examine" her. We put Beau to sleep on the floor. When we were finished, I got up to leave and told Ribbon to "Come on!" She didn't look right or left, didn't even glance at Beau on the floor. We trotted out of the clinic, and she never once looked for him at home.
You would be hard-pressed to convince me that something in those "heightened animal senses" didn't recognize that Beau was no longer present. In times past, if for some reason one dog wasn't at home, the other dog would go look for the missing dog. Ribbon never did this after Beau's death. I'm not much of a religious person or metaphysics follower, but that experience makes me at least a little bit of a believer. I would say if there is no research either way, then take the housemate dog with you and let it be there.
Denise Saxon, Manager