real life

'They search for you when you leave.' A vet's plea to pet owners about saying goodbye.

This post was originally published on September 10, 2018, and was updated on January 20, 2020. 

There are few thoughts as sickening as imagining your pet in a scenario where they’re vulnerable, scared and alone.

We’d like to think our pets know they’re loved always, and know we’ll do whatever is necessary to protect them and make them feel safe.

But according to a post that recently went viral, there’s one moment in particular where humans fail.

In July, a woman named Jessi Dietrich wrote on Twitter, “asked my vet what the hardest part was about his job & he said when he has to put an animal down 90% of owners don’t actually want to be in the room when he injects them so the animal’s last moments are usually them frantically looking around for their owners”.

“That broke me,” she said.


In response, Hillcrest Veterinary Hospital – a clinic in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa – shared a similar sentiment in August.

Image via Facebook.

The post, signed a "tired broken-hearted vet", had a message for pet owners when it comes time to "take your pet to the vet's office for a humane pain free ending".

"I beg you DO NOT LEAVE THEM. Do not make them transition from life to death in a room of strangers in a place they don't like. The thing people need to know that most of you don't is that THEY SEARCH FOR YOU WHEN YOU LEAVE THEM BEHIND!!!!!

"They search every face in the room for their beloved person. They don't understand why you left them when they are sick, scared, old or dying from cancer and they need your comfort."

It's likely a time most pet owners try not to think about - their animal's final few moments in a veterinary clinic. For many, the decision to stay or leave is made in the midst of their own distress and grief, when the thought of watching their pet be put to sleep is simply too overwhelming.

In response to the viral post, thousands of vets, shelter workers and pet owners have testified to the sad reality of how pets look for their loved ones before they die.


Speaking to Mamamia, Brisbane vet Dr Evan Shaw said he "completely agrees" with the sentiment in the post, and added that being in the room as your pet passes away is important for owners, too.

"I have a lot of return clients and I have found that people who aren't there at the end of their pet's life find it to be one of their biggest regrets at a later point," he said. "I totally understand how hard it would be, but death is ultimately a part of life and needs to be experienced to help the grieving process.

kids and dogs
"I have never had pets worry during their final moments." Image via Getty.

There are others, however, who say it's not so important for owners to be there during their pet's death.

Melbourne vet Dr Lauren Bugeja, who performs home euthanasia for old and sick animals many times per week, said she finds "most dogs and cats are very relaxed and owners are sometimes too upset to hold their pet and may even leave the room".

"I have never had pets worry during their final moments, as I talk to them and comfort them or with my nurse comfort and hold them. If a pet is getting left alone in an unfamiliar environment like a vet clinic or consult room, then they would be more likely to be worried as they do not know where they are.

"For this reason I would recommend staying in the room with your pet if you choose to do it at a clinic."

That said, Bugeja says she would "never pressure anyone to stay as this may lead to ongoing emotional stress".

"Never be afraid to seek help from others who have experienced the same experience or the vet themselves," she said. "Having done many euthanasias they never get easier but they can also be very loving and relaxed for everyone involved."

Ultimately, how one handles the death of their pet is a deeply personal decision. It's worth acknowledging, however, the vulnerability of our pets when they're put in an unfamiliar context, without the people they've come to recognise as the ones who will keep them safe.

At the very least, their emotional experience should be one of many factors that influence how we choose to say goodbye.