Brooklyn Bark Talks

Talking to Your Vet About Your Very Ill Pet

Susan Cohen

Dr. Susan Cohen developed and let led the first support group for bereaved pet parents during her tenure at the Animal Medical Center in Manhattan.  She is now in private practice and can be contacted at

1. Make sure you know what’s wrong with your pet, what your options are, what it will cost, and what’s likely to happen. Understand it so clearly that you can explain it to someone else.

2. Make the most of time with your veterinarian: a. Write your questions down in advance b. Do what works for you to remember—take notes, ask the doctor if you can record the conversation, or take someone with you.

3. Have your veterinarian or technician/nurse show you how to administer treatments. Some can seem daunting at first, but you may surprise yourself. If you are having a problem, ask for more training, hire help, or ask if treatment can be done in a different way, e.g., different flavor, long acting, in a pill instead of a liquid.

4. Let your veterinarian know your limits.

5. Talk to your family about signs that will tell you it’s time to stop treatment. Then discuss with your veterinarian how you feel. If you aren’t sure what signs to look for, ask.

6. If you can, decide a few things in advance

Under what circumstances would you consider euthanasia?

Will you or another family member be present when your pet dies?

What do you plan to do with your pet after death? If you can decide some things ahead of time, you save energy to enjoy and care for your pet, as well plan for the last moments.

7. After your pet dies, you may still have questions for the doctor. If possible, schedule an appointment to discuss your pet’s case. Understand there may not be just one cause of death.

8. After your pet dies, it’s natural to feel sad. If you feel so sad it interferes with your life or lasts a long time, you may benefit from a support group or counseling. Ask your veterinarian to recommend a therapist who has at least master’s degree, an understanding of the human-animal bond, and experience in dealing with grief and loss.

Tags: Talking to Veterinarian, pet illness, terminal pet, pet death, sadness over pet