Dying a Natural Death

Watching my father die at home taught me a great deal about the process of dying and the goal of a natural death was born in my mind. There is much Mother Nature has built in to dying that is inherently practical and comforting.

All my patients die in time. That’s how life down here on the planet works.

It’s how they die that I’m most concerned with. I’d like them all to have a soft landing.

When Death is De-Institutionalized

The best death is the one where my animal patient gets to die at home, surrounded by her family, smelling familiar smells, hearing familiar voices, in her safest of safe places. More often than not, if that patient has been under homeopathic care for some time, that death happens without fanfare, without drama, and without euthanasia. It can fairly be called a “natural death.” That’s true even in most of my cancer patients, now the number one killer of dogs past middle age.

Of course, this rarely happens in humans these days, but hospice care and death at home is certainly an option worth researching. The peace and completion that comes from dying at home is unrivaled by dying anywhere else, and stands in especially stark contrast to a hospital death.

Dad, Son, Death and Rebirth

I had the extreme good fortune to be in my dad’s home when he died. He lived with my mom in Wisconsin, while I was a busy family man with a budding holistic vet practice on Maui. When I got word that his time was near, I flew home so I might be there when he passed.

I had a close relationship with my dad, or at least as close as possible with an old Italian immigrant man who grew through an era where men mustn’t show too much emotion. I was his last child, his third son, and the first to become a doctor, and that made him so proud. He’d sent me to vet school and seeing the fruits of his investment slowly unfold over my professional years really seemed to tickle him.

Peter Falconer took great pause when I left practice after seven successful years for parts unknown. I sold my share in the partnership I’d barely begun a few years prior, and figuratively leapt off the cliff, knowing only that a strong intuition told me there was something else for me to do.

It might not even be veterinary medicine.

That was difficult for him to hear. It was a death for me, a huge transition from the familiarity of practice and its attendant success, and I suspect it rankled him nearly as much as it excited and later scared me.

After a year of exploration, the heartbreak of a failed marriage, and a stint at single parenting, it dawned on me that I was indeed a veterinarian at heart. I just needed a new way to fulfill this seeming destiny.

Giving birth to my new holistic vet career gave Peter a chance to be proud all over again. He could now tell his friends about his son, the vet who did acupuncture. That was easier to relate to, likely, than his son who’d dropped out to explore metaphysical realms.

Bringing Home Natural Tools

When the prostate cancer caught up with Peter, it seeded his bones and brought his body a great deal of pain. I’d retooled my career for a few years by then, so when I came to see him for my final visit, I brought my acupuncture needles and moxa. My study of homeopathy was still a ways off.

Dad was on morphine regularly for the pain, which dulled him and dried him out. He’d opted out of chemo, it was too late for surgery, and hospice came to the house to help while we family members took turns with Dad, caught up on our own lives, and recounted stories of happier times.

On one sunny Summer afternoon after I’d been there for a couple of days, I asked, “Dad, would you like to try some acupuncture? I think it could help you.”

He weakly consented, and the young doctor in me sprang into action. I chose a few points known to enhance fluids, stimulate some immune response, and get chi moving in the hopes that I could help him be more comfortable. It was a short treatment and he handled it really well, lying there in the rarely used dining room that had become his hospice ward.

When I finished, I pulled my needles out and he thanked me. I left him for a spell while he rested, always in and out of that dozing place that came with dying and morphine.

When he rejoined the conscious world, I looked in on him again, and with a wan smile, he thanked me. “I’m not so dry mouthed now, and I  feel better. What was in those needles?” he joked. I laughed and assured him that I’d only stimulated what was in him a bit, and that’s why he felt better.

It was a sweet gift to be able to offer a father who’d given me so much.

Lessons from Death

When Peter Falconer’s time got closer, the old man who’d come through Ellis Island at seven years of age, knowing but a few words of English, with his immigration papers pinned to his jacket, now stopped drinking. His thirst just disappeared, and the hospice nurse told us this was a common part of the dying process. Dad would not be hooked up to fluids to prolong the inevitable.

Amazingly, as he naturally dehydrated from not drinking, his pain lessened. Enough so that his morphine could be stopped and he could be more present with us, free of its dulling influence on his mind.

I spent time by his bedside and time out in the yard that his death bed looked out on, alternately dozing on the chaise lounge and having conversations with my siblings and tending to my three year old son who’d made the trip with me.

The process of dying, observed first hand, was sad but enlightening. Dad dozed, awakened, and dozed again. Gradually, the dozing became longer and the time begin present with us lessened. I could see where this was going. He looked comfortable, just tired and pulling in, the energy for interaction or even open eyes slowly waning from his body.

Peter Falconer left his body while mine dozed in the warm Wisconsin sun just outside his window. I’d had my deepest, sobbing cry a couple of days earlier, and now, it was more just adjusting to his absence and helping where I could. He’d lived a good life, touched many with his love, and, having gone the distance, he’d moved on.

He taught me what a natural death looks like. A parting gift from a loving father.

Chloe Sleeps In, Never to Wake

One of my dog patients both taught and inspired her owner and I. Chloe was a massive, good natured Airedale, an intact female until she died of old age a couple of years back. She lived free of heartworm drugs and flea pesticides, had been vaccinated minimally early in her life, and had the benefits of a raw, meaty bone diet for many years.

Homeopathic prescribing had brought Chloe through pyometra and later, crippling arthritis that had reduced her to a literal crawl. Carefully chosen remedies had mended her reproductive tract and brought her from a crawl to an enthusiastic run, with no sign of lameness.

As her time came nearer, it wasn’t all that obvious to Mary. She preferred to sleep indoors, relegating guard duty to her life companion Lionheart, another massive Airedale who took his work seriously, while being good natured to those who belonged.

Chloe ate a bit less, slept a bit deeper.

One morning, Mary rose a bit earlier to tend to some farm chores and decided to let Chloe sleep in. She laid, comfortably, on her own living room floor. On returning an hour later to let her out, Chloe didn’t answer the call. Her body laid there in her usual curled up sleeping position, but Chloe was gone. She’d died a natural death, and Mary was both heartbroken and grateful it had been so easy for her.

Hows and Whens of Death

The How of death is in our hands, at least to a large extent. I see repeatedly in homeopathic vet practice that patients can die gracefully, easily, peacefully. The gift of homeopathy can often be applied during the transition if there’s roughness, to provide what one of my teachers calls “a soft landing.” But more often than not, an animal who’s been naturally raised and under homeopathic care in the years prior to death may well not even need my help to pass.

Clearly a benefit lacking in those who’ve received suppressive drugs, pesticides, and multiple vaccinations. I’m not sure when it’s too late to hope for a natural death in these guys, I haven’t watched long enough to clearly know.

The When of death is not in our hands. This knowledge comes from the Veda, the original books of knowledge that are manifested each time a planet revives and comes back into existence. The timeless Vedic understanding is that every soul upon taking birth, has a fixed death time. Unknown, but immutable.

So, we focus on the how. What choices are you making now for those in your care that make the how of dying a peaceful transition instead of a time of difficulty?

Postscript: as serendipity would have it, Annette wrote me saying her beloved diabetic cat had died at home with the help of euthanasia a few days back. She reminds me that, if you have a dying animal, it’s good to set up a relationship with a mobile vet to have the possibility open for a home euthanasia. Here in Austin, she was very happy with Compassionate Home Euthanasia with Dr. Maggie MacDonald.

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  1. Tina on June 9, 2021 at 6:31 pm

    Sometimes it feels like a tough call….but when all is said and done i feel that natural death at home is preferable for our cats and dogs.

  2. Michelle on June 1, 2019 at 11:54 am

    Dr. Falconer,

    Thank you for this beautiful article about dying a natural death. It meant so much to me at a very difficult time. Our beautiful 14 year old tabby cat, “Miss Kitty” was diagnosed with a serious diabetic condition. We tried the insulin but due to her age and condition, it did not help. The vet wanted to put her down but we just could not bear it because she was not vocalizing & didn’t appear to be in pain. We decided to allow her to die a natural death at home and made things as quiet and comfortable for her as possible. Towards the end, she was very weak, (not moving around a lot, and not eating or drinking and we new her time was near. We stayed with her the whole time, quietly petting and reassuring her that we loved her & that it was okay to let go. During her final few minutes she died peacefully in my arms as we gazed out at the beautiful mountains and blue sky outside our window. We loved her so very much. She was such a blessing to our family. I read an old Norse poem about pets and passing on that talked about how animals play on the other side of the Rainbow Bridge until one day, the ears perk up on one of the animals as he breaks from the pack as he runs to join his owner passing over the Rainbow Bridge. I know one day, we will see Miss Kitty there as we too, transition on. Thank you again Dr. Falconer. You are a very special man who has undoubtedly brought great joy to so many lives, animals and humans alike 🙂

    Abundant Blessings

  3. L on October 5, 2015 at 9:10 am

    “if one is not in a position where they have no access to a vet, is there something that can be administered to the pet by the owner for a painless death”?
    Not exactly, if you fail, you may cause more pain and suffering.
    Best to consult a vet, there must be a 24 hour walk-in emergency veterinary clinic near you.
    Just my 2 cents. Best of luck.

  4. mark on October 4, 2015 at 9:56 pm

    dr falconer, with all of your experience with animals, is it best to just let them die naturally and possibly give them a pain killer if they are uncomfortable, or sedate them and give them an injection? where do you generally draw the line between a pet being uncomfortable due to an approaching death and a pet which is simply TOO uncomfortable to die naturally?
    if one is not in a position where they have no access to a vet, is there something that can be administered to the pet by the owner for a painless death?

    • Will Falconer, DVM on October 5, 2015 at 7:14 pm

      My “it’s time for euthanasia” call usually revolves around at least two issues:
      Unable to rest (usually due to pain, but not always), and/or
      Vocalizing due to pain and discomfort.
      If either or both are present, I call it.
      Others are less clear but equally justifiable: an animal who’s got a death sentence disease whose quality of life is really impaired. That could run the gamut from soiling her environment, much to her chagrin all the way to normal front half but paralyzed lower half. I don’t fault someone who choses euthanasia in circumstances like this. We know recovery is impossible due to the level of pathology and life just really sucks.
      And, as L said, the drug to euthanize is only suitable for IV use, and the main class is a controlled substance, so best to get a vet involved. Ahead of time is best, mobile is ideal.
      Good questions, Mark. Thanks.

  5. Will Falconer, DVM on May 20, 2014 at 12:54 pm

    Hi Kathryn,
    I’m glad the post helped you. Your old guy could well die at home, but agreed: it’ll be good to have a house call vet in the wings if needed.
    All the best when the time for his transition comes.

  6. Kathryn Palmer on May 19, 2014 at 3:53 pm

    This is a topic which really hits home to me right now. I have a 13 1/2 yr old who just went through a crisis. I thought we were going to lose him. He wouldn’t eat or barley move. I did Reiki on him and gave some pain meds and by day 5 he started eating again 🙂 It makes me think I have to get my ducks in a row because I don’t know if my vet will come to my house and he melts down anytime he had to visit the vets. I would love for him to go peacefully at home but he has only been a vital animal for the last 4 years. Thank you for all the wonderful posts. It helps to prepare me for his time.

  7. Donna West on May 14, 2014 at 6:28 pm

    Thank you so much for posting a blog on such an important topic for us humans to understand. We have been so conditioned in our thinking that death is the end and we will never see our loved ones again. Over the last 10 years, two things taught me about death and confirmed we must ‘die to the fear of death before we can live our Life fully’.
    The first event was my shared death experience of watching (with my physical eyes) my Mom’s soul (essence) leave her body. No one else in the room was able to see it. The second was experiencing the circumstances around the natural death of my beloved Norwich Terrier, Sam. Sam apparently had Pulmonary Fibrosis and within a week of becoming symptomatic he could not breath outside of his oxygen filled cage. It was so very hard to watch such an athlete (Agility Breed Champion) unable to take a breath in the outside world. That night was Christmas Eve and I prayed to our Creator asking for help to assist him in passing on his own as a Christmas gift to me. It was granted and I just know it was his way of not only saving me the anguish of making the decision for him, but letting me know he was a part of making that decision. His diagnosis was confirmed only after his death. Now his spirit visits me any time I think about him. He and Mom have taught me through constant communication in their afterlife that Love can never be lost.
    I am a Lay Homeopath and have treated my dogs (I have bred Norwich for 14 years)and myself since 1999 with alternative natural medicines in the few dis-eases we have encountered. I so thank you for your blog and articles enlightening people that there is another way to approach veterinarian care that makes so much more sense by supporting our body’s infinite wisdom with Natural Remedies and loving care. We need more awakened Veterinarians in this World today! I am convinced it will be happening as we see more and more people awaken.

    • Will Falconer, DVM on May 15, 2014 at 8:38 am

      Thanks for sharing Sam’s and your mom’s story, Donna. I think the more we can be exposed to loved ones dying a natural death, the less grip the fear of dying will have on us all. It’s clearly not an end, as you appreciate. Just a transition we have to go through, and when we have loved ones near, it helps ease it a lot.

  8. Mary Langevin on May 13, 2014 at 6:32 pm

    Our dog Toad died quietly and quickly at home at the age of 15. It was my daughter’s 25th birthday and the whole family was here for supper. Toad had been for his regular walk with our 3 other dogs that afternoon, mooched at the table, licked off some plates, visited with everyone and then wanted outside. It was Jan and very cold out so after 5 minutes I went to call him to come in. I found him laying in the snow. We brought him into the garage and laid a blanket down for him. He was my 26 year old son’s dog. He wanted to rush him to the emerg vet but I told him that Toad was dying.
    So we all sat with him, quietly, with our hands touching him but not interfering. His breath slowed and he relaxed and died. It was anguish to watch him taking shallow breath after shallow breath (it reminded me so much of watching my own mother do the same thing as she died of cancer) but I am happy that everyone was home that evening to say good-bye.
    I held Toad in my hand the moment he took his first breath and laid my hands on him in comfort as he took his last. He died KNOWING he was loved and safe.
    A dog could not ask for a better way to die.

    • Mary Langevin on May 13, 2014 at 6:33 pm

      Should have included that Toad was raw fed, chemical-free and only vaccinated during his first year before I knew not to vaccinate at all!

      • Will Falconer, DVM on May 15, 2014 at 8:33 am

        Wow, Mary, from his first breath to his last, you were there. How very touching this story is. Thanks for sharing it. Toad was a lucky dog to have such a clean life and smooth passing.

  9. Jennifer O'Donnell on May 13, 2014 at 3:20 pm

    Four weeks and two days ago early on Palm Sunday morning, my Westie Fergus passed away in my arms as I held him on our bedroom floor. Just four weeks before that he’d been diagnosed with lung cancer. We declined surgery and chemo preferring just to have him on some pain meds to keep him comfortable. He was nearly 14 years old and the tumor was HUGE. I was afraid he would die on the surgery table and I didn’t want him to have any more discomfort than he already did in his last days. I knew he didn’t have long and I wanted his days to be normal – with us, having play time, and pets and cuddles, sleeping on our bed. He was tail-wagging and happy, even playing up until the day before he died. Late that Saturday afternoon his breathing became extremely labored, he wouldn’t eat or drink (had eaten his entire breakfast that morning) and I had to pick him up to take him outside to potty. That night as we went to bed he slept on my chest for a couple hours but then he became restless. So we put him in his bed and I laid on the floor next to his bed with my hands rubbing behind his ears – one of his favorite pets. I kept telling him not to stay for us, that it was time for him to go and that I loved him. This went for 5 or 6 hours and then at 6:34am his breathing was becoming less and less and I could feel his heart beat slowing. Right before that though, maybe 20 minutes, he had gotten out of his bed and laid on the floor next to me with his chin on my pillow. Then he laid down on his side and started to fade away. I did get to wake up my husband so he could say good bye. I held my ‘Boo Bear’ and rubbed his ears as he quietly and peacefully died in my arms. I was soo relieved that we didn’t have to have him euthanized. I am not sure my heart could have stood it. I am so glad he went so quickly and quietly and I’m glad it was with me and our family in his home. I miss him so very much and sometimes wonder if we did the right thing, but your blog post helped to affirm that we did do right by Fergus. Thank you.

    • Will Falconer, DVM on May 15, 2014 at 8:30 am

      Oh, Jennifer, what a sweet passing you gave Fergus! How fulfilling to have him so close and so comfortable in his death time.
      Thanks for adding this to our discussion.

  10. Joyce on May 13, 2014 at 7:28 am

    Such a beautifully written, poignant post Dr Will.
    The hardest thing we do as human beings, is survive the loss of loved one.
    So much emotion, and sadness that we have to deal with all at the same time, being there for our loved one to help them through their journey in dying. It’s such an important process to be a part of, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
    I have known two great losses in my life, my father as well as my dear sister in law.
    My father passed in a hospital setting, while my sister in law was able to be in her home with the care of her family and incredible hospice care from nurses who are without a doubt,some of the most special human beings on the planet.
    It is a subject often feared to be talked about, I guess because it brings so much heartache, but still, it is a part of life for all of us.
    Thanks for sharing your personal story with us Dr. Will. and reminding us all that dying a natural death can be a most loving and gentle process.
    When the time comes for my animals, being at home will be my choice as well.
    Thank you for such a touching and beautiful post Dr. Will.

    • Will Falconer, DVM on May 13, 2014 at 8:47 am

      Thanks, Joyce. Your words make me appreciate two ends of the life spectrum and the very special people who can be called upon:
      Birth and the midwives and doulas who gently usher a new being into the world, and death where you’re right, hospice workers can make such a lovely difference.
      So much is possible when we step outside the institutions we’ve built and take things naturally.

  11. maria segreto on May 13, 2014 at 6:25 am

    Dr. Falconer,
    Thank you for sharing this part of you with us, it shows once again that you are real and simple, human qualities not often found.
    As with your father, my grandfather “Lelo” as I called him passed away in his sleep a few years back. Him and I, out of the entire family shared being born on the same month “april” and since his was the 12th and mine on the 2nd he always said that I was getting older than him. He has been gone for 10 years now and the more time passes the more I closer I feel to him. Without wanting or even knowing he taught me much about what I know really matters today, and for that I am very grateful and proud of being his first grandchild.
    Thank you for reminding us of the “great” teachers in our lives.

    • Will Falconer, DVM on May 13, 2014 at 8:43 am

      How sweet was this relationship with your Lelo, and how deep, Maria. It makes me wonder even about how much I absorbed from animals, who never said a word but shaped my life.
      I appreciate your sharing of this here.

  12. Cindy on May 12, 2014 at 11:55 pm

    The dogs I’ve had as an adult have all let me know when they were ready to go. The first one was at the hospital and I felt him break his connection to me. Soon after the vet called to say it was time. The second one died at home, because the vet wouldn’t believe me when I said he was dying. I was very close to him as he had been a problem dog when young and we spent many, many hours together working on that, successfully. He died way too young, probably of hemangio. His last night he wanted to stay outside in the yard alone, and he clearly did not want to have me stay with him, holding him and begging him not to die. I thanked him for his years with me and said he could go if he wanted to. I went inside and made myself leave him alone out there, and the next morning I found him dead, as I expected. My other two dogs sniffed him and one went and got his ball and dropped it in my lap as I sat there crying.
    Two years later my elderly father, at almost 96, stopped eating, slowly starving himself over a 3 week period, refusing feeding tubes. I found it easier to accept his choice because of what I learned with my dogs.

    • Will Falconer, DVM on May 13, 2014 at 8:40 am

      Wow, Cindy, the things we learn from our dogs never ceases to amaze me.
      I think it’s very important to impart that message to those who are struggling, many seemingly out of duty not to leave us: “You can go, anytime you’re ready.”
      Thanks for sharing this with us.

  13. Patti M. on May 12, 2014 at 11:37 pm

    In the middle of a stormy night, feeling uneasy and having a frightening thought about death …. and I found your blog, Will, and all the thoughtful replies. Perfect. Thank you.

    • Will Falconer, DVM on May 13, 2014 at 8:36 am

      That was a pretty wild night. I’m glad the writing helped some, Patti.

  14. Pamela Picard on May 12, 2014 at 9:16 pm

    Very nice piece, Will. I’ve let go three animals in my life. Each was a different place, different time, different animal and different experience. But I have never had an animal that was so well at its demise that it could pass naturally in its sleep. My first calico cat had a squamous cell carcinoma on her mouth. She was starving to death and so uncomfortable she yowled constantly. The only thing I could do was to let her go at home in my arms. My second calico cat took us on a roller coaster of ups and downs for 18 months with what I think was renal failure. It culminated in the middle of an unprecedented ice storm with projectile vomiting a thick, black, foul-smelling bile. When she could move, she was disoriented and practically walking on her hocks. All the local clinics were closed due to the weather. When I finally connected with one, my sweet kitty, who hated traveling in the car, was so ill she made not a sound on her last car ride. Due to the weather and mandatory vaccination laws, I was unable to be with Aimee in her final moments. I can only trust that her separation anxiety was brief. I gave Matisse, a good life and vowed to give him a good death. As you know, we supported him with homeopathy in his declining years, but even that was no match for the degenerative neurological condition that emerged over four years. My beautiful, bold, elegant boy gradually lost agility, mobility and finally the strength to support his own weight. He stopped eating. He was incontinent. And for the first time in his 15 years, he refused to walk with me. Thankfully, we had great support from Dr. Ray Bouloy in Cedar Park who made time for us that afternoon. He always loved riding in the car, so this was not a sad trip for him. I was more anguished than I have ever been in my life, but my dear boy had a peaceful, graceful passing. When they have no good days left and are clearly debilitated beyond any relief from pain management or homeopathy, then I believe that a humane death is only merciful. We all wish we will pass peacefully in our sleep. Few of us do.

    • Will Falconer, DVM on May 13, 2014 at 8:35 am

      Thanks for sharing these vignettes, Pam. You are right: they are all unique.

  15. Jo Lupton on May 12, 2014 at 9:03 pm

    Dr. Falconer,
    Thanks so much for sharing your own personal story and Cloe’s. I wish we had been more enlightened and taken our sweet Boston Chester to you long before his condition worsened to the point of there being no further loving reason to prolong his suffering. As pointed out in other comments, every animal is different. Chester always loved to go anywhere, even to the vet; so even in his pain and confusion, he willingly traveled in my son’s arms to the vet who had been caring for him. When X-rays confirmed massive congestive heart failure with no resonable hope for other outcome, we decided to have him euthanized there in the doctor’s office. The staff was wonderfully sympathetic and supportive, giving me and my son all the time we needed to be with him both before, during , and after the euthanasia which only took a few minutes, once begun. We took him home and buried him in the back of our property with two other dogs and a cat. It was a sad and difficult experience, but reading your blog and the comments that followed has helped me accept our decision and feel more at peace.

    • Will Falconer, DVM on May 13, 2014 at 8:33 am

      Ah, Jo, it sounds like Chester was just eager for what ever life brought him, including his euthanasia with you and your son present. What an inspiring story. Thanks for sharing this with us.

  16. Margo on May 12, 2014 at 3:36 pm

    My condolences for the loss of your father Dr. Falconer. Losing a beloved family is never easy, no matter how peaceful their passing may be. For me, the passing of my beloved Daisy dog after 18 years was the most significant loss of my life (thankfully, my parents, siblings and other close family members are all doing fine). Daisy walked a long, winding road with me – she was my love and my constant compainion, even when she lost her teeth, her hearing, and her mind in the end. Even now, three years later, I am tearing up just thinking about it. She would wander into the room and you could tell she had no idea where she was or who we were. When she would get that lost, confused look on her face, I would just hold her and talk to her and reassure her that everything was OK. Her death was painful, tragic and difficult. In the end, she was incontinent, barely able to walk and had to be confined to bedding on the kitchen floor. She suffered. When she finally entered her end time, she had seizures and simply lost contact. My son and I rushed her to the Vet ER where, I am happy to say, some of the kindest, gentlest, caring people helped us walk her across that Rainbow Bridge. I held her in my arms while she breathed her last breathe. Fortunately, since she was a little thing, taking her home and burying her was no trouble, although I am sure that is a consideration for folks with bigger dogs.
    For me, that experience was so profound that I made the decision when my other dearly beloved dog Lily grew older, I would do my best to care for her as lovingly as possible in the hopes that her death would not be so difficult or traumatic. In retrospect, I can see that I could have made the decision to release Daisy much sooner than we did. It was just a painful decision to make. Having someone nudge me along that path might have helped. Thank you so much for your insight!

    • Will Falconer, DVM on May 12, 2014 at 4:12 pm

      Oh, Margo, what a life’s ending you went through with Daisy! So sad, but also so inspirational how you nurtured her through, even with her no longer recognizing where she was or perhaps even who you were. Just you holding her so must have been a great comfort as her body and mind were leaving her.
      Thanks for sharing this with us here.

      • Sandra Hodges on May 12, 2014 at 8:26 pm

        Very beautiful article.
        I am a canine hydrotherapist in Cincinnati. Two years ago I was working with Keno a GSD who had degenerative myelopathy. When she lost her ability to walk, she regained confidence and much happiness when swimming. Her owner, Vicki, brought her to swim 2x a week for about a year. Vicki said she could never make the decision put her down. She often said a perfect day would be for Keno to swim and then pass on her own. Keno listened… One day Vicki brought her to swim but Keno seemed different and it was clear she wasn’t feeling well. We put her in the pool and she chased her toy a few times but that day the session was cut a little short. Later that evening Vicki called and said after they got home Keno laid down in her usual place and Vicki laid beside her and she died in her arms. She died on Valentine’s Day. I got very attached to Keno and I tear up just telling this story.

        • Will Falconer, DVM on May 15, 2014 at 8:27 am

          How touching, Sandra. It sounds like hydro was a great experience for Keno, and her death couldn’t have been better.
          Thanks for sharing this with us.

        • Julie on May 5, 2018 at 1:11 pm

          My 15 year old dog, Max, has DM and it looks like he is nearing his end. He can no longer stand, he is incontinent and he has trouble holding a semi-sitting posture – after a few minutes he falls over unto his side. He doesn’t appear to be in any pain, is still eating and drinking. I have always wanted him to die peacefully and naturally with familiar smells, sounds and voices lulling him to sleep. But I worry that things will suddenly become horrible for him and he’ll have to wait too long for the end-of-life vet to get here.
          I clicked on your post hoping to get some reassurance that the end is not horrible with DM, even as I understand that every dog is different.

          • Will Falconer, DVM on May 7, 2018 at 2:55 pm

            Hi Julie, I don’t know as I’ve ever seen an end other than euthanasia with these guys. At some point, owners realize life is not worth going forward further on, the disease is incurable, the dog is embarrassed (some are, some aren’t) or hates diapers, etc, etc. It ends up being a quality of life issue.
            So, I’ve really never know what “the end” looks like if left alone. I know it’s not painful, paralysis is just a numbness, and if I had to guess, it could progress so far up the spine as to make digestion or even respiration impossible.

  17. Kathi Richards on May 12, 2014 at 1:45 pm

    I sat here reading your blog with tears in my eyes. More than one dog has crossed over in our home. Always at night, next to our bed. Not always easy.
    Now I have a duck that is not well. Suddenly lost her sight and stopped eating. Still drinking though. Is she dying? I don’t know, I don’t think so, but I will try one more thing, and maybe, just maybe that will bring her back. I keep learning, trying. I do know that when it is her time she will go in a loving light. She will go home, as I like to say.
    Thank you for sharing this wonderful story.
    Blessings, kathi

    • Will Falconer, DVM on May 13, 2014 at 8:28 am

      Goin’ Home. A jazz song that haunted me growing up, playing in on my parent’s record player. Tried to find it for you, but it captures that feeling well. Turns out it came from a Dvorak symphony.
      Here’s a version that’s fairly close:

  18. Claudia Elisabeth Garner on May 12, 2014 at 1:35 pm

    Thank you so much for that post. It clarified a lot for me. I have run a hoof care clinic (non-veterinarian) in the past and from that time I have a few horses left that are in less than stellar shape. I wrestle often with the question of quality of life, but am re-thinking my own position after I read your blog.
    I appreciate your sharing.

    • Will Falconer, DVM on May 12, 2014 at 4:16 pm

      Thanks Claudia. I wish you all clarity in this difficult area.

  19. Carole Milligan on May 12, 2014 at 12:48 pm

    Dr. Will,
    What a beautifully written and sensitive post about death. We were able to keep our parents at home, in familiar surroundings, while they were in hospice care. They slipped away quietly, peacefully, surrounded by family. We have also been able to let animal companions pass away while at home, surrounded by love and care. We believe it helped our children understand that death is a natural part of life, and does not need to be feared. Thank you for sharing your story about your Dad, and Chloe’s story.

    • Will Falconer, DVM on May 12, 2014 at 4:06 pm

      How very lucky for your family, Carole, animal as well as human. The children most certainly benefitted and have a perspective many do not in our modern times.

  20. Elle on May 12, 2014 at 12:27 pm

    Wow, what a beautiful post! I really appreciate this topic because it’s something that most people avoid thinking about. For some reason, we’ve been brought up to believe it’s a bad thing. In some Buddhist traditions, they say the moment of death feels like a gigantic orgasm. Doesn’t sound too bad to me. haha!
    In former times, people would be at home with family while going through the deathing process. They would die in their beds and they would be buried on the family land. Now they take our loved one’s bodies away to funeral homes where God knows what goes on. Then the families practically go bankrupt paying for a expensive metal-lined, highly polished wood, satin-lined coffin that gets lowered into a cement-lined hole in the ground in a cemetery where the dead bodies are confined, headstoned, and adorned, often with fake flowers. I guess cremation is an option, but that choice gives me the willies for some reason. I’ve witnessed the cremation of a Brahmin priest in Bali and it’s quite a spectacle.
    My giant breed dog is almost 7 and I am cherishing every moment with him. I don’t know his lifespan because he was adopted at 18 months without any history. I do know that we’ve given him a new lease on life with Dr. Falconer’s care.
    I’ve never been a fan of euthanasia. I always felt that when my pet passed, I would rather he transition in my arms than in some strange place. And I would rather he leave at the time he chooses and not the time that I or a vet would choose. If that means wearing doggie diapers, then so be it. I know many people who’ve euthanized their pets because they were starting to become incontinent. It just seemed like it was more for the owners convenience than the dogs. Although it may have been exactly what both needed, I don’t know. I just know the way I’d like to do it.
    On the human end, I’ve always wanted to just be wrapped in cloth and buried on my land so the body could recycle itself back into the earth quickly. I also dreamed of having a tree planted on top that my remains could fertilize. So I started doing serious research into natural burials and they sound exactly like what I’ve wanted.
    My dogs will be buried in our back yard and we’ll plant a fruit tree over them.
    Thanks again for bringing up this topic. I found myself crying as you told the story about Chloë. So touching!

    • Will Falconer, DVM on May 12, 2014 at 4:04 pm

      Thanks Elle. I saw my first funeral pyre in India on my last visit, and it was extremely moving. Of course, I was very close to the one on there, as my guru had left his body after 91 years. It’s an amazing perspective to see someone’s ashes after a cremation, and realize our bodies are so physical, so temporary, so of the earth. We are so much more.
      We have indeed done some strange things in the West with our dead. A big subject, wrapped largely around confusion over who we are.
      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Elle.

  21. Tracy Snow-Cormier on May 12, 2014 at 12:04 pm

    I love your blog posts Dr. Falconer. I lost my tripawd, Maggie, to CRF last August. Thankfully, I was able to have her put to sleep at home, in my arms, where she would rather be. She was very tired and needed help to pass.
    Tracy & Spirit Maggie

    • Will Falconer, DVM on May 12, 2014 at 4:14 pm

      Nice, Tracy. There’s no place like home, and in Mama’s loving arms. Maggie’s was a blessed passing.

  22. L on May 12, 2014 at 11:46 am

    Well, there comes a point when you can’t deny that the animal is suffering greatly, and yet instinctively fighting to live despite the obvious.
    Not everyone can watch that and rationalize it.

    • Will Falconer, DVM on May 12, 2014 at 3:57 pm

      That’s when quality of life becomes the most important to assess, in my mind L. If there’s suffering and a terminal condition, it’s hard to deny euthanasia as a kind offering.
      I’m not sure I’d know what “fighting to live” would look like, but I think I can identify suffering. It’s often most clear to me when the animal is unable to rest and relax. Vocalizing added to that makes it even more obvious.
      Ultimately, I think we need to make a “team” decision: owner, vet, and animal in the middle. Each one has something important to say.

  23. Mary Rodriguez on May 12, 2014 at 11:38 am

    I learned most about the beauty and serenity of death when one of my cats, Felix, died age 21. I sat with him because I knew his spirit was leaving and offered him frankinscense essential oil to inhale which kept his breathing calm and smooth. He slipped away gently. It was a beautiful experience to watch him go and it taught me so much.

    • Will Falconer, DVM on May 12, 2014 at 3:50 pm

      Wow, Mary, that experience with Felix sounds like a life changer. Thanks for sharing it here with us.

  24. Wendy on May 12, 2014 at 10:57 am

    As a professional animal communicator I have spoken to many animals as they near the end of their life. As you said, it is different for every animal. My goat Ghost taught me that there is a process to dying. He said it was as important as living. I struggled with viewing him as suffering but he insisted he was okay and in the end died peacefully in his sleep. I have found that often it is the human unwilling to witness the process of death that ends the life sooner. While some animals want to experience this process I have also talked with other animals who would like the pain to end and are grateful for the help. I also have found that many animals leave their bodies occasionally as they transition to death which helps if they are experiencing pain. I had an out-of-body experience myself at 4 yrs old so I understand how this works. Thanks for bringing this topic up. We need to talk more about dying. Perhaps we will fear it less.

    • Will Falconer, DVM on May 12, 2014 at 3:49 pm

      Agreed, Wendy. One of life’s scarier subjects, largely because it’s so unknown, and yet we can got a lot from tuning in to it rather than running from it.
      Thanks for your insights.

  25. Jackie on May 12, 2014 at 10:21 am

    What a beautifully written and touching blog, Dr. Falconer. Death and it’s process is something that scares me. The knowledge you are sharing here has given me some peace and reminds me that I’m heading in the right direction with my pets.
    Thank you so much!

  26. Debbie Fultz on May 12, 2014 at 9:52 am

    Being a Hospice Nurse myself, I feel if at all possible, a pet should die at home. I had to euthanize my greatest companion recently due to liver cancer. She was almost 17 and had always hated going to the Vet. I did not want her to be frightened when it was time for the journey. My Vet came to my house and Lexie had a peaceful death. I do not have a Holistic Vet in my area, but had educated myself and had many arguments/discussions with various Vets re: what I was willing to allow in regards to my pet’s health.
    Our pet’s are on a journey with us. I think we owe to our furry friends to be present on their final journey.

    • Will Falconer, DVM on May 12, 2014 at 10:06 am

      Great to have your perspective, Debbie. It’s such a tender time, it is definitely worth making decisions in a present, peaceful mindset if at all possible.

  27. L on May 12, 2014 at 9:40 am

    I lost my beautiful Pembroke Corgi to hemangiosarcoma last year.
    I kept getting the runaround from the traditional vets, tramadol, neurontin, rimadyl….no one wanted to bring up the E word, although they were all quick to tell me she had less than a month left and was having difficulty breathing.
    Only one vet that I had contacted, who spoke for me for about 10 minutes on the phone (this vet does home visits) told me: “Don’t wait too long”
    She said she would only need a few hours notice to come to the home.
    Unfortunately I ended up at the emergency place after hours, a nightmare experience.
    I would advise anyone in this situation to arrange to have a vet come to the home, well worth it.
    And decide ahead of time what you plan to do with the remains.

    • Will Falconer, DVM on May 12, 2014 at 10:04 am

      Sage advice, L.
      I will sometimes tell my clients to be sure they are telling me the whole story of quality of life, as I too, even as a homeopath, have found myself trying “just one more” remedy, when I should have seen it was time to bring up the E word.
      Thanks for the reminder, and great advice. I’m sorry you had to go through hell at the ER.

  28. Margaret Wilby on May 12, 2014 at 9:34 am

    Thank you for posting this. I’ve always wondered wether or not interrupting the dying process with euthanasia was the right thing to do. After being with several of my cats as they died over the years, it appears to me that animals are intuitive about what is happening to them and not at all as attached to this world as we are. It is a process, and not always an easy one or soft one, but I still think it’s better to let them die in familiar surroundings. A trip to the vet is often traumatic for them even at the best of times. Now that I have dogs (very spoiled dogs), I’m sure, that when the time comes, this process will be much harder, for me anyway, and I hope that I choose they right path in the moment.

    • Will Falconer, DVM on May 12, 2014 at 10:01 am

      Thanks for your thoughts, Margaret.
      I think each situation, each animal’s circumstances, has to dictate the way they leave the body they’re occupying. There’s a place for euthanasia and a place for dying a natural death.
      As a vet, I’ve seen several times where euthanasia was a true gift I could provide an animal struggling at the end of its life.