Bucket lists can be a powerful tool to celebrate a beloved pet and create positive memories during what can otherwise be a sad and anxious time. It can also provide a sense of control and help families feel that while it’s not possible to cure their pet’s disease or prolong their life, that there are still things we can do to bring our pet joy.
As an end-of-life care veterinarian, pet families often share their bucket lists with me when I arrive for their pet’s end-of-life appointment and it’s always a joy to hear how they celebrated their final days together. Here are some examples:
Take Your Pet Out for Fast Food
Whether it’s cheese burgers, chicken nuggets or ice cream, many senior dogs enjoy a trip through the drive through. To be on the safe side, hold the onions on your dog’s cheeseburger. Stick to non-chocolate ice cream flavors and save chocolate for your dog to enjoy just prior to euthanasia. Be aware that feeding your special friend fast food could cause diarrhea, so this may be something you want to save as a special treat on their last day.
Throw a Celebratory BBQ for Your Pet
Similar to a birthday party, a party celebrating your senior dog is great way for friends and family outside of your immediate family to say goodbye to your dog. Consider setting up a table with photos and treats for guests to give to your dog. You could also give guests permission to share their hotdog, brat or burger with your dog.
A Gourmet Home Cooked Meal
I always love hearing the delicious details of special meals prepared for their pet in their final days, including sirloin steak, hamburgers, birthday cake and more. Such decadence can cause GI upset, so reserve these special meals for your pet’s final day or days and be prepared to quickly let them outside if they over-indulge.
Take Your Pet on a Final Hike, Camping Trip or Family Getaway
One family I visited recently wanted to take their dog to the beach before she died. She had never been to the beach before and was still well enough to travel so a road trip to California was the perfect bucket list item for their pet.
Many families mention that their dog loved to swim in a certain lake, hike a certain trail or visit a certain park. If your dog is still able to hike, swim and be active, that’s great, but never feel pressure to do that activity if it’s too much for your senior dog. If your dog enjoys riding in the car, or in a wagon, there are many ways to get them outside in a low-stress way that still allows them to breathe the fresh air, see wildlife, and enjoy the day with their family.
Enjoy Every Moment
The most important component of a bucket list is that both you and your pet are enjoying yourselves. If your pet is too sick or disabled to safely and comfortably participate in an activity, skip it, or modify it in a way that allows them to enjoy it. Likewise, a bucket list should be fun and celebratory for the human family members as well. Bucket lists should never be a source of stress, guilt or feeling like we have to do them or that we’re not doing enough if we don’t do X, Y, or Z. Consider quality over quantity and remember that as long as you’re leaning into the celebration of your pet, any activity makes for the perfect bucket list. And remember, you can never have too many photos or videos of your beloved pet.
Written by: Dr. Mavi Graves, Caring Pathways Veterinarian
Dr. Mavi moved back to CO to attend vet school at CSU. While at CSU, she served as a manager of the student volunteer pet hospice program and that’s when she discovered end-of-life care as her veterinary calling. Dr. Mavi feels that the end-of-life journey is an incredibly sacred and meaningful time to serve pet families and she feels strongly about the importance of letting pets pass away at home. It is an honor to facilitate gentle and peaceful euthanasia experiences and to that end, Dr. Mavi has earned her Fear-Free Certification. She is also working towards acupuncture certification and strives for excellence and personal betterment in supporting pet owners through what may be one of the most difficult days of their lives.