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Understanding the Animal Dying Experience

Woman cradling dog
Gail & Ollie sharing special moments

Death is the one great certainty in life, which is why it’s essential that everyone – adults and children alike – learn about the natural process of dying, so they can be present with love, support and knowledge to help their animals at the end of their lives.

Knowledge and understanding can help ease fear of death and embracing death as a natural part of life can lead to living more fully!

PLEASE NOTE: We at BrightHaven are not veterinarians and are therefore not qualified to give you professional veterinary advice. We have, however, been helping our animals holistically for many years, aided by numerous talented professional practitioners.

 Always consult your family veterinarian in matters concerning the health of your animals. Any sign of pain in your animal should be immediately addressed with your veterinarian.

At BrightHaven, we’ve been privileged to be present at the deaths of over more than 600 animals and we’ve learned so much about dying and living from these wonderful beings. We’d like to share what we know and understand about the animal dying experience:

  • Dying is a process as is death itself, each an organized series of events, an orderly progression, much like birth and designed by Mother Nature.
  • The dying process does not cause pain, dis-ease causes pain – in other words, if pain caused by a dis-ease was not present before dying, then it’s unlikely to suddenly occur.
  • Death is not to be feared or the enemy.
  • Death is not a failed medical event.
  • Healing (balance of body, mind and spirit) is required for living and dying well.
  • Not eating is a normal part of the process.
  • There are no “set in stone” rules – each individual experience is different.
  • Quality of dying is as important as quality of living.
  • Less drugs at end of life can result in a more peaceful, gentle death.
  • Animals are often present with and tending to a beloved dying animal friend, as they do not fear death.
  • A being is fully alive until a being is dead.
  • It’s all about love and not fear.
  • Have faith in animals’ ability to be in charge of their own dying process – see them as the wise spiritual beings that they are and defer to this wisdom.
  • Grieving begins before death.
  • Life is all about living in the moment all the way through the last breath…

It’s Helpful to Know Your Beliefs

We’ve also learned that understanding our beliefs is an essential step into making decisions regarding our animals.

Do you have certain beliefs about life, death and life after death? An exploration of the options following a terminal diagnosis offers a great time to try and connect with your beliefs.

We would now like to share our beliefs with you. There are many different opinions and approaches regarding these sensitive issues. We honor individual choice:

  • We believe this life is simply part of a much longer journey.
  • We believe we are not our bodies and honor the physical body as being the vehicle we drive through this life, and we care for it lovingly.
  • We believe we are all a part of all there is.
  • We believe that animals and people are all beings on similar journeys.
  • We believe in offering healing for the highest good – which means that healing in any form (for us mostly homeopathy and Reiki) is offered in the knowledge that the energy it brings may be used for renewed and improved life or it may be used to help in the transition of death to possibly new life – we release attachment to outcome.
  • We find that when we take time to simply be in the moment, watch our breathing, think for a minute and try to balance our work with a little joy, love and Reiki that it calms us, calms the animals and produces the occasional miracle.

Additional key points:

L-R: Best buddies Howard & Tony
  • One of our most important recommendations: Educate yourself – knowledge reduces fear and increases conscious decision making, and in turn may minimize regretsHere are a number of pertinent topics to help you find your way:
  • We developed our healing approach by following the wisdom of the animals. They’ve clearly shown us that positive changes to diet and other aspects of healthcare can significantly improve one’s health and wellbeing regardless of one’s current physical situation.
  • A great place to begin is diet! Feeding an appropriate diet is one of the best ways to maximize your animal’s health and wellbeing, as food provides the body with its primary energy and nutritional source.
    • Every single feline and canine resident at BrightHaven, regardless of age or physical condition, ate a natural diet. Even the oldest animals typically showed a remarkable improvement that may have included shiny eyes, lustrous fur and increased energy, when switched from a conventional method of feeding.
  • Drugs and vaccines may have potential side effects – it’s important to ask questions and become informed.
  • Love is an essential and powerful part of the healing process!
  • Care approach – what best suits your needs?
    • Holistic medicine treats the entire being: body, mind, emotions and spirit. “Dis–ease” denotes an “out of ease” or unbalanced state. Often, holistic approaches can detect problems at the dis-ease state and correct the imbalance before serious illness sets in.
    • Conventional (allopathic) medicine focuses on treating and eliminating symptoms. This approach is typically the fastest line of defense in acute situations, such as emergencies and trauma of all sorts.
    • Integrative medicine includes a partnership between patient and practitioner along with the appropriate use of conventional and alternative methods.  
  • Helpful definitions of different types of care:
    • Palliative/comfort care: The goal of palliative care is achievement of the best quality of life for patients and their families. It’s not the same as hospice as it doesn’t only serve the dying. Instead, palliative care focuses on improving life and providing comfort at different stages of life involving serious, chronic or life-threatening illnesses.
    • Hospice care: This type of care includes palliative care and also involves a team approach, existing to provide support and care for patients in the last phases of incurable disease, or at the natural end of life. Hospice incorporates all of palliative care, and is defined as a philosophy, a specialized program of care, and in some instances, an actual place for the dying.
      • The main difference between hospice care and other end-of-life care is that hospice care does not foresee euthanasia in the future but focuses on a peaceful and gentle, natural death. After all, life itself is terminal.
      • Of course, if an animal in hospice care takes a turn for the worse, it is quite permissible to make the decision to euthanize, whereas in palliative or end-of-life care euthanasia may be the expected outcome from the start.
      • Remember, too, that it is also possible for an animal in any of these types of care to take a turn for the better. BrightHaven has found this to be the case repeatedly when utilizing holistic methods. Most often BrightHaven animals approaching the end of life experience peaks and valleys in their health and enjoy times when we wonder what lies ahead…

Other helpful information:

Captivating Cameo
  • Consultations – Do you have questions about how BrightHaven’s holistic healing or animal hospice care approaches can help your animal? Book a consultation with BrightHaven President and Founder Gail Pope by sending an email to
  • Education – Holistic Healthcare – Through love and kindness we have refined our relationship with animals over the years, and from the animals’ teachings an integral structure for holistic care has emerged.
  • Our Vets – BrightHaven is firmly committed to classical veterinary homeopathy and is delighted to introduce some of America’s finest veterinarians with whom we have worked.
  • Blog posts:
  • Books:
    • Follow Your Heart: Navigating a Terminal Diagnosis­ – Helps you walk this often-challenging path with a deeper sense of peace, confidence and clarity. (Author: Gail Pope, BrightHaven President and Founder)
    • The BrightHaven Guide to Animal HospiceLearn how to care for your animal companions to help them grow older gracefully in the best health possible, all the way through the last breath. (Author: Gail Pope, BrightHaven President and Founder)
    • Soar My Butterfly: The Animal Dying Experience – A simple guide to the signs and symptoms you may encounter during the final stages of the natural dying process (Author: Gail Pope, BrightHaven President and Founder)
    • Walking with My Dog Through (End of) LifeAn intimate look at a profound life passage, from terminal diagnosis through hospice care and natural death. (Author: Carol Howe Hulse, BrightHaven Education Program Manager)
  • Online learning:
    • BrightHaven Guide to Animal Hospice: The Gentle Shift – BrightHaven Founders Gail and Richard Pope paint for you a simple picture of their healing philosophy by demonstrating how they progressively learned about holistic healthcare, embraced new concepts and witnessed healing miracles. For instance, they explain what happened when, with great trepidation, they completely changed their trusted commercial diet to one based on raw meat. Gail and Richard also share how a beautiful black cat profoundly shifted their thinking about natural death.
    • BrightHaven Guide to Holistic Animal Hospice: Navigating a Terminal Diagnosis – One of the most difficult things for any animal lover or pet parent to hear is being told by the vet that your animal’s illness is terminal. This course, presented by BrightHaven President and Founder Gail Pope and Education Program Manager Carol Hulse, helps you to navigate this path with a deeper sense of peace, confidence and clarity. It includes a variety of tools to help you to plan and implement the best way forward for your unique situation.
    • BrightHaven Holistic Animal Hospice: Fundamentals – BrightHaven is a leader in the emerging field of animal hospice AND we’re also renowned for our holistic healthcare. We’ve combined these two specialties into this course, presented by BrightHaven President and Founder Gail Pope and Education Program Manager Carol Hulse, as many pet parents and other animal lovers want to learn more about animal hospice in general – and holistic animal hospice care in particular – to help their loved ones live the best life possible each and every day!
    • BrightHaven Guide to Animal Hospice: The Animal Dying Experience – In this two-part course, BrightHaven Founders Gail and Richard Pope, who have been present at more than 600 animal deaths, will take you through the final stages of the animal dying experience and how this very special time of life is approached and honored at BrightHaven. They also offer some practical things that can be done by the caregiver for hospice support, which is focused on the animal’s comfort and wellbeing. You will discover that the dying process and death are nothing to fear, which is one more important life lesson from the animals.