When euthanasia isn’t an option for personal or religious reasons, a “natural passing” is typically selected in its place.
Before you decide a natural passing is right for your family, there are some very important things to note. If you are not in the mind space to hear sensitive information, we encourage you to skip this section, as you might find it upsetting.
A true “natural death” is not quick or painless. In nature, predators remove the weakest or slowest animal from the pack, and they do this by force and violence. But our pets are not in a natural environment—if they were, most would not reach old age. Therefore, a “natural passing” is really more like an “unassisted biological death.”
While it’s true that some pets (and humans) will simply close their eyes and not wake up, that’s rarely the case. Medical euthanasia allows your pet to “go to sleep and not wake up,” whereas Mother Nature doesn't. The kind of natural death a pet will experience is dependent upon the primary disease the pet has been diagnosed with. For example, heart failure results in the lungs filling up with fluid, and therefore—please read this with caution—a pet drowning to death. In short, death occurs when the brain fails to receive adequate levels of oxygen. And as you may know or can imagine, how this happens—how long it takes to fully occur and the mental state of your pet during this process—isn't an easy thing to witness.
Please keep in mind that, although the above paints a gloomy picture of unassisted biological death, it is intended to address the most common reasons why families shy away from euthanasia. However, death will occur whether or not euthanasia is chosen. Death is the opposite of birth, not the opposite of life, and our species passes away without these medications every day.
Please note: Although not the primary goal of veterinary hospice, an unassisted death can be honored and supported the same way euthanasia is.