The Loss of Cherished Pet
Your companion animal is a member of your family. In fact, your pet may be as important to you as children, siblings, or best friends are to other people.
Your pet is always there for you, never judges you, and accepts you no matter what you say, do, or feel. Your pet offers you unconditional love and is part of your daily routines and activities. It is completely natural, therefore, to feel negative emotions, such as sadness and anger, when facing the death of your pet.
Preparing for the end of your pet’s life is a difficult process and requires you to make many decisions. Because your veterinarian and the veterinary staff care about you and your companion animal, they are prepared to guide your decision-making and offer you support along the way.
How to Prepare for Your Pet’s Death
Even if you make plans and arrangements before your pet dies, you probably won’t be totally prepared for the actual death. There are four important ways you can begin to heal the pain of losing your pet. Taking these steps before, during, and after your pet’s death will help make your feelings of loss and grief more manageable. Say Good-Bye You can say good-bye to your pet by: • Spending quiet time with your pet • Taking your pet on special walks • Feeding your pet favorite foods or treats • Thanking your pet for sharing your life You may want to say good-bye to your pet both before and after death or euthanasia. Many pet owners clip pieces of fur or take one last picture.
Saying good-bye doesn’t mean you find ways to forget your pet. Rather, it means you acknowledge your loss and find ways to allow the healing process to begin.
Make Decisions about Euthanasia
Because you know your pet better than anyone else, you will know when the time is right for euthanasia. It is tempting for people who care about you to want to spare you pain by protecting you from a painful experience. They might encourage you not to attend the euthanasia. Unfortunately, grief doesn’t work that way. Avoiding your pet’s death doesn’t make it less painful. In fact, it can make it hurt even more. Both adults and children who choose to be present during euthanasia do so because they want to:
- Say good-bye
- Hold and Comfort their pets
- Realize their pets are actually dead
- Know that their pets died peacefully and with dignity
- Be there for their pets the way their pets were always there for them
Many pet owners feel that if they are present at their pets euthanasia, their last memories of their pets will be negative ones. However, knowledge about the grieving process indicates that this is not true. When grief proceeds in a normal, healthy way, the memory of euthanasia will not, in time, overshadow your fond memories of your pet.
If you choose not to be with your pet during euthanasia or if your pet dies suddenly and unexpectedly, you will need to decide whether or not to view your pet’s body. To help you through this experience, your veterinarian will prepare you for what you will see. People who choose to view their pet’s bodies do so for the same reasons they choose to be present during euthanasia.
Make Decisions about Care of Remains
Your preferred method of care of remains can be determined long before your pet dies. In most cases, you will have the following options:
- Cremation with or without the ashes returned to you
- Burial at home or in a pet cemetery
Plan a Memorial
Funerals, rituals, ceremonies, and celebrations are ways to honour the memory of your pet. You may want to:
- Collect memories of your pet into a scrapbook, photo album, or videotape
- Make a donation to an animal charity in your companion animal’s name
- Write a poem or letter to your pet or record your feelings and thoughts in a journal
Grieving the Death of Your Pet When your pet dies, you will grieve. Grieving is a necessary, unavoidable, and healthy response to loss. Many people don’t understand the feelings of grief prompted by pet loss. Without the support of others, you may feel isolated, afraid and overwhelmed. Knowing what normally happens during grief may help ease your feelings of helplessness and normalize your feelings of loss. Normal signs of grief are listed below. Normal Signs of Grief
- Trouble sleeping and eating
- Dreams about your pet
- Hallucinations of your pet
- Blaming others
- Lack of focus
Grief is different for everyone. The length and intensity of your grief will be unique to you. Normal grief lasts from several weeks to several months. It is normal to cry even years after your companion animal’s death, especially when you are reminded of the special relationship you shared with your pet.
There are many pet loss support groups that can help you work through your grief. Ask your veterinarian or visit one of the websites listed in the Suggested Resources. You may also want to consider talking with a mental health professional that has experience helping pet owners cope with the grieving process.
Further Support for Pet Loss
Ontario Veterinary College: www.ovc.uoguelph.ca/petloss/resources/cfm
Association for Pet Loss Bereavement: www.aplb.org