Coping with Loss

The death of a beloved pet is one of the most painful moments a pet owner must face.  Whether it comes unexpectedly, or after the course of a long illness, it leaves you with confused and anguished emotions and difficult decisions.  The topics below will assist you with some of the emotions and decisions.

How will I know when it's time to euthanize my pet?

Your veterinarian is the best judge of your pet's physical condition; whether an illness or injury is terminal; whether surgery or medication would significantly prolong your pet's life and whether the stress and pain involved would be worthwhile; and how long your pet may be expected to live with or without treatment.

You are the best judge of the day to day quality of your pet's life.  You will be able to tell if your pet is suffering unreasonably, or if it is still finding pleasure in life despite its condition. 

Evaluate your pet's health honestly and unselfishly with your veterinarian. Nothing will make this decision an easy one, but it is the final act of love you will make for your pet.

Should I stay during euthanasia?

Many pet owners feel this is the ultimate gesture of love and comfort you perform for your pet.  Ask yourself honestly whether you are emotionally prepared to handle euthanasia.  These emotions are natural, and must be considered for before the decision.  Discuss your feelings and options with your veterinarian.

What do I do now?

Once your pet has passed away, you face the question of how to handle your beloved pet.  When you are upset and grieving, it may seem easiest to leave your pet for disposal with the clinic.  Some find this the best choice; others feel they need more.

Home burial is a common choice.  This may not be a choice if you rent or plan to move.

A pet cemetery provides a sense of permanence and security and offers a formality and dignity to pet burial.

Cremation is an inexpensive option that allows you to handle your pet's remains as you wish: bury them, scatter them, or keep them in an urn.

You should consider your living situation, personal and religious values, finances, and plans for the future.  It is also best to make arrangements in advance when possible.

I hurt so much! Do other people feel this way or am I overreacting?

Intense grief over the loss of a pet is completely normal and natural.  Every pet owner considers their pet a beloved friend, companion, and a family member.  Others have gone through exactly what you are going through now.  You are not being overly sentimental or weak. 

You may have spent 10 or more years with your pet.  During this time, your pet was a constant part of your life, always ready to give you love, comfort, companionship, and building memories that will last forever.

Your pet has provided you with unconditional and non-judgmental love, a love you will always cherish.  Some feel devastated by the ending of such a powerful relationship, however long or brief.  Your feelings are valid, and may be extremely painful.  You are not alone, others have felt the same and go through these feelings over and over again as they build new loving relationships with new pets.

What can I expect to feel?

People experience grief in different ways.  Besides sorrow and loss, which may be devastating, you may experience guilt, anger, denial and depression.

What can I do about these feelings?

The most important step you take is to be honest with yourself about what you are feeling.  Don't deny that you are feeling pain, guilt or anger.  By looking at your feelings and coming to terms with them, you soon will begin to work through your sorrow.

Who can I talk to?

It is important to find someone understanding to talk with.  If your family or friends love pets, they will understand what you are going through.  Do not hide your feelings from them in a misguided attempt to appear strong and calm.  If your friends and family do not see your need for comfort, they will not be able to provide the support you need.

What should I tell my children?

Honesty is important.  Accept your children's grief as you accept your own.  Discuss the loss of your pet with the whole family, giving everyone a chance to work through their emotions and pain together.

Why are my other pets acting strangely?

Just as you react to the loss of a family member, your other pets are bound to notice the absence of their companion and friend.  Pets observe every change in the household; the absence of a family member, rearrangement of furniture, or a new object.  Certainly they're going to realize that someone is missing.  You may need to give surviving pets extra attention and love to help them through this period.  You may also find that this will help you through your own sorrow more quickly than you ever expected.

Should I get a new pet right away?

For most people, the answer is no.  Generally, one needs time to work through their grief and loss.  Some find bringing in a new pet is comforting.  A new pet will never be a replacement, but should be acquired to be loved and accepted for its own qualities.  Select a pet you will be able to build another long loving relationship with...because this is what a new pet is all about.

If you would like more information on pet loss and bereavement, Moria Anderson's book, "Coping With Sorrow on the Loss of Your Pet" is available.