The passing of a pet can be just as devastating as the loss of any other family member.
There are times in everybody’s life when this process can be particularly difficult to bear, and when the support of family and friends is not enough to deal with the grief and bereavement it engenders. Below are a number of links to resources, which may help support you or somebody you know.
Pet loss hotlines:
- The Seattle Animal Shelter offers a weekly Pet Loss Support Group that meets every Thursday evening from 5:30 pm to 6:45 pm in the shelter conference room at 2061 15th Avenue West. Their phone number is 206.386.7387 (PETS).
- Dove Lewis Emergency Animal Hospital
- Chicago VMA
- Colorado State University, Argus Institute
- University of Tennessee
- Tufts University
- Virginia Tech/University of Maryland
Additional pet loss support:
- Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement
- The Animal Hospice, End-of-Life, and Palliative Care Project (AHELP)
How do I know when it is time?
Deciding when is the right time to euthanize a beloved pet is one of the most difficult decisions you will have to make. We realize this difficult end-of-life decision raises many questions and often additional support is needed to help with those decisions. Our team found the following resource to be quite helpful.
Grief and pet loss.
When you lose a pet, your emotions can be surprisingly overwhelming. Often, the pet has been a part of your life for years. You may have saved it, nurtured it, or grown up with it. It may have been considered a family member or at least it was constant companion. Losing a pet creates a void. The void is replaced by grief. The grief may be felt as sadness, anger, fatigue, anxiety or depression. These are normal emotions that overcome us when we grieve. It is important to go thorough the grief process.
How to deal with the grief.
Grief is a process that takes time. If you feel the emotional weight is too heavy or is not going away, it may help to talk with someone. If possible, talk with others who had an attachment to the pet. Talk about your feelings; talk about your history with the pet; and talk about what the pet meant to you. Talk about why the pet was special. As you tell people about your pet it may help relieve the emotions of grief. If you don’t have people who understand your emotions, consider calling a pet loss support hotline (recommendations provided).
For some, the pain of the grief process can be eased by creating a memorial honoring your pet. There are many things you can do to create a pleasant reminder and/or to show others how special the pet was. A memorial may be a photo collage, a photo album, a poem, a short story, a letter, plaque, a picture or a donation in memory of your pet. Anything you do that is a visible reminder of your pet can be a memorial.
For some grief may become overwhelming and on some occasions may lead thoughts of suicide. If you find yourself having suicidal thoughts seek help immediately.
Children and grief.
The loss of a pet is confusing and emotional for many children. It is important to talk about the death of a pet honestly and clearly. Not talking about the pet’s death with your child can make the grieving process more difficult and more confusing. It is important to tell your child why the pet was euthanized. Children have various ways of grieving, including crying, frustration, nervousness, impaired concentration and the inability to sleep. It is important to listen to your children and allow them to talk about the loss of your pet. Discuss happy memories and fun times your family had with the pet.
Children need routine for security. The loss of a pet can be disruptive and upset their routine. Consider replacing the routine with a ritual. For example, if the child feeds the pet daily, consider replacing the feeding activity with lighting a candle or reciting a poem. If the pet had a favorite area in the house or in the yard, create a memorial for the pet in that location.
Grief is natural. It is a healing process that allows us to move through the pain so the pain can be replaced with fond memories.
If your family would like to review some samples of children’s books dealing with this issue, our team recommends the following:
Champ’s Story: Dogs Get Cancer
About euthanasia and grief.
The most sensitive and emotional act we perform for owners is the humane euthanasia of a pet. We perform euthanasia to fulfill the veterinarian’s oath – to relieve animal suffering. For owners it is the most difficult and the most compassionate act they do for their beloved companion. We witness various expressions of grief before, during and after the procedure. Owners are sometimes embarrassed or surprised by the emotions that well up and apologize for their reaction. However, there should be no embarrassment because these emotions honor their companion. The grief is a tribute to their lost friend. Owners should not be embarrassed to honor the creature that brought them joy, smiles, companionship and comfort.
To decide to euthanize a pet is a tough decision, and it should be. It signifies that we are human and humane. Humanity is defined as … the marked compassion, sympathy, or consideration for animals. To lose this sensitivity would be the same as losing our compassion and concern.
About euthanasia and guilt.
Owners sometimes feel guilty when they euthanize their pet. Often owners don’t realize how sick their pet had become. They make comments like; why didn’t I know how sick she was? What did I miss? Pets are masters at hiding their illnesses; it’s part of their nature. Often times the illness progresses slowly; over weeks or months. In these cases, it is hard to notice day to day changes. Noticeable signs occur only when the disease is advanced and the pet can no longer compensate.
At times owners are uncertain if euthanasia should have been considered given their pet’s condition and owners may feel guilty for considering this option. However, owners would not consider this option for their beloved friend if it was not to help prevent/relieve pain and suffering or to prevent/relieve a much compromised quality of life. If you have questions about a euthanasia decision please contact the veterinarian involved with your pets care and/or euthanasia. You may also want to contact one of the hotlines listed above.