Losing a pet is one of the most difficult things a person can experience. Whether the loss of a pet is sudden, or something you’ve anticipated for weeks or months, it is a highly emotional time. Each person experiences grief differently – understanding what to expect during this time may be helpful for you.
We’ve talked to several of our partners in the veterinarian field about their experience with pet aftercare and the loss of a pet, and they shared the following information to help answer some common questions and concerns.
HOW DO I KNOW WHEN IT'S TIME?
Your veterinarian is a good resource to help you know when it’s time.
Several other tools or techniques may provide more concrete answers to this subjective question.
• When your pet’s health, mobility or comfort have been declining slowly, it may be helpful to view photos or videos of your pet from before the illness. Remember how your pet looked, behaved and interacted with you.
• Make a list of three to five things your pet likes to do, such as going for walks, playing with other pets, or enjoying their meals. When your pet is consistently unable to enjoy these things, it may be time to discuss options with your veterinarian.
• Mark good and bad days on a calendar. This could be as simple as a happy or sad face for good or bad. As the bad days start to outnumber the good, it may be time to consider discussing options with your veterinarian.
Thinking about the end of your pet’s life, and the choices around aftercare options may be better done in advance. Determining the quality of life for a pet is often used to make end-of-life decisions. It’s important to remember that each pet is an individual, and what constitutes a poor quality of life for one pet (such as lying around all day) may be normal for another. Although a pet’s enjoyment of life depends on a variety of factors, physical symptoms — such as unrelenting pain or extreme difficulty breathing — should be discussed with your veterinarian.
While there is no standard duration for grief, the pain of loss normally eases with time. You can work through the process by applying healthy coping skills, such as talking with others about your memories and emotions and facing the grief, rather than trying to stay distracted or busy to avoid intense emotions. If your feelings of sorrow or guilt have not diminished after several weeks or if they impair your ability to engage in family, social, work, or other functions, you may wish to reach out for support. Many people have found comfort in calling a pet loss support hotline, joining a pet loss support group, reading books about coping with the death of a pet, or talking with a trusted counselor or advisor.
CELEBRATE YOUR PET'S LIFE
Some owners would like a way to memorialize their companion animal. The following are some ways that others have found helpful:
• Conduct a memorial service
• Keep your pet’s tags, toys, collars, bedding, etc.
• Save condolence cards or e-mails from friends and family
• Create a picture collage, scrapbook, story, or poem about your pet
• If you chose cremation, you may keep the ashes in an urn or locket, or you may choose to scatter them in a place that was special to your pet
• Journal your pet’s story; how, when, and where you met, unique personality traits, nicknames, what you love the most, and what you’ll miss the most
• Donate time, money, or talent in your pet’s honor
Grieving the Loss of a Pet: Resources for Coping