Pet Loss

There is no time more difficult than the last days of a pet’s life. Regardless of how much time you have had to prepare, decisions about euthanizing your friend will not be easy.

How will I know when it’s time?

Perhaps the most often asked question is, “How will I know it is time?” Deciding the actual time is very personal. It is important to remember that there is no wrong decision; there is only a decision that is right for you.

Throughout the life of your pet, you have had general concern about his/her quality of life. But at this moment, quality and dignity of life become immediate concerns. Some issues to take into consideration are your pet’s quality of life, the cost of continued care, the time you must invest for continued care, and the kind of life you want your pet to live.

Quality of life is a subjective assessment, but it can be judged in part by accounting for things such as appetite, activity and energy level, grooming habits, and attention to daily rituals.

You may ask yourself questions like the following:

“Do the bad days and times out–number the good?”

“Is my pet able to do the things that make him/her happy?”

“How does my pet’s day differ now, compared to days before s/he was sick?”

It is important that your concerns are honored at this time and that you are allowed ample information to make all of the decisions that are ahead. Our entire veterinary health care team will assist you during this time by providing information as well as a concerned, understanding ear. It is important to remember that you have options available to you.

Many people decide they want to be present at the time of euthanasia, whereas others do not – there is no right or wrong selection here. It can be very emotional. Some people find it distressing, others very healing and comforting. Please discuss any concerns you may have if you are undecided if being present is right for you.

If you decide to be present at the euthanasia, and have not been witness to the process before, make sure you ask for an explanation and description of the procedure ahead of time so that you will know what to expect.

When possible, we try to discuss the options for aftercare in advance so that once you say goodbye, you do not need to make the more mundane decisions during your time of grief. Cremation, with or without ashes returned, backyard burial if local ordinances allow, and other options for aftercare can be discussed. Custom urns can be ordered for storage of returned cremated ashes if you wish to have a suitable urn for display at the home.

After The Goodbye

Coping with the loss of a pet can be difficult. Pets are important members of our families and their death can be devastating. Remember that you have given your pet a wonderful life and companionship, and rejoice about the good times you shared. This will help to keep the focus on celebration of the passing of the pet’s life.

Grief is a normal manifestation of loss regardless if the beloved friend is a person or a pet. Each of us handles grief in a unique way. Some prefer to grieve in private; others want to share their grief with others. One person may not show overt grief while another is obviously emotional. Some people experience a delay in onset while for others grief may come and go quickly. This does not mean the grief is any less strong, as each individual has their own way of experiencing grief.

Whether the loss was gradual or expected, or sudden/unexpected, dealing with the transition can be eased by talking to your veterinary health care team members, your family and friends, or a support group that brings people together to share their feelings. Support groups may meet in person, or a counselor may be available by telephone access. If you think you are having serious difficulties moving past the loss, or grieving is interfering with your life, it is important to consider a visit to your physician for referral to a professional. Sometimes, this type of support can help one reach closure when other strategies fail.

Please note the pet loss support resources below. They may help you cope with the trauma of losing a beloved companion.

Other things to do…

Sometimes it helps to put together a little memorial scrap book of pictures and special things. This can help with closure.

Children especially may benefit from reading about pet loss – there are many excellent books about dealing with the loss of pets for children. Reading this resource with the child may help to encourage sharing of good memories and acceptance of loss.

Sometimes, a little poem written by the family to memorialize the things that were special about the pet, and that they especially want to remember can help to heal.

Some families hold a memorial service for their pets, giving each family member a chance to say goodbye.