Losing a Beloved Pet
Every pet owner must eventually face the loss of their companion animal. Losing a pet, whether to illness, accidental death, or old age, often can be as difficult as losing a friend or family member. Many people share a special bond with their companion animal and mourn the loss greatly.
Difficult decisions, such as whether to euthanize a pet or withhold expensive medical treatment, sometimes must be made. Pet owners may be torn between wanting to spare the animal further suffering, and wanting their companionship for as long as possible.
A trusted veterinarian can provide information about humane options to help pet owners make the best possible choices and decisions. In the case of an older animal, the goal may be to provide a peaceful death.
Many people grieve the loss of a pet in the same way as for any loved one. Sadness, anger, and guilt are common emotions. Children and the elderly often require special compassion and support during this time. In households with more than one pet, surviving animals also go through a grieving process and may need special care.
Veterinarians are trained to provide animals with a humane and gentle death. In most cases, a sedative is administered first, to help reduce the pet's anxiety and relieve any pain. Next, medications that cause death are injected. The experience, which is similar to undergoing general anesthesia, does not cause suffering.
Although the decision to euthanize a companion animal is difficult, it is often the right one for a pet that has a poor quality of life and is in pain. In cases of illness, a veterinarian can provide information about specific signs of suffering (e.g., excessive panting, disorientation, refusal to eat or drink, change in disposition).
Grieving & Pet Loss
Grief associated with the loss of a pet can take many different forms. If the choice was made to euthanize the animal, sadness, anger, guilt, and confusion are common. Some pet owners even report imagining that they can hear or see their lost companion.
Pet loss is an important event in the lives of many people, and grieving the loss is a normal process. Adequate rest and proper nutrition may be helpful during this time. People who find themselves easily distracted or experience a loss of concentration should be careful driving or doing any potentially dangerous activity.
The loss of a beloved pet can create a void in the household and in the lives of all family members. It usually is recommended to wait a period of time (at least 1 month) before bringing home a new companion animal.
Some people feel that getting a new pet is a betrayal to the animal that was lost. It is important to wait until you are ready and make the decision to get a new pet together.
Children & Pet Loss
The death of a pet can be a very traumatic event for children. It may be the child's first experience with death and can raise many questions and new emotions. In many cases, the child has truly lost a best friend and feelings of sadness, emptiness, and anger can be overwhelming.
The child may feel that the pet's death is his or her fault, or may feel anger towards friends who have pets. It is important to help children understand that their feelings are normal and that the entire family is mourning the loss.
It may be helpful to have a memorial service or to let the child keep something that belonged to the pet, such as a collar or favorite toy. Encouraging the child to continue with regular activities as much as possible also may help. Although it may be painful, sharing memories about your pet is a wonderful way to keep those important memories alive.