Dealing with the Loss of a Pet
The death of a beloved pet can be very distressing. Our pets are not only members of the family, they are our faithful friends, our children's devoted playmates and reliable, affectionate companions for the elderly or disabled. They enrich our day-to-day lives and their passing makes for a deeply felt loss.
Reasons why we may have to face a pet's death:
- Old age or senility
- Terminal illness
- Long-term/ chronic illness entailing heavy burdens in terms of care and/or finances
- Fatal accident
- Unexpected occurrence
- Behavioral problems
Most of these factors may place you in the heartbreaking position of having to contemplate euthanasia. As an owner, you are responsible for your pet's overall health and welfare. When his or her quality of life deteriorates, determining to do the humane thing and end the pet's needless suffering may be one of the hardest decisions you will ever have to make. That is why bereavement often begins before the actual death of a pet.
Points to consider when assessing your pet's quality of life:
- Breathing difficulty
- Pain or serious discomfort when walking or moving
- Drastic loss of appetite
- Vomiting and/or diarrhea after eating/ drinking
- Problems with urination, incontinence, or defecation
- Loss of hearing and capacity to see properly
- Unresponsive, unmanageable or dangerous behavior
If you have a vet, talk to your vet"s office. They can give you a complete assessment of your pet's health and level of suffering, and assist you in evaluating your options. This will help you make your decision. Seek support of your family and friends at this difficult time, speak with them about your concerns.
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Losing a pet can be as difficult as losing any other family member. Facing such a loss is not easy, and may evoke feelings of denial, anger, guilt or depression before acceptance is reached. These reactions are entirely natural and should be expressed. Everyone grieves differently. Acknowledging your feelings is an important step in the mourning process. It will help you understand why you may have withdrawn from, or lashed out at, people who care about you. There is nothing wrong with grieving for your pet. You have shared many years together, living through both good and bad times. Grieving for your pet will not only help you cope with your emotions and adjust to life without your pet, but may allow you, in the future, to provide welcome support to others around you who are experiencing the same loss.
Many people feel that it is important to memorialize their departed pet. It helps them deal with their grief and honors the pet that was by their side for such a significant time. Some people hold memorials or wakes for a departed pet companion or bring together a group of friends who share a thought about their pet and provide a shoulder to cry on. Others feel that grieving for their pet is personal and choose to honor him by scattering his ashes in a special place, placing his ashes in a urn with a special photo next to it, or burying his body or ashes in a pet casket or burial urn on their property so that their pet can remain close. Some people clip a lock of their pet's hair and keep it in a pet keepsake or make a paw print before leaving the body.
The way you memorialize your pet is personal. Make your decision based on what you and your family feel will bring the most comfort.
Write a eulogy to say how much you loved your pet and tell about all the good times and happiness you shared. Talk about your pain and loss to someone who will understand what you are going through. Other people who have also lost a pet are most likely to offer you their comfort and support because they know what you are going through. Use pictures and some of your pet's favorite belongings to create a special remembrance. Use your pet's tags as a necklace, or put them on a key chain. Do something you think your beloved pet would like for you to be doing at this moment. Look through the pictures of your dear one and remember all the love and happy times you shared. Smile at his/her picture. Remember, too, that your departed beloved pet is waiting for us at Rainbow Bridge.
The Healing Process
Even though we may not believe it at the time, the old adage "time heals" does hold true when we are faced with the loss of a beloved pet. Recognize that loss and give yourself the emotional time and space to grieve. Getting over the sorrow, guilt and pain varies from person to person. Seek help. Many hotlines, chat rooms, message boards and support groups are available on the Internet, and books on adult and child bereavement may help you better understand what you are experiencing. And, if you need to, don't hesitate to reach out for others' personal and professional assistance. Talk to your veterinarian, trusted friends, or a therapist. Make a donation or volunteer your services to a pet shelter or Humane Society. With time, the pain will lessen and you and your family will be able to fully cherish happy memories of your special friend.
After the tears have dried and you are feeling somewhat normal again, consider getting another pet. Nothing can ever replace the precious little life you've lost, but another pet can become a dear friend to share your love and your life. Our cherished ones give so much love and happiness to us in their lifetimes that I feel we are obligated to pass that love on to other animals who desperately need homes. Who knows? One of those furry little babies might just fill a small part of the huge hole in your heart.