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Pet Owner: Dealing With Loss

Updated on January 11, 2016

First Things First

I would like to start off by saying that I know how you are feeling. I know how devastating it can be to lose a member of your family. I offer my deepest condolences. I am an animal lover. I have made my living caring for all kinds of animals, and I have seen death more often than I would like. That being said there is a difference between the animals I work with and my companion animals at home. I don't snuggle up with my stingrays when I'm feeling under the weather, and I don't take naps with the sea turtles on my days off.

Chances are if you are reading this it is because you have either just lost a pet or are expecting to say good buy to one soon. This is absolutely the worst part of being a pet owner. But, death is a natural part of life. Perhaps one of the worst things after a pet dies is that many people do not understand your grief. It is not uncommon for friends or even family to suggest getting a new dog or cat (or whatever animal you lost) to replace the dead one. I have even heard close friends get frustrated with grieving pet owners and say 'it was just a dog, get over it.'. They might not understand that it doesn't always work like that. For many people pets are a part of the family, and the loss of a pet can be just as painful as the loss of a member of the family.

It Will Be OK

Go ahead. Let it out. If you need to cry, there is no shame. If you need a day to yourself, take one. Whatever you need to do to grieve you should not feel ashamed. For all the people out there that do not understand your pain there are even more who do. Not everyone knows what it means to love an animal. And that is fine: just like children aren't for everyone, not everyone bonds with their pets.

Choosing to euthanize a beloved pet can be one of the hardest choices you will ever have to make. Take comfort in the fact that it is for the best. If your veterinarian is recommending euthanasia it is because they feel that it is in the best interest of your pet. Chances are your pet is at a very advanced age, is beyond medical help, or perhaps a combination of the two. When a pet is euthanized it will not feel any pain, and its suffering will end. There are many that feel it is better to end a pet's suffering peacefully rather than let them suffer and eventually die on their own.

I'm not saying this to convince you to euthanize your pet. I am merely attempting to let you know that you made the right decision if that is what you chose. You should not walk out of your veterinarian's office feeling like you should have done something more. If your pet is at an advanced age and needs intensive surgery chances are pretty good that they might not make it out of surgery, or if they do they have a higher risk of complications. If you pet is no longer able to eat and has lost control of its bowls there is nothing you can do.

If your pet did die on its own that doesn't mean that you let it suffer. Perfectly healthy pets that are older can die in their sleep just like people can. Sometimes pets don't even let on that they are in pain or sick until its too late.

So grieve. Do what you need to, to move on. Just know, it will be ok. There will be a time when you will move on. It might not be right now, or the end of this week, or even a month from now, but it will come. I promise.

Would you burry your pet?

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Pet Burials

If you would like to bury your pet that is your right. Personally I like the idea of having a place where a pet is laid to rest at the home. Of course, before you go digging around in your back yard you should check with your local ordinances to make sure there are no laws against burying a pet on personal property. Why would this be an issue? There are some places where the water table is higher than others and a decaying body might not be a good idea if it can be avoided. Note: if you euthanize your pet 9 times out of 10 your vet will have the body cremated so you won't have to worry about the body.

If you decided that you want your pet cremated and would like the ashes there are many different options available to you. I've heard of people sprinkling their pet's ashes in places they took their pet; hiking trails, the beach, camping cites, and so on and so forth. If you chose to keep the ashes there are many different kinds of urns you can get. A lot of people get urns that remind them of their beloved pet. I have even heard of people having their pet's ashes made into jewels, that way they can have their pet with them all the time.

My parents planted a dogwood tree in honor or my dog when she died. (They were already grieving too much when they went to euthanize her that they did not think about asking for her ashes.) I think this is a great idea. Bringing life in where one has been lost, and it is a nice monument to a beloved member of the family. A lot of people that lack green thumbs use decorative benches as a small memorial. I feel that a nice peaceful place in your yard is a great way for you to pay homage to your loved one.

There are some that do not want their pet's body or ashes. There is nothing wrong with that. Sometimes burying the body or seeing the urn on the the mantel everyday is too painful. If this is true for you talk with your veterinarian about the options available to you.

One of the last pictures of my dear Mistie. She survived cancer once, but couldn't beat it a second time.
One of the last pictures of my dear Mistie. She survived cancer once, but couldn't beat it a second time.

Young Children

Explaining death to young children can be hard. Often the death of a pet is the first experience with death children have. How you explain it is up to you. After all, you know what your kids can handle better than anyone. I suggests making it as simple and least graphic as possible.

When a pet is euthanized they simply go to sleep and never wake up. Now, saying that to a very young child could scare them into never sleeping again. While using the 'he ran away' line is a good way to get out of it I don't recommend it unless it is absolutely necessary (like in the case of mental handicaps and the child would not understand).

Some children take comfort in thinking their pet will be looking after them. That dog that waited for them at the bus stop every day is still waiting for them, just from another place. Chances are if you child has watched any Disney movies they are familiar, sort of, with the concept of death. Every kids knows that Mufasa dies in the Lion King, but that he continues to look after Simba.

However you go about telling your child take your time and be delicate. If they cry be there to comfort them. Help them get through this difficult time.

New Pets

Some people get over their grief by going out a getting a puppy kitten. If this is what you want to do, go for it. Keep in mind though, this is a new animal. They will most likely not behave the same way your old one did. Sometimes a pet owner will get a new pet and then decide that they remind them too much of the one they lost and no longer want the new pet.

This is not a good situation. It is not fair to you or the pet. Make sure that you are able to take full responsibility of the new pet before you bring it home. I can't tell you how many times we tried to get a puppy after my dog died, but each time we would go to get one my father would remember how good a dog Mistie was and decided that he couldn't handle another dog. There is nothing wrong with this. I know a lot of people that never got another dog or cat after one died. I also know a lot of people that needed several years before they could even consider getting another dog or cat.

This video is meant to show what options are available.


Just like with people it is best to remember all the good times you had with your pet. Remember that first time Fluffy brought a tennis ball back to you after you threw it? Remember how Mittens would curl up in your lap and purr on cold winter nights? Remember how Paulie would perch on your shoulder as you vacuumed the living room? Isn't that a better picture than your pet suffering? Trust me, thinking of the happy times will help ease the pain of death.

When my dog, Mistie, died my mom made a scrapbook for her. She keeps it in the family room and every now and then we take it out and look through it. Yes, it is a little painful looking at some of the pictures. But, being able to see how happy she was hiking with us, or chasing birds at the beach makes me smile. Everywhere we went she was right there with us, and so she will always be.

Right after a pet dies you might be tempted to take down pictures of them, so that you are not bombarded with fresh painful memories every day. This is fine. Go on and do it. But, don't throw them away, you will regret that one day. Trust me. There will come a time when you will look back on those pictures and smile.

In The End

Dealing with the loss of a pet can be hard. For many pets are like furry children. It is important to remember that nothing lives forever, and that all things have a life span expectancy. Remember the good times. If keeping your pet's ID tag and hiding it away in your sock drawer helps you move on then that is what you need to do. Personally, I find comfort in knowing that I provided the best possible life for my pet and they lived a great life. I also like being able to have something to remember my dearest pet.

Know that you are not alone. If you ever need to talk, or just vent there are people you can go to. I wish you the best in getting through this tough time. There is a light, I promise.

© 2014 Alexandria


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