Dealing with the death of a pet

A bond with a pet can be very special. Whether it’s a dog, a cat, or an iguana, pets provide companionship, comfort, and joy. For some people, pets are an important member of their family.

So when a beloved pet dies, it’s common to feel the same painful emotions as when someone close to you dies. Here is advice on coping with the death of a pet.

Preparing to Say Goodbye to a Pet

If your pet is elderly, sick, in severe pain, or injured, you may have time to prepare for their death. If your pet’s quality of life has deteriorated, with the help of your veterinarian you may decide to put down your pet.

The death of a pet and the decision to put a pet to rest can generate mixed, intense emotions. These steps can help you and your family get through the process.

  • Make sure all loved ones say goodbye. If possible, give everyone who loved your pet a chance to say their goodbyes.
  • Explain the decision to your children. Take the time to explain to your children and family what will happen. Allow them time to prepare emotionally.
  • Choose a quiet or special day. Don’t try to fit the appointment in during a busy day. Give yourself the time and space to grieve.
  • Decide if you will attend. Some people find it comforting to stay with their pets until the end, while others can feel overwhelmed. Because the procedure requires a quiet, calm environment, it’s best to avoid bringing young children.
  • Consider doing it in the comfort of your home. Some veterinarians make house calls for euthanasia. Because pets are often stressed by going to the vet, this is another way to make the process easier for them and you.
  • Understand the procedure. Ask your vet to explain the process, so you can prepare yourself. To comfort your pet, place them on a familiar blanket.
  • Decide on the remains. Cremation, where the pet’s ashes are returned to you, is the most popular option, according to the American Humane Society. You can also bury their remains intact, such as in your back yard (check with local ordinances) or in a pet cemetery (check with the International Association of Pet Cemeteries for one near you.)

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Tips For Coping With The Death Of A Pet

Everyone’s journey through the loss of a pet is different, but these tips can help you cope.

  • Acknowledge your grief. The first step to healing is admitting your sorrow at losing your pet. Don’t bury these real emotions or shrug them off. These feelings are normal and can happen gradually.
  • Talk with your child about how they are feeling. For many children, the death of a pet is their first experience with loss. Though very sad, the loss of a pet can be an opportunity to have a discussion with your children about death. Use age-appropriate language and books to help them understand what has occurred.
  • Understand that healing will take time. Don’t expect to get over grief in a day or even a week. Grief over losing a pet can linger, and the process is different for each person.
  • Focus on the memories. At first you may find it difficult to talk about your pet — or even look at their photos. But reliving your life with them can bring you comfort and keep their memory alive. Creating a memory box of your pet’s things like their collar, photos, or
    favorite toys can help.
  • Expect unexpected emotions. The loss of your pet also means the loss of sounds, smells, and daily chores related to them. Give yourself time to adjust to the new normal — and your new identity without them.
  • Ask loved ones for their support. Reach out to your friends and family. There’s a good chance that many of them have lost pets in the past, too.
  • Join a pet loss support group. The American Humane Society has a list of online and local pet loss support groups.
  • Don’t let others discount your pain. Some friends and family members may not understand what you’re feeling. Remember that what you’re feeling is real and normal. There is no one way to experience and cope with grief.
  • Celebrate your pet’s life. When you feel up to it, consider throwing a special celebration or send off for your pet. Consider doing something in honor of your pet, such as planting a tree or creating a little memorial garden.
  • Write an obituary. Writing about your pet can help you process what you’re feeling. It’s also a way to let others know what your pet meant to you and to ask for support during this difficult time.

Helping Pets Cope

If you have other pets at home, they may also mourn the loss of their friend. They can react by whimpering, refusing to eat or drink, or being lethargic or “sad.” If these symptoms continue, take them to your vet to rule out any medical issues.

Your other pets can also sense and react to your grief. Try to maintain as normal a routine as possible. For both your own and their well-being, be sure to spend time and interact with them as you did before.

Sources

Coping with the loss of a pet. American Veterinary Medical Association. Link.

Coping with the death of a pet. The Humane Society of the United States. Link.

Euthanasia. Making the Decision. American Humane Society. Link.

About UPMC Western Behavioral Health

UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital is the hub of UPMC Behavioral Health, a network of community-based programs providing specialized mental health and addiction care for children, adolescents, adults, and seniors. Our mission is to provide comprehensive, compassionate care to people of all ages with mental health conditions. UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital is a nationally recognized leader in mental health clinical care, research, and education. It is one of the nation’s foremost university-based psychiatric care facilities through its integration with the Department of Psychiatry of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. We are here to help at every stage of your care and recovery.