Loss of a Pet

The death of a pet brings about some of the most painful and difficult decisions a pet owner must face.  The following are some of the most commonly asked questions about pet euthanasia.  Please read them carefully.

When is it time to euthanize my pet?

Your veterinarian is the best judge of your pet's physical condition; whether an illness or injury is terminal, whether surgery or medication would significantly prolong your pet's life, and for how long.  However, you are the best judge of the day-to-day quality of your pet's life.  You should be able to tell if your pet is suffering unreasonably, or if they are still finding pleasure in life despite their condition.  If your pet still has a good appetite, responds to attention, seeks your company, participates in play or family life and is able to get up to relieve themselves, many pet owners feel that their pet is still enjoying life and living with dignity.  If, on the other hand, your pet is in constant pain, undergoing difficult or stressful treatments, is unresponsive to affection or seemingly unaware of their surroundings, a caring pet owner will probably wish to end their beloved companion's suffering.  Evaluate your pet's health honestly and unselfishly with your veterinarian.  Nothing can make this decision an easy one, but it is often the final act of love you can make on behalf of your pet.

Should I stay during euthanasia?

Many people feel that this is the final gesture of love and comfort they can show for an animal friend.  Some have felt relief and comfort by staying as they were able to see for themselves that their pet did not suffer, that they passed away gently and peacefully and that they are truly gone.  For many, not witnessing the death (and perhaps not viewing the body afterwards) made it difficult to accept in their hearts that their pet was truly dead, making it more difficult to deal with their grief later.  Euthanasia can be traumatic.  You must ask yourself openly and honestly if you are prepared to handle it.  If you feel that your emotions will not be in control, you are more likely to upset your pet than comfort them.  These emotions are natural and no cause for shame.  Your veterinarian will also be involved in this decision.  If you would like to discuss the option of euthanasia at home, please call our clinic for more information.

What do I do now?

When a pet dies you face the question of how to handle the remains.  When you are upset and grieving it may seem easiest to leave the pet at the clinic and allow the staff to deal with the next steps.  Some find this the best choice.  Others feel that a pet deserves a more formal ceremony.  Cremation is an inexpensive option that allows you to handle your pet's remains as you wish; to bury them, scatter them, leave them in a columbarium or keep them in a decorative urn.  Home burial is a common choice, however city regulations usually prohibit pet burials.  This is also not a good choice if you rent or move frequently.  For many people a pet cemetery provides a sense of permanence and security, bringing formality and dignity to a pet burial.

I hurt so much!  Am I over-reacting?

Intense grief over the loss of a pet is completely normal and natural.  Every pet owner who considers a pet a beloved friend and companion, a true family member, goes through what you are experiencing now.  You are not being overly sentimental, weak, crazy or foolish to grieve.  You may have spent many years with this animal.  During this time your pet was a constant part of your life, always ready to give you love, comfort and companionship.  Pets provide unconditional, non-judgmental love.  So don't be surprised if you feel devastated by the loss of such a powerful relationship, no matter how long or brief it was.

What should I tell my children?

Some people fear that their children can not handle the news of the death of a pet.  You are the best judge of what your children can and can not understand, based upon their ages and personalities but don't underestimate them.  You may find that by being candid with your children about what happened to your pet you now have an opportunity to address some of the fears and misconceptions they have about death and dying.  Honesty is important.  Avoid using the term "put to sleep" as many children have difficulty understanding the difference between this and ordinary sleep.  Don't say "they went away" or "they didn't want to stay here anymore".  A child may then wait in anguish for the pet to return or wonder what he or she did to make the pet unhappy enough to leave.  Make it clear that your pet will not come back and that they are at peace wherever they are.  Accept your child's grief as you accept your own.  Never assume that a child is too young or too old to grieve.  Don't try to hide your sorrow from them or they may fear that you don't understand theirs.  Discuss the loss with the entire family, giving everyone support in working through their emotional pain.

What can I do about my feelings?

The most important step you can take is to be honest with yourself about what you are feeling.  Don't deny that you are feeling pain or that you feel guilty or angry.  Only by looking at these feelings and coming to terms with them can you begin to work through them.  You have a right to feel pain, guilt or anger.  Someone you love has died.  You are going to feel alone and bereaved.  Acknowledge those feelings first, then ask yourself whether the circumstances justify them.  Locking away your grief doesn't make it go away.  Express it.  Cry, scream, pound the floor, talk it out, do whatever helps you the most.  Reminisce about the good items with your pet and the pleasure of their company. This will help you understand what your pet meant to you and clarify the significance of your loss.  Many people find it helpful to express their memories and feelings in stories, poems or letters to their departed pet. Other coping techniques include rearranging your schedule to fill in the times you once spent with their pet, removing their pet's things from sight (though some find keeping their pet's things in view is helpful instead), preparing some form of memorial such as a photo collage or scrapbook, and talking to others about your loss.

Who can I talk to?

If your family or friends love pets they'll understand what you are going through. Don't hide your feelings from them in an attempt to appear strong and calm. If your friends don't see your need for comfort, they won't be able to provide it.  Working through your feelings with another person is one of the best ways to put them in perspective and learn how to handle them.  Find someone you can talk with about your pet, someone who won't be uncomfortable with your tears and grief.  Ask your veterinarian or contact the local Pet Therapy Society of Northern Alberta at (780) 480-1949.

Should I get a new pet right away?

For most people, the answer is no. Generally, we need time to work through grief and loss to help us come to terms with our emotions before getting another companion animal. If these emotions are not resolved, you may find yourself resenting the new pet for seemingly trying to take the place of your old one. Your expectations of a new pet may be unreasonable; thus compromising both your needs and those of the new animal. It is also not a good idea to get a look-alike pet. Comparisons become more likely when a new animal looks much like the pet that is gone. Often, getting a look-alike pet is a sign that you haven't accepted the loss of your pet and are trying to replace them. A new pet should be acquired for their own sake; to be loved and accepted for their own special qualities. Select an animal that you can build another long and loving relationship with when everyone in the home is ready because this is what living with a pet is all about.

Will my other pets grieve?

Just as you react to the loss of a family member, your other pets notice the absence of their companion. Pets recognize every change in the household. They often form strong attachments to one another, so you may find that the survivor of the bonded pair grieves for their companion. Cats grieve for missing dogs and dogs grieve for missing cats. Affection and grief are not species specific. You may need to give the surviving pet(s) a great deal of extra attention and love to help them through this period. You may also find this helps you through your own sorrow more quickly than expected.

What can I expect to feel?

Different people experience grief in different ways. Besides your sorrow and loss, you may experience guilt, anger, denial, and/or depression. Guilt may occur if you feel you were somehow responsible for your pet's death - the "if only I had been more careful" syndrome. It is pointless to burden yourself with the responsibility of the illness or accident that claimed your pet's life. Weighing yourself down with the guilt only makes it more difficult to work through your loss. Denial is difficulty accepting that the pet is really gone. It's hard to imagine that they won't come to greet you or that they won't need their evening meal.  Some pet owners carry this normal reaction to extremes, and worry that their pet is still alive and suffering somewhere.  Others find it difficult to bring a new pet into their life because they feel it violates the memory of the deceased one. Anger may be directed at the illness that killed their pet or any people associated with their pet's death.  Sometimes anger is justified but, carried to an extreme; it only distracts you from the important task of resolving your grief. Depression is a natural consequence of grief and, if unchecked, can leave you powerless to cope with your feelings.  Extreme depression robs you of energy; even the energy to get up in the morning. Dwelling on your sorrow without working on its resolution can spiral into a painful trap in which your grief only becomes more bitter.

Author:  Moira Anderson-Allen
Excerpts from the book "Coping With Sorrow on the Loss of Your Pet"
Reprinted with the permission of the author

PAWS to Remember has monthly group support meetings on the first Tuesday of each month at 5:00 PM. If you would like further information, they can be contacted at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Or visit their website at www.pettherapysociety.com.

We understand the important role that pets play in our lives. Peartree clay impressions allow you to make an impression of your pet's paw (domestic or exotic) providing you with a wonderful lasting keepsake of your pet.  These can be personalized with the name of your pet, and even colour matched to their fur. If you would like more information about this service, please call our clinic at 780-458-6051 and ask about the Peartree clay impressions.

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