Pet Loss and Bereavement
- The Loss of a Pet
- Sudden or Chronic Illness and Injury
- After the Loss.... Now What?
- Pet Loss Support Hotlines
- Recommended Reading
The Loss of a Pet
By Rich Armstrong, D.V.M., Member, Vermont Veterinary Medical Association
Whether it's from humane euthanasia, a sudden or chronic illness, injury, or disappearance, the loss of a beloved pet can be devastating. For many of us, our pets are a vital presence and important members of our family. Unfortunately, because pets age faster than we do, all pet owners have to face the death of a loyal companion at some point in time. Your veterinarian and his or her staff can sometimes play an important role in helping you get through this difficult period.
The decision to euthanatize a pet is very rarely an easy one to make. Reasons that force us to consider euthanasia include severe illnesses or injuries that carry grave prognoses, intractable behavioral problems, and also the practical and/or financial limitations that we sometimes have to impose in potentially managing the above problems. Whatever the reason for considering euthanasia, your veterinarian is there to give you as much information as possible to aid you in making a knowledgeable and confident decision. In the case of illness or injury, your veterinarian can educate you about how much suffering or discomfort your pet is experiencing or could experience in the future, what the possibilities are for return to a good quality of life, and the cost (both financially and emotionally) of attempting to manage the situation. As with behavioral problems (aggression, destructiveness, barking, cats urinating outside the litter box, etc.), your veterinarian can discuss alternatives to euthanasia. Behavioral medicine has advanced tremendously in recent years, so there may be potential solutions other than euthanasia for your pet. The bottom line is three words: quality of life. As veterinarians, we strive to maintain and strengthen the bond between you and your pet and to help you assess your friend's quality of life during this very emotional time.
Sudden or Chronic Illness and Injury
If a pet dies on its own, we are not faced with the difficult decision of euthanasia. However, the emotional sense of loss can be just as great. In addition to this, sometimes the reasons for his or her slow decline or sudden death can be difficult to realize, compounding your grief and anxiety. Your veterinarian can be helpful in ascertaining this information, potentially giving you peace of mind during this crisis. Many veterinary hospitals also offer cremation services for deceased pets.
If your pet is missing, it is important to exhaust every means possible of finding your pet before giving up hope. This includes contacting and/or posting notices at local humane shelters, animal control facilities, and veterinary hospitals. Make sure family, friends, and neighbors are on the lookout. It's always helpful to have your pet identified with an I.D. tag, tattoo, or microchip. Many pets are reunited with their families, but there are some that never come home. This can be very disheartening because of the "not knowing" and the lack of closure it brings.
After the Loss.... Now What?
Our pets provide us with an immeasurable amount of joy and love. Their loss can leave us with feelings of deep sadness, guilt, anger, depression, and denial. There is a void that in some respects can never be filled. One of the most important things a pet owner can do can do is allow himself or herself to go through the natural and normal grieving process. Having a support system in place helps to make this process less painful. This system could be friends and family, but also can include a grief counselor, clergy, psychologist, pet loss support group or hotline and of course your veterinarian. Your veterinarian and veterinary staff are dedicated to preserving the bond you have with your pet, even after he or she is no longer here. They can assist you in seeking help, should you request it. Usually a new pet does not fill the void left by a departed one, but that void can be filled at least to some degree by many happy memories that will eventually take the place of sorrow.
Pet Loss Support Hotlines
For a complete listing, click here ( file size: 160kb)
- (607) 253-3932 - Staffed by Cornell University veterinary students
- (888) ISU-PLSH - Staffed By Iowa State University veterinary
students and community volunteers
- (877) 244-CARE (2273) - Staffed by University of Illinois veterinary students
- (508) 839-7966 - Staffed by Tufts University veterinary students
Interfaith Association of Animal Chaplains also provides free phone counseling to bereaved pet owners. Visit their website, www.animalchaplains.com, for other free services and for contact information.
OR contact your regular veterinarian for help with pet loss support for you, your children, or your family.
Coping With the Loss of a Pet: A Gentle Guide for All Who Love a Pet by Christina M. Lemieux, PhD (Wallace R. Clark, 1998).
A Final Act of Caring: Ending the Life of an Animal Friend by Mary and Herb Montgomery (Montgomery Press, 1993).
Good-Bye My Friend: Grieving the Loss of a Pet by Mary and Herb Montgomery (Montgomery Press, 1991).
The Human-Animal Bond and Grief by Laurel Lagoni, MS, Carolyn Butler, MS, and Suzanne Hetts, PhD (Saunders, 1994).
The Practical guide to client Grief: Support Techniques for 15 Common Situations by Laurel Lagoni, MS (AAHA Press, 1997).
When Your Pet Dies: How to Cope With Your Feelings by Jamie Quackenbush, MSW, and Denise Graveline (Pocket Books, 1985).
Books especially for children:
Cat Heaven by Cynthia Rylant (The Blue Sky Press, 1995)
Dog Heaven by Cynthia Rylant (The Blue Sky Press, 1997)
I'll Always Love You by hans Wilhelm (Crown Publishers Inc., 1985)
A Special Place for Charlee by Debby Morehead (Partners in Publishing, LLC, 1996).
The Tenth Good Thing About Barney by Judith Viorst (Aladdin books, 1971).