Pet Loss and Bereavement Resources
A Guide to Pet Loss
However difficult the decision may be, euthanasia is the kindest option for an animal who is suffering. The act of euthanasia is an act of love, as you have decided to take on the emotional pain of letting your loved one go in order to prevent your pet from feeling any more physical pain. You may experience feelings of guilt as well as the feelings of sorrow and loss, but please know you have done the right thing for your beloved animal companion.
Regardless of the circumstances of a pet’s death, the immediate aftermath can be an emotional rollercoaster. Animals provide companionship, acceptance, emotional support, and unconditional love during the time they share with you, so when your beloved pet dies, it’s not unusual to feel overwhelmed by the intensity of your sorrow. There is often a sense of numbness, and even sometimes relief that the animal is no longer suffering. You may find that your house is very quiet after your pet dies, even if there are others at home. Some people may initially find comfort staying busy or getting out of the house to avoid reminders. The emotional pain often starts to feel worse after a few days (or a few weeks) than it did on the first day. This can be surprising to many pet parents, but it means that the reality and the permanence of the situation are starting to set in.
When talking to children about the death of a pet, it is important to be as honest as possible. Try not to use the term “put to sleep” with children under 8 years old, as they may associate this with their bedtime and not want to go to sleep. If your children are old enough to have a bond with the pet, they are old enough to hear about the loss. Whether the pet was euthanized or died naturally, we advise that parents avoid telling children that the pet ran away or went to a farm to spare their feelings. These white lies may cause children to spend years looking for their pet rather than being allowed to grieve the loss. Also, it can be good for children to see their parents grieve so they learn that being sad over a loss and expressing those feelings is normal and natural.
The stages of grief after losing a pet are similar to what people experience when losing a human loved one. The initial stage, denial, can come at the time of a terminal diagnosis, resulting in putting off vet visits. It can also occur after the loss, in staying away from home to avoid confronting the pet’s absence. Anger comes next and can be directed at oneself or the vet (for not being able to save the pet) or even toward the pet for not surviving. It can come out indirectly, too, as impatience with family, friends, or coworkers. Pet parents also may feel guilty, replaying the events that led to the pet’s death and second-guessing themselves. Feelings of depression might follow, regardless of whether the person has a history of depression or not, as the pet parent realizes the loss is permanent. Finally, people reach the stage of acceptance, where healing occurs. This stage includes grieving and sadness, but it is mixed with an appreciation for all the joy the pet brought into your life.
There are many healthy ways to cope with the loss of a beloved pet. Talking to others who understand the loss and are supportive and patient can help. Journaling, yoga, meditation, exercise, art projects, or travel may also be beneficial. The most important thing is to be patient with yourself and your family members. Pet loss support groups, where people talk with others who understand their pain, can help normalize the grief process. Individual or family counseling is a wonderful resource to help you cope with and understand your emotions. Grief support hotlines can connect callers with a compassionate listener. The number for the Nova Scotia mental health hotline is 1-888-429-8167, and there are counsellors available 24 hours/day who can help you through the grieving process. We are happy to provide you with a list of numerous online forums and support groups – please don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Some people choose to have funeral services or memorials to acknowledge the significance of the loss. For example, friends or family might gather to share a story or pictures of the animal. These efforts honour the pet and can help people cope with their grief. Consider involving your children in the planning process, as it can give them a healthy way to express their feelings. To keep a pet’s memory alive, consider framed photos, paintings, or drawings. Some people choose to create scrapbooks or shadowboxes to memorialize their lost loved one, and many people keep the ashes in a special place at home or scatter them in a meaningful location. Some people choose to donate money in the pet’s name to an animal charity or give no-longer-needed pet supplies to an animal shelter.
When it comes to getting a new pet after a loss, we advise not getting a new pet immediately after one has passed away. Although there is no “right” time to get a new pet, it may be to your benefit to wait and fully experience the pain of your loss, however uncomfortable it can be – that is how healing begins. You will know you’re ready for a new pet when you can bring a new animal home and not expect them to take the place of the one who died. One person might be ready a week later, while another might need a year. Some people dip their toes back in by fostering a pet. Whatever you choose to do, we are here to answer any questions you may have and to support any decisions that you make.
Please accept our most heartfelt sympathies for your loss.
Our thoughts are with you and your family during this difficult time.
Resources for Dealing with Pet Loss
This document is meant to provide some resources for pet owners who are coping with the loss of a beloved animal companion. Animals provide friendship, acceptance, emotional support, and unconditional love during the time they share with you, so when your pet dies, it’s not unusual to feel overwhelmed by the intensity of your sorrow. The first section of this handout provides resources for those who are in immediate crisis or are in profound distress. The second section provides resources to help manage loss and grief over the longer term.
Section 1: At Port Royal Animal Hospital, we know that pet owners often experience profound grief when preparing for an impending loss and when their pet dies. Those emotions can be intense for many people, and if you are experiencing an immediate mental health challenge or are contemplating suicide, please reach out for help:
Crisis Services Canada Call 1-833-456-4566, Text 45645
Centre for Suicide Prevention Visit: www.suicideinfo.ca
Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention
Newfoundland and Labrador Crisis Hotline: 1-888-737-4668
New Brunswick Crisis Hotline: 1-800-667-5005
Nova Scotia Crisis Hotline: 1-888-429-8167
Prince Edward Island Crisis Hotline: 1-800-218-2885
Section 2: It is normal to experience intense grief after the loss of a beloved pet, and it is normal to struggle through that process. Many people benefit from support from others who understand what they are going through. This compilation of resources may assist with finding that support.
Online Communities: These are communities for people who have lost a companion animal to come together and share their thoughts and feelings. Several offer additional resources.
Online Grief/Bereavement Resources:
http://www.petloss.com/petlossbooklist.htm (book suggestions)
https://riedelcody.org (for pets with cancer)
http://www.pragmaticmom.com (books for children)