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Deciding to euthanize a pet can be one of the most difficult decisions for a pet owner to make. While the decision is a personal one, your veterinarian, family and friends can support you as you consider what is best for your pet and you and your family.
Coping with a pet’s death can be as difficult as dealing with that of a human family member. Grief is a normal and healthy emotion that is part of losing a loved one. Each member of a family may have a different way of coping with the loss of a pet in a different way, and it is important to respect and care for one another during this difficult time. While friends and family support may be sufficient to get through the grieving process, outside help in the form of local support groups or individual counseling may be helpful.
Coping with the death of a pet
- Recognize that your animal companion’s death is a major loss, resulting in significant grief.
- Nurture yourself in ways to comfort yourself, both in body, mind and spirit.
- Find nurturing people who can empathize with your grief and who won’t minimize the magnitude of your feelings.
- Seek out resources for pet loss such as books or websites or join a pet loss support group or seek a pet loss counselor or call a pet loss hotline.
- Consider creating a memorial site or perform a ritual meant to honor your animal companion.
- Be aware that holidays or birthdays may be especially difficult.
- Know that you may have mixed emotions when thinking about or bringing another animal companion into your life.
- Allow yourself to have your own experience and not be concerned about others’ responses to your grieving process
- Different family members will grieve in different ways and at different times.
- Children will experience grieving and will need support according to their level of need and development.
Helping children cope with the death of a pet
- Tell your children that the pet is sick in simple language and let them know that this illness will eventually result in the death of the pet (“Taffy is very sick and even though we are trying everything to help him, he may die soon.”)
- Talk about the pet’s health as a family and determine the factors that determine the pet’s quality of life- control of pain, ability to interact with family members, enjoying walks and playing, having a good appetite and relief from serious aliments
- Come to a conclusion about what is the pet’s quality of life and when that pet’s life is no longer quality (i.e. “Sam” hasn’t eaten for a few days or vomits when he tries or can’t get outside to go to the bathroom).
- Talk to the children about religious belief or philosophy to provide a sense of comfort- about the pet going to heaven or to another place where he/she won’t be as sick.
- Don’t tell children that the pet has “gone away” as they may interpret this to mean that their love was somehow inadequate and make them feel guilty and responsible.
- Don’t tell children that the pet will “be put to sleep” as it may make them fearful about sleeping and leaving this world forever.
- Don’t tell children that the pet went to the veterinarian and never came back. This will make them fearful of bringing their pet to the vet.
Make them part of the discussion about the pet and be honest to help them accept the reality of a pet’s death without negatively impacting their sense of self-worth or security. This gives them a healthy way to deal with future losses of loved ones, both human and pet. Cats, compared to dogs, tend to be more subtle in manifesting their pain
Help them find a way to celebrate their pet by:
- making a photo album of the pet and family members and showing the pet at all stages of its life
- having the child write a letter to their pet or draw pictures which can be part of the photo album or be buried or cremated with the pet or used during a ceremony to memorialize the pet
- a ceremony- either a “burial” of the remains or cremated remains of a pet, showing expressions of love with poems, pictures, photos; or a gathering of friends and family that knew the pet and can share stories and experiences
On Line Resources
- Ahelp Project- end of life support for animals- www.ahelpproject.org
- Animal Health Foundation- animalhealthfoundation.net
- Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement- aplb.org
- Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine-
- International Association for Animal Hospice and Palliative Care – iaahpc.org
- Nikki Hospice Foundation for Pets- pethospice.org
- Pet Hospice- Pawspice- pawspice.com
- Pet Loss Grief Support- petloss.com
- Pet Loss Support Group- pet-loss.net
- Santa Cruz SPCA-spcasc.org/pet-loss-support
Local Pet Loss Support Groups