Coping with the death of a pet
For pet owners whose pet dies, the loss and grief experienced can be as much as that for the death of a relative or friend.
People who do not have a strong human-pet bond often don’t understand the pain that comes with the death of a muchloved pet.
Many pets provide major companionship, comfort, fun, joy and unconditional love to their owners over many years, and the loss of that can be devastating.
The first thing I say to petowners is that it is normal and natural to grieve over the death of their pet.
People experience their grief in different ways, depending on the individual and the way the pet dies.
There will be sadness, but also possibly denial, anger or guilt.
Sorrow, if extreme, can even lead to depression.
It is important to be able to speak with friends and family, especially pet-owning ones.
Speak with your veterinarian if you lack such support.
Because euthanasia is an option to end pets’ lives when they are in constant pain and suffering, or have a very poor quality of life, another dimension can be added to the grief.
Owners often have great difficulty with the decision, even when helped by their pet’s veterinarian.
That is not unreasonable.
It is not always a clearcut decision, and that can lead to self- doubt and selfrecrimination.
However, the veterinarian is there to help you, as well as your pet at such a difficult time.
Many pet-owners stay during the euthanasia. It is a personal choice, but I find that the owners who stay get some comfort in seeing how pain-free and gentle it is.
They also can see that their pet is truly gone, helping with the acceptance of their pet’s death.
We are able to offer petowners several options with the handling of the remains after a pet’s death.
Cremation is very popular because people often don’t want to dig a plot and bury their pet themselves.
It is also good for people who rent, or plan to move house, or who want to scatter or bury their pet’s ashes in a potted plant or in their garden.
People often have trouble explaining death to children.
In my experience children under 5 are generally more interested in what they will get to replace the pet that has just died.
With children, try not to use the term ‘‘ gone to sleep’’, because it may confuse them with normal sleep.
Be honest and explain death. It may actually be helpful if and when a relative or friend dies.
Pet owners also wonder if it will affect their other pets.
Sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn’t.
Pets can certainly experience a sense of loss and may take some time to adjust, as will you.
Don’t rush to get another pet either, because grief takes time and time is the best medicine.
Dr Ian Schraa is an experienced veterinarian and the owner of Rappaw Veterinary Care.
Close bond: Owners and their pets can become very close and when the pet dies, a period of grieving can follow.