The Death of a Pet
Coping with the Loss of a Loved One

The term "loved one" applies to companions of all types, human and animal. However, many pet parents are unprepared to deal with the loss of a loved one, even if they have dealt with death in the past.

Your pet was most likely a part of the family, so everyone should be involved in the healing process. Often, family members try to hide their grief, but it's best to allow everyone to express their feelings so you can all move on.

Don't be afraid to talk about your feelings with others, such as extended family members, close friends or counselors. It's best to talk to someone who will listen and understand.

Life and Loss Cycles

Life and Loss Cycles

Death is a natural part of the life cycle, and grieving is a natural part of death. But when a pet dies, you and your family may experience grief differently.

No two people grieve the same way, but becoming familiar with some patterns may help you be better prepared for times ahead.

There are four common emotions associated with death: denial, anger, guilt, and depression.

Denial may begin when you realize your pet is dying. Facing the reality of your pet's illness,instead of trying to convince yourself and others that your pet is getting well,helps you better prepare for death.

Anger towards your pet or loved ones is also common. You may feel betrayed by your pet's death or feel that, because others aren't showing their grief, they don't care.

You may find yourself dwelling on your loss and the sadness you feel, a common symptom of depression. Or, you may blame yourself and others for your pet's death, leading to feelings of guilt.

Knowing that these feelings are common and allowing others to help you through the grieving process is the best way to deal with the loss. Since each family member may have bonded differently with your pet, each person may have a different reaction to the loss. Kids may need some special attention during these times.

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Pet Loss Support

The loss of a pet can be emotionally traumatic. Fortunately, there are support resources to help you cope with grief.

If you are faced with the difficult task of consoling a child after the death of a pet, there is a wonderful book by Doris Stickney and Gloria C. Ortiz called Water Bugs and Dragonflies: Explaining Death to Young Children (Pilgrim Press, 1997). See details at amazon.com by clicking here.

Since the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of California, Davis, established the first pet-loss hotline in 1989, many veterinary schools and other organizations have formed their own hotlines to provide sympathetic, nonjudgmental outlets for people facing the death of a family pet.

Most hotlines are staffed by trained, volunteer veterinary students, veterinarians and veterinary technicians. For a list of links, click here. You can also call the Iams Pet Loss Support line at 1-888-332-7738 from Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. - 6 p.m. EST.

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Remembering Your Pet

Here are a few ways to remember your pet:

  • Write down your memories or create a photo album.
  • Plant a tree or place a memorial birdbath in your garden.
  • Make a donation to a pet-related charity.

Your veterinarian or local shelter can help you decide how to put your pet to rest and recommend you to a local pet cemetery.

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A New Pet

Just as the grieving process is different for everyone, so is the decision about getting a new pet. You may never want to get a new pet, while other pet parents may adopt right away. Just be sure you and your family are ready to re-adopt before making the decision.

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