Your pet is a much loved member of your family and so the loss of your pet can be heart-breaking for everyone concerned. It can be an incredibly difficult time and you may feel that there is a hole that cannot be filled. However you are not alone and there are more people who understand your pain than you might realize and there are an increasing number of support groups available.
If you are visiting this page then it is probably because you have experienced the loss of one of your pets, and if so we extend our deepest sympathies to you.
We have put together this page to help you understand your grief and answer some questions that you may have.
Just the same as losing a human loved one, grief responses can vary hugely depending on the individual. We all grieve in different ways and our emotions and behavior will change too.
Some of the typical emotional grief responses you may experience include intense tearfulness, insomnia, failure to accept loss, denial, shock, loss of appetite, disorientation, anger, guilt, isolation, nausea, thinking that you can see/hear your pet, emotional numbness, depression and reliving your final moments with your pet.
Some of the typical behavioural grief responses that you may experience include being unable to remove your pet’s possessions, sleeping with his/her favorite toy or blanket, avoiding walking the same routes you took when walking your pet, continuing with your daily routine as if your pet were still alive, withdrawing from everyone and over-memorializing your pet.
Bereavement following Euthanasia
Following the decision to euthanize your pet, you can often feel extreme guilt, bitterness and regret and constantly ask yourself if you could have done anything more. While these are normal responses, it is important to remember that any good veterinarian will never agree to euthanize a pet if there is another viable option. If your pet has been put to eternal sleep then you should try and process that it was the kindest and most humane option for your beloved pet.
Some owners who have made the decision to euthanize may find it easier to complete all stages of grief as they will have had longer to process the decision and come to terms with it.
If you chose to be with your pet during his final moments, then this trauma can continue through the grieving period. Replaying those memories, although painful, is completely normal. If you chose not to be with your pet when he was put to sleep then you may feel an overwhelming sense of guilt. Again this is normal and part of the grieving process.
At this point your heart will very much be ruling your head, but as your grief progresses then you will be able to rationalize that whatever decisions you have made regarding your pet’s departure from this life were made because you loved him and wanted to end his suffering in the kindest, most painless and humane way possible.
Telling your children your pet has died
For many children, the loss of a pet will be their first experience with death and can help them learn to cope with other losses during their lifetime.
Breaking the news that your pet has died will likely be very distressing so you should try and do so in a place where your child feels safe and secure; and there are minimal distractions. What and how you tell your children will depend largely on their age and maturity level.
If you are getting ready to euthanize your pet you should consider preparing your children by explaining to them that the veterinarian did everything they could for your pet, that he wouldn’t or couldn’t get better and that it is the kindest way for your pet to die without feeling hurt or scared. You may wish to give your children the option of saying a final goodbye to their pet.
It is recommended not to use the words ‘sleep’ in any context as younger children may take this literally and become frightened of going to sleep themselves either for anesthesia in the future, or even just going to sleep at night.
If your pet’s death is unexpected then calmly and simply explain the basic details of what happened, for example "Rover’s heart was poor and couldn’t work anymore". Using words like death and dying may be a good way to explain what they are to your child. You need to make sure that they realize that your pet is unable to come back to them.
Whether your pet was euthanized or was taken from you suddenly, you should let your child’s questions guide how much information you provide them.
Can I just tell my child that their pet went away?
You could tell your child that their pet has gone away, but this isn’t advisable as they may expect their pet to return to them. Alternatively if they find out the truth this can anger or upset them.
What do I tell my child if they ask what happens after death?
Only you can decide what is appropriate to tell your children, and you may choose to answer based on your personal beliefs. However it is ok to tell your children that you don’t know and that what happens after death is a mystery.
How might my child react?
Your children may experience grief in the same way that you do. However they choose to express themselves you should try and support and understand them.