Losing a pet is easily the hardest part of pet companionship because of the strong bonds created with our furry family members. Whether your pet passes in their sleep or you make the decision to end their suffering it is normal to go through a period of grief. Grief and the grieving period vary greatly from person to person. It is important to express your feelings by talking to a friend or family member. It can be beneficial to find a pet loss support group or counselor. Some people may find writing a letter to their deceased pet helpful. Others may want to have a ceremony to say goodbye. There is no right or wrong way to grieve the loss of a beloved pet. There are many pet loss support groups and online pages to help you heal and move through the grieving process.
Pet Loss Support Groups and Therapists:
Here are a few of the common questions that we are asked after a pet passes away at home or when the decision is made to have them put to sleep.
Why did this happen?
When a pet passes away unexpectedly it is natural to ask questions and look for answers as to why they died. In some cases, your veterinarian can perform a pet autopsy (necropsy) to determine the cause of death. They will examine your pet’s internal organs to find out what happened. The veterinarian will look for evidence of cancer, obstruction, kidney disease, liver disease, enlarged heart and more. Tissue samples can be sent to a lab to determine if there was a toxin or poison present. Sometimes the findings are incidental, meaning there is no exact cause of death found.
Keep in mind that this process is not the best decision for every owner or every pet. It may be difficult for you to think about your pet being opened up post mortem or if your pet has been deceased for hours before the necropsy is performed the normal changes that occur after death may prohibit the veterinarian from reaching a final diagnosis.
What do I do after my pet has passed?
There are several options available to you after your pet has passed. You can choose to have your pet cremated individually and then returned to you, or decide on a communal cremation. When communal cremation is selected the cremation company takes the cremains and distributes them over a field or farmland to bring your pet back to nature. If you decide to have your pet individually cremated there are nearly endless options on what to do as a memorial. You may decide to display their urn along with a photo or collar prominently in your home. This may help you feel that they are still close to you and aid in your grief.
Another option is to have them buried at a pet cemetery. Some people bury pets on their property although not generally allowed in city ordinances. You may enjoy having a spot to visit where you can talk to and think about your loved fur baby. You may want to add a memorial (like a stone or a flower) to that spot to remember your pet.
I want my pet cremated but don’t want to see the urn every day. What other options are there?
There are many creative options available for you if you decide to have your pet cremated but don’t want them sitting in an urn. A popular option is to ask your tattoo artist to design a commemorative tattoo. They can include a small amount of the cremains into the tattoo ink so that you feel more connected to your lost loved one. You may feel comforted in telling stories about your pet when asked about your special tattoo. If tattoos are not for you, many artists are also willing to include cremains into paint as they paint a picture of your cat or dog.
Another idea is to incorporate the cremains into jewelry. Find a unique necklace or ring to hold a small amount of ashes. This way you can carry your pet with you everywhere you go. Jewelry artists can even take a portion of the ashes and form it into a pendant or heart shape that attach to your choice of jewelry. Other artists focus on cremation art and can create beautiful designs in glass or other materials to display in your homemade using your pet’s ashes.
You may also feel that your pet is not free and at rest until their remains are spread. Consider burying the remains in a garden and planting a flower or tree in the area. If your pet was always up for an adventure visit some of your favorite locations. You might be able to spread their remains in that area. While generally allowed, check regulations first when spreading remains in public or national parks as they may require some documentation of the event.
How can I memorialize my pet?
There are many ways to memorialize a pet that has passed. You can choose to donate their toys or beds to help pets in your local shelter. Did your dog love to play with tennis balls? Buy some extra ones and donate them so that less fortunate pets can experience the same joy your pet got from playing with them. Alternatively, donate funds to the rescue your pet was adopted from to help other animals waiting for their forever home.
Many creative owners write letters or poems to their pet to thank them for being a part of their life or write a story about your favorite memory together to keep those happy memories alive for generations. Online memorials specifically for pets make it easy to share a photo, your feelings or memories of your time together.
A popular pet memorial site and forum is The Rainbows Bridge
How do I continue without them?
Everyone goes through the grieving process differently. It is important to grieve at your own pace and find what works best for you. You may need a day or even several days spent away from work or large groups of people. Use this time to think about your pet and cry while being comfortable in your home. Or you may want to gather those that loved your pet together to share funny memories and be surrounded by people who understand your loss. Getting fresh air and some exercise can help. Take a walk in a scenic area and sit on a bench for a while, reminiscing about your pet. If you are comforted by being around animals try taking a trip to a shelter. Ask to spend some time cuddling and caring for the animals there. Even if you aren’t ready to commit to a new family member, cuddling the rescue pets there helps comfort them and socialize them until they find their forever family.
Kids and Pet Loss:
What do you tell your kids when it is time to say goodbye to a loved family pet? This is a very difficult discussion as the adult owners are making those hard decisions while also grieving. One may not have the words to explain what is happening to their children. It is natural to want to protect your children from the pain and sorrow you are feeling. You may feel uncertain about how to talk about death to your kids who haven’t experience death before. There are many children’s books that help explain death and loss for you. Just like adults, children all grieve differently. Some may seem unaffected by the loss, while others feel they will never be able to bond to another animal. Below is a list of resources to help guide you on how to talk to them about their pet’s death.
The Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement/ This site has guidelines on what type of understanding different age groups may have about the death of a pet as well as ideas to help your kids memorialize their pet.
This is not a comprehensive list of sources dedicated to helping children with the loss of a pet. If your child seems to be having an extremely difficult time or if you are unable to answer their questions and help them due to your own grief you may want to reach out to a one on one therapist to help.