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The loss of a pet will always be a difficult time for you and your family. Cats and dogs come into our lives for us to love, they share our lives and homes, and they become part of the family. When they’re gone, there’s an emptiness and sadness left in their place.
Grieving a pet can also come with many confusing emotions and difficult decisions. While this will likely never be an easy time, there are some steps and things to keep in mind that may help you get through it.
You are Allowed to Feel What You Feel
Many people feel guilty or silly for heavily grieving the loss of a pet. It’s important to keep in mind that you have every right to feel sad, to experience grief, and to mourn the loss of your beloved pet in whatever way you and your family need to. People who don’t understand or have never experienced a bond with a pet are unlikely to understand why you feel such intense grief, but remind yourself that you can’t control how you feel. Grief and mourning are natural any time we lose someone we love, regardless of species.
And What You Feel May Be Different From What You Expect to Feel
It’s likely that you know you will be sad and heartbroken when your pet dies. But there are several emotions that you may experience that you didn’t expect. If you’re in a situation in which euthanasia may be the best option for your pet, you may experience guilt, confusion, conflicted rationalizations, or even fear or anger. If you feel that you should have been able to prevent your pet’s death, you may feel guilt and anxiety. If you lived alone with your pet, you may feel lonely, and possibly even guilty if you consider bringing home another pet. Again, remind yourself that it is not wrong, silly, or irrational to feel these things.
Knowing When it’s Time to Euthanize
This may be one of the hardest choices you’ve made, but if your pet is terminally ill or his quality of life has deteriorated to a debilitating degree, euthanasia may be the best option for your pet. It’s difficult to take your own emotions out of this situation, but you must consider your pet’s health, comfort, safety, and quality of life. Work with your vet to determine a set of parameters to help establish the point at which euthanasia is appropriate. If your pet has a terminal disease, these parameters may include certain blood count levels or organ function. If your pet is getting older, but is healthy, ask what quality of life factors should be met before considering euthanasia. Can your senior cat make it to her litter box in time to eliminate? Can your dog jump, play, and run as he used to? Ask your vet to help you determine these factors and document them in your pet’s file.
How to Approach Euthanasia
Euthanasia especially comes with its own set of heart-wrenching questions and decisions. You may wish to have your pet euthanized at home where he’s comfortable, and some vets and animal hospitals will accommodate these requests. Some will even administer the injection at your car if your pet is anxious or upset about visiting the vet’s office.
While many veterinarians and technicians will admit that your pet is probably most comfortable if you stay with them during the injection, it’s important to remember that your behavior and emotions still affect your pet. If you’re experiencing uncontrollable crying or anxiety, these emotions will upset your pet, as well. If you choose to stay with your pet, do your best to contain your emotions until the procedure is complete.
After the procedure, your vet will present you with options for your pet’s remains. You may elect to have your pet cremated and disposed of by the veterinary practice, cremated and have the remains returned to you, or to take your pet home for a private burial. Whatever your choice, a good vet will honor your requests with dignity and reverence. Some vets even donate the cost of the euthanization to veterinary research hospitals or non-profit organizations.
What Happens Next
Like any death in the family, after all the decisions are made and your pet is gone, you and your family attempt to return to normaleveryday life. You may be caught off guard when you come home and your dog doesn’t greet you excitedly at the door. Any other pets in the house may grieve the loss. of their “pack,” as well.
You may find the presence of your pet’s toys, beds, and other supplies in your home disconcerting. In my personal experience, donating these items to a local pet shelter or rescue service who can put them to good use helped to alleviate a few of the pangs of emotion I’d feel when I’d stumble across them. On the other hand, you may find comfort in keeping your beloved pet’s favorite toy or collar as a keepsake.
You may struggle with the desire to have a new pet and guilt for feeling like you’re “replacing” the one you lost. Again, allow yourself your own emotions. If you’re lonely without a pet at home, there’s absolutely no reason to feel guilty for giving a new pet a loving home. If your other pets or your kids are experiencing grief after your loss, a new pet will give them somewhere to channel all the love they still have to give. If you do decide to get a new pet, avoid getting a pet that bears a strong resemblance to your late pet, as this may simply increase the sadness, guilt, or other emotions you and your family feel.
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