Death of a pet
When a loved pet dies, it can leave you feeling heartbroken. The grief you are feeling is real and just as significant as any other kind of grief. For many people, pets are members of the family.
Although it can be devastating, coming to terms with the loss of a much-loved pet leads to reflection on the pleasure brought to us during the pet's lifetime. The grief felt at the loss of a much-loved companion and friend is a reflection of the strong bond between owner and pet.
Sometimes the death of a pet can be very unexpected; the result of a car accident or sudden illness. This can be devastating and it may take several days for it to sink in. This type of death often causes feelings of guilt or anger. These feelings are normal and will usually pass in a few days.
If you have the opportunity to say goodbye, this can be very reassuring. Many people find that the sight of their pet, even though it may be unpleasant, helps them come to terms with the loss and start the grieving process.
Children and the loss of a pet
Children can be very upset by the sudden death of a pet; it may provoke feelings of abandonment or they may be concerned that their parents may die also.
In some cases, it may not be appropriate to go into detail about how your pet died. Nevertheless, you should try to answer your children's questions as honestly as you can. It is important that they understand your pet will not be coming back. Never lie to children or use terms that could be misunderstood, such as 'gone to sleep' or that the pet has been 're-homed'. The child may think that their pet will wake up or that it was their fault the pet went away.
Veterinary staff realise that deciding to choose euthanasia for a much-loved pet is one of the most difficult decisions an owner may ever have to make.
Euthanasia comes from the Greek for 'a gentle death'.
It is a great gift to be able to avoid unnecessary pain and suffering and to allow an animal to die quickly and painlessly. It is a very emotional time for the owners and the vet. Making the decision to let go of a treasured companion is never easy and your veterinary surgeon will provide guidance on when the time is right.
The grief process
The grief process usually consists of a number of stages: disbelief, pain, anger, guilt and acceptance but there are no hard and fast rules. The grief process is unique and different for each owner as was the relationship they shared with their pet.
The first stage is disbelief and shock. It may be hard to accept the animal is no longer with us and the house may feel very empty.
The next stages are pain, anger and depression. This is the time you need the support of family and friends and a listening ear. Many people will experience feelings of guilt; 'Did I do the right thing? What could I have done to prevent it?' This is normal and will subside in time.
The last stage of the process is acceptance. You have accepted the reality of the loss of your pet and can now look back with happiness on the many good memories of your time together.
Coping with grief
Grieving is about discovering how you cope with loss and there is no right or wrong way to go about it. Some owners find it comforting to commemorate the life of their pet by planting a tree or shrub or placing a special plaque in their garden. You may also wish to hold a funeral or memorial service to give yourself and your family the chance to farewell your beloved pet. Pet cemetery or cremation services can provide guidance and help you decide if this is the right option for you.
The death of a pet is very upsetting and it is important to allow yourself time to grieve. Take time to talk things over with friends and family, don't feel embarrassed about crying; it helps to release emotion.
Your veterinary practice may have a bereavement counsellor or may be able to put you in touch with one if you need more help.
For more information on coping with grief following the death of a pet, visit Australian Centre for Grief and Bereavement.
Other contacts that might be useful include:
- Lifeline - 13 11 14
- GriefLine (12pm-3am) - 03 9935 7400
- Kids Helpline -1800 55 1800