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How to Cope with the Loss of a Pet

by Kirstie Jones BSc (Hons) RVN MBNA

Losing a pet can be one of the hardest things imaginable. For many people, their pets are more than just animal companions, they’re family members, friends, and in some cases, lifelines. While coping with a loss of a pet is never easy, there are several ways you can help ease the pain.

Losing a Pet – Before

For some people, losing a dog, cat or other pet can be sudden and unexpected, while others may see it coming. If you know you’re going to have to say goodbye to your beloved pet, it might help to be as prepared as possible.

 

Kirstie’s Story

As a registered veterinary nurse, Kirstie has helped thousands of pet owners at the hardest of times, but she also had to prepare herself for the loss of her beloved dog Benji in the summer.

How do you Prepare for the Loss of a Dog?

Preparation allows you to focus on the parts of the process you can control. Kirstie says ‘the biggest piece of advice would be that preparation is key. Obviously there are situations where you can’t predict the time is going to come, but the more you can be prepared for it the easier it will be.

  • Spend time with your pet
  • Make the arrangements
  • Try to prepare emotionally
  • Take photos and other keepsakes
  • Talk to your children
  • Speak to your vet about what to expect
  • Make them comfortable
  • Talk to people who understand

 

Finding the Right Way to Say Goodbye to Your Pet

The vet will have some awkward questions, such as “do you want to take your pet home to bury them or do you want a cremation?” Unfortunately, when emotions are high, you may not be able to make these decisions rationally, which could lead to regrets later on.’

  • Burial or Cremation

You can either take your pet home to bury them, or you can opt for a cremation instead. A cremation can be private or communal, and you can even take them to the crematorium yourself. Having an idea of what you’d like for your pet once they pass on will make things a little easier.

  • Outside or at Home

Deciding and planning where and how you would like the procedure carried out is also something to think about. In cases where you can plan this, it could prove much easier for both you and your pet. You can choose to have the procedure carried out in the car outside the surgery, outside with your pet’s favourite blanket, or even at home where they are most comfortable.

  • The Cost of Goodbye

When it comes to your beloved pet, thinking about the cost associated with their death can be hard. It is, however, necessary to think about what costs would be involved if cost is a factor you would need to consider. If an extra cost is going to cause you extra stress when you’re already in a vulnerable place, it’s best to try to avoid it as much as you can.

Losing a Pet – During

For Kirstie, even though she had been there for thousands of pet owners to help them deal with the loss of a pet, she still struggled when the time came to say goodbye to Benji.

‘All rational thinking went out of the window and my emotions took over. I knew Benji was in heart failure and that the time was soon approaching, but I was worried I was making the decision too soon. Some days he was up and others he was down. So, I decided to do a quality of life survey for him.

 

The Quality of Life Scale for Dogs

There are lots of ways to assess the quality of life for your pet. You can ask your vet for advice, or use an online tool to help determine if you need to say goodbye to your pet. As a registered veterinary nurse, Kirstie knew what to look out for.

Kirstie says, ‘I wrote down things he used to do and the things that made Benji my Benji, such as barking like crazy at dinner time, or having a funny five minutes batting a ball with his only front leg or chasing the cat across the yard to play. Over the days before he passed away, these things that gave him his quality of life got less and less.’

How Do You Know When It’s Time to Say Goodbye?

‘I took him to the beach. He sat on my knee and watched the waves. He didn’t want to move, had no interest in going to wander or play. That’s when I knew he’d had enough. He was ready.’

Kirstie spoke with the vets in depth on the phone and explained how she wanted his final moments to be. ‘I wanted him with me, so I opted to have him in my lap, sitting in the grass, outside, when the procedure was done. He went peacefully.’

Even though Kirstie was prepared, she still experienced some irrational thinking after her loss. ‘I didn’t want to leave him at the vets, didn’t want to bury him, so I booked the crematorium for the next day.’

Kirstie kept his collar and the dried flowers from his urn, but Benji’s ashes have been buried with his best bud in the garden, as she had previously planned.

If you experience similar thinking, always know that this is completely normal, and something you shouldn’t beat yourself up over if you feel you’ve made the wrong decision. As it turned out, Kirstie’s decision to have Benji cremated helped her 4-year-old son better grasp that he had gone.

‘My little boy plays with his collar and holds it when he feels sad and misses Benji, so I’m glad I kept this as a sentiment for him.’

Losing a Pet – After

Grief is never straightforward, easy or predictable. It can throw you down and leave you breathless when you least expect it. After saying goodbye to your pet, know that there are several ways you can help ease the pain of their passing.

1, Talk to Someone

If you decide to only do one thing to help yourself heal after losing a pet, it should be talking to someone. Getting your emotions out in the open and reaching out to someone can help you work through your feelings and protect your emotional wellbeing. However, make sure you reach out to the right person, as not everyone will understand your grief over losing your pet. If needed, there are also pet loss support groups that can be contacted.

2, Take Care of Yourself

Try to remember to take care of yourself. Exercise may help you face your grief and keep moving forwards during a challenging time. Walking may help, especially if there are other pets that need to be walked, and yoga or meditation may give you a moment of peace to process your feelings.

3, Make Room for Grief

Remember, it’s perfectly normal to grieve for the loss of your pet, and you should give yourself permission to do so. Rather than trying to ‘be strong,’ allow yourself to feel sad or angry, but remember to watch out for feelings of guilt. Keep reminding yourself that the death of your pet was out of your control, and not your fault.

4, Consider Memorialising Your Pet

There are many different ways to memorialise your pet. Whether you volunteer, plant a garden, make a donation in your pet’s name or have a memorial stone created to honour your pet’s life, there are lots of different things that can help you in the time after you say goodbye.

5, Process your feelings by writing or reading

Writing can be a powerful way to process your feelings. Writing down the thoughts and feelings you have can help you sort through your emotions and even maintain your bond with those who have departed. For those who prefer to read, there are several books on dealing with the loss of a pet.

Further Reading: Amazon’s Bestselling Books about Losing a Pet

A Final Word

Whatever path you decide to take after the loss of your pet, know that your feelings are completely valid. Perhaps the most important thing to remember in times like these, especially for dog owners who find these moments the hardest, is that your dog was deeply loved, and they loved you in return.

If you have lost a much loved pet and need somebody to talk to, get in contact with the Blue Cross Pet Bereavement Support Service today.

 

In Loving Memory of Benji

 

 

by Kirstie Jones BSc (Hons) RVN MBNA

I work at Burns as a Nutritional Advisor, mainly on the Burns pet food nutrition helpline, assisting customers with various enquires they have on their pets which is so rewarding, knowing you are helping to make a difference.

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