“We gently rubbed his head and wished him well as he became a pet angel.” Carolyn & Monty. How To Say Goodbye To A Dying Cat
La-Z-Bonz Is Ready For A Vacation
Death is part of life…A time to be born, a time to live, a time to die. This is how it goes whether you are human or pet. Sad as it is, our most cherished cats, will leave us at some time. None of us are ever prepared to say goodbye, but it is reality.
If you have never had a pet before when this time comes you may not know the best way to manage the situation. Keep reading and we will give some tips for recognizing a sick cat, caring for him, and knowing when it is time to say goodbye.
Poppy And La-Z-Bonz Snuggling
When saying goodbye to a dying cat, your cat’s comfort is most important. Make sure your cat is in a comfortable, quiet, and warm place. Keep their bedding clean at all times and a littler box nearby. Spend as much quality time with your cat as possible so you can let go when the time arrives.
La-Z-Bonz Is Up To Something
How do you know if your cat is dying? There will be indications that things in your cat’s life are changing. Here are some of the more common signs that your cat could be approaching the end stage of his life.
Your vet is your best resource for knowing if your cat is dying, but your cat may also have these symptoms.
1. He Is Not Eating
Many times a cat will stop eating before they reach the end of its life stage. If your dying cat suddenly stops eating, it could mean they will die soon. The best thing to do in this situation is to get them into the vet as quickly as possible. Try to feed your cat small amounts of canned cat food or tuna or salmon.
2. He Sleeps More Than Normal
Cats are creatures of habit. They have a certain time they sleep and wake up each day. When dying cats start sleeping more than normal it could be an indication that death is near. If your cat is sleeping too much, try getting them to eat or to drink. This can sometimes give them some energy to help their bodies function better.
I See You La-Z-Bonz
3. His Behavior is Changing
Cats are very sensitive animals. When they are dying they often feel vulnerable and insecure. They won’t show this to you but it could be causing them to change their behavior. If your cat is sleeping more than normal, not eating, or hiding away from you altogether it could mean that death is soon approaching. He may be more of a loner. And on the other hand, he may want to cuddle more.
4. He Is Losing Weight
Cats need a certain amount of food in order to maintain their weight. If you notice that your cat is shedding pounds at an alarming rate it could be an indication that they are dying. If this is the case, try to feed them as much high-quality food as possible to keep their weight stable. If you can’t feed them high-quality food, then feed them small amounts frequently.
5. His Appearance Is Changing
Just like humans, death causes changes to the body. The elderly will appear to be much older than they were a few months before. Their skin becomes wrinkled and dryer overnight. Their hair may fall out in patches or become dull. When a cat is dying, its body goes through a lot of changes that can be easily noticed.
6. He Is Not Using The Litter Box Anymore
Cat’s can become incontinent and this could be a reason he is not using the littler box anymore. Additionally, they just may not be able to get to the box. You may have to take your cat to the litter box or at the very least place his litter box close to him so he can get to it without exerting much energy.
7. He Is Not Grooming Himself Anymore
Dying cats don’t have the energy to groom themselves. While the thought of a dirty cat may seem repulsive, it is actually important for them to maintain their hygiene. A dying cat will not be able to clean himself. One option is to take him outdoors on a regular basis to use the bathroom and let him roll around in fresh dirt or sand.
How To Care For A Dying Cat
While it is important to let your cat know you love him, it is also equally as important not to over-love them. This can cause stress on their bodies that they do not need at this time. Although the temptation may be high, try not picking up your dying cat and snuggling with them. This can be very stressful on their systems and may make it more painful for them to pass.
Keep Your Dying Cat Warm, Comfortable And Quiet
La-Z-Bonz Out For A Walk
Try to keep your dying cat as warm as possible. If they’re not already inside a heated environment, be sure to turn up the heat in the surrounding area so that it’s especially cozy for your cat. Draping hot water bottles over their beds can also help improve their quality of comfort. There are also a number of heated beds and blankets available to keep your cat warm. Make sure you keep him in a quiet area so that they don’t have to deal with lots of outside traffic.
Keep Your Cat’s Bedding Clean
As a cat gets closer to death, its bowels and bladder will not function as well. Make sure you are cleaning up after your dying cat regularly so that they don’t get soiled in the bedding or have to walk on the mess themselves. Be sure you give them enough water and quality food to keep their poop regular as well.
Let Your Cat Express Natural Behavior Without Human Interference
La-Z-Bonz Takes Driving Lessons
Dying cats often have a strong drive to move around. They may not be able to walk, but they will still try and do so as long as you allow it. Do what you can to keep your dying cat’s environment free of things that would hinder their movement like curtains.
Spend Time With Your Cat
La-Z-Bonz Gives Cuteness Overload
Your cat is living his final days. Let him know you are there if he allows it. We gently pet our cat as he periodically during his last few days. He still purred when we touched him. Getting attention and eating were the two things in life he enjoyed the most.
How To Know When Its Time To Let Go
Here again, your vet will be a great resource when it some to make the decision to let him go.
If your elderly cat is ready to let go now, then there’s nothing you can do but wait patiently for it to happen. For some owners, this is hard, especially if the death of their pet was not his or her decision. Instead of getting angry, try forgiving yourself for a decision you may have made to end your beloved cat’s suffering.
Remember that cats are naturally designed to live a very long time and they can live satisfying lives even when they’re elderly. When it’s time to let go, remember that nature is taking its course.
How We Said Goodbye To Our Beloved La-Z-Bonz
La-Z-Bonz was the most “zen” cat in the whole world. He spent approx. 15 years with us. He came out of no-where to join our family. He gave us so much joy and comfort. When we knew he no longer had a quality of life and was struggling too much, we took him to the vet to be put to sleep.
We talked to him softly and told him how much joy he had brought to our lives and how much we were going to miss him. We gently rubbed his head and wished him well as he became a pet angel.
How Others Say Goodbye To Their Cats
Short Pet Loss Poems:
A Bridge Called Love
It takes us back to brighter years,
to happier sunlit days
and to precious moments
that will be with us always.
And these fond recollections
are treasured in the heart
to bring us always close to those
from whom we had to part.
There is a bridge of memories
from Earth to Heaven above…
It keeps our dear ones near us
It’s the bridge that we call love.
Don’t Cry for Me When I Am Gone
So, though I give you all my heart,
the time will come when we must part.
But all around you, you will see,
creatures that speak to you of me;
a tired horse, a hunted thing,
a sparrow with a broken wing.
Pity – and help (I know you will)
and somehow, I will be with you still;
and I shall know, although I’m gone,
the love I gave you lingers on.
They Will Not Go Quietly
They will not go quietly,
the pets who’ve shared our lives.
In subtle ways they let us know
their spirit still survives.
Old habits still can make us think
we hear them at the door
Or step back when we drop
a tasty morsel on the floor.
Our feet still go around the place
the food dish used to be,
And, sometimes, coming home at night,
we miss them terribly.
And although time may bring new friends
and a new food dish to fill,
That one place in our hearts
belongs to them…
and always will.
Her Journey’s Just Begun
Don’t think of her as gone away –
her journey’s just begun,
life holds so many facets –
this earth is only one.
Just think of her as resting
from the sorrows and the tears
in a place of warmth and comfort
where there are no days and years.
Think how she must be wishing
that we could know today
how nothing but our sadness
can really pass away.
And think of her as living
And think of her as living
In the hearts of those she touched
For nothing loved is ever lost –
And she was loved so much.
When golden eyes no longer glow,
and we both know it’s time to go,
Don’t look at me with eyes so sad,
but think of better times we had,
When sunlight did upon us shine,
and happy days were yours and mine,
And through the grass we both did run,
and on our backs we felt the sun,
Think not of this dark final hour,
think not of when our lives turned sour,
Think not of hopelessness and pain,
but think of joy and laugh again,
For in that final act of love,
you released me to heaven above,
Where finally from pain I’m free,
where one day you will join with me,
Where together again we will rejoice,
and you and I as with one voice,
Will in perfect harmony sing,
of the joy and pain that love can bring,
And remember me just as I will,
always think of you until,
At last again I see your face,
grieve not, I am in a better place.
A Complete Guide To Pet Cremation & Planning
Losing a pet is losing a member of your family. When you have to say goodbye to a beloved friend, you face feelings of grief and loss. Many people also feel a great deal of anxiety about what they should do with their pets’ remains.
Planning ahead for the practicalities of losing a pet can help you cope with those stresses when the time comes. One of the practicalities of pet death is deciding whether or not cremation is right for you and your precious pet.
Whether you’re getting a headstart on planning for your pet’s cremation and funeral, or your pet has recently passed away, we’ll provide our best information and advice on pet cremation, below.
What Is Pet Cremation?
Pet cremation is the most popular type of final disposition for pets when they die. While burial used to be popular for pets, cremation has overtaken burial in recent decades. A key reason for cremation’s rise in popularity is the service’s price: while burial in a pet cemetery can cost $300 or more, the cost of pet cremation is about half as much.
Additionally, pet cremation allows pet owners to keep their pets’ remains with them at home. Pet owners who can’t bury their pets at home because of local regulations or because they don’t own their own property are more likely to opt for cremation.
They can visit their pet’s remains whenever they’d like, without traveling to a pet cemetery. They can also take the remains with them if they move.
What Should You Consider Before You Get Your Pet Cremated?
Pet cremation may be popular, but it’s still not right for everybody. You might learn something about pet cremation that makes you want to go with a different option. Whether or not you choose pet cremation, it’s important to be informed about the entire process.
If you do choose to cremate your pet, there are precautions you can take and decisions you can make, to ensure your pet is treated with respect.
How Does Pet Cremation Work?
On a technical level, pet cremation works much the same as human cremation. However, the pet cremation process also differs from human cremation in several key ways. Here’s how the process works, step-by-step.
Before the cremation can occur, your pet has to be transported from his or her place of death to the crematory. Because pets often pass away at the vet’s office, most veterinary hospitals and clinics have agreements with their local pet crematories.
If your pet dies at the veterinarian’s office, the staff will ask you whether you’d like them to transport your animal to the crematory. You’ll sign a form agreeing to the type of cremation and other details.
If your pet dies at home, call your vet’s office or your local pet crematory to ask how you can start the cremation process. Some crematories offer pickup for deceased pets, while others require pet-owners to deliver the pets to the crematory.
Storing the deceased pet happens both before transportation to the crematory, as well as after. At the vet’s office, your pet may have to wait until an arranged pickup day—usually once or twice a week. Until that day, your pet’s body will wait in cold storage, often alongside other deceased pets.
Once at the crematory, a pet usually goes into cold storage once again until the crematory can start the cremation process.
Deceased pets generally undergo flame-based cremation (versus alkaline hydrolysis, which is only available in a few states and usually reserved for humans).
Flame-based cremation uses high heat and flame to reduce a deceased pet to cremated remains (ashes) and bone fragments. The process takes place in a machine called a cremator and usually takes 30 minutes to two hours, depending on the pet’s size. The process of cat cremation, for example, is much faster than the process of cremating large-breed dogs.
Next, the remaining bone fragments are processed and reduced to smaller pieces. They’re then added to the cremated remains, which are transferred to a protective plastic bag. The bag is then placed in an urn or ash container.
All of this is the same as human cremation. But pet cremation differs from human cremation in that you can choose communal or private cremation services.
Communal Pet Cremation
Whether your pet passes away at home or at the veterinary office, the vet staff or crematory staff might offer a choice between communal and private cremation. For many pet owners, this can come as a shock and might cause confusion in a time of grief.
Communal pet cremation is less expensive—usually about half the cost of private pet cremation. It’s the process of cremating multiple pets together, which results in saved time and energy on the part of the crematory operator.
While you can save money by choosing communal cremation, private cremation is usually worth the investment. Without private cremation, you won’t have the opportunity to retrieve your beloved pet’s cremains.
Private Pet Cremation
Having your pet cremated privately might cost a little bit more, but for most pet owners, the extra investment is ultimately worthwhile.
Choosing private pet cremation means your pet will be cremated individually, in a clean cremator. This gives you the opportunity to retrieve your pet’s ashes and do with them what you’d like.
Some pet crematories even offer the additional service of cremation viewing, which allows the pet owner to watch the initial cremation process.
Finally, if you chose private pet cremation, you’ll be able to pick up your pet’s remains. If your vet’s office transported your pet to the crematory, they’ll likely also take possession of the cremains after the process is complete. You’ll visit the vet’s office to pick up your pet’s remains. If you worked directly with the crematory, you’ll likely need to go there to pick up the ashes.
Some vets’ offices and crematories offer extras with the return, including flower paper to plant with your pet’s ashes if you choose to scatter them.
How Do You Plan For A Pet Cremation?
Thinking about the death of your pet is heartbreaking, whether it’s happened already or it’s yet to come.
But the sooner you plan for your pet’s final disposition, the easier it will be to take care of those practicalities when the time comes. Here’s how you can plan and prepare for a pet cremation.
Talk To Your Vet
First, it’s a good idea to discuss pet cremation with your veterinary office. At your pet’s next appointment, ask which crematory the business contracts with.
Mention that you’d like as much information about the crematory as possible so that you can make plans in advance. Most veterinary offices will understand your desire to be prepared for the future.
Know The Good And The Bad
Unfortunately, some pet crematories are less than upstanding when it comes to treating animals with respect. When it’s time to say goodbye to your pet, you want to know for sure that their remains will be handled with dignity.
The best way to separate the good crematories from the bad pet crematories is by doing your research. Find out which pet crematories operate in your local area, and call each of them to inquire about their services and pricing.
In addition to gathering that needed info, you’ll have the chance to judge the crematory’s customer service. The better their customer service, the more likely they are to treat your pet with respect.
Many pet crematories have simple and decorative ash storage options available, so it’s a good idea to call and ask.
Some people opt to put the ashes in urn jewelry or create a memorial diamond out of their pet’s ashes. For example, companies like Eterneva allow you to send in your pet’s cremated remains and will turn them into customized memorial diamonds.
Another unique option is transforming your pet’s ashes into cremation stones, which you can keep somewhere special or place in nature. Parting Stone works with both human and pet cremains to create beautiful, solidified-ash pieces.
Plan A Funeral
Just because you’re not burying your pet doesn’t mean you can’t have a pet memorial service. Part of planning ahead for your pet’s death is deciding what kind of service you’d like to hold, or whether you want to hold a funeral at all.
You might decide to hold an elaborate dog funeral, complete with all of your pup’s closest canine friends. On the other hand, you might choose a private ash-scattering ceremony or a quiet remembrance at home.
Whether you’re planning ahead for pet cremation, or your pet recently passed away, understanding the ins and outs of pet cremation will help you navigate. While some pet crematories take advantage of grieving pet owners and provide subpar services, others treat pets with respect and dignity.
If you’re unsure whether pet cremation is right for you or not, it’s a good idea to contact the veterinary offices in your area and ask which crematories they use. Contact those crematories to gauge whether or not you’d be comfortable entrusting them with your pet’s final disposition.
Ultimately, pet cremation can be the perfect way to say goodbye to your pet. But it’s important to undertake the process with care and attention to detail.
Veterinarian Disposal of Pet Remains
Most veterinarians are equipped to dispose of pet remains. While this is a convenient option, many people find that the practice can make saying good-bye abrupt, which can inhibit healing from grief. Often just the process of making plans for pet cremation or burial can start the healing process. When your vet takes care of disposal, you are not involved with any of the details.
Donating Your Pet’s Body To Science
It is possible to donate your pet’s body to science. Some Humane Society branches offer this service as do various universities and veterinary colleges.
The programs are similar to those for the donation of human bodies, with students benefiting from research performed on deceased pets. The animals are most often used for the study of anatomy. After the research is complete, the animal is cremated.
To take part in a donation program, contact schools in your area. They can help you with the paperwork and give you the details on what you need to do when the time comes.
Be sure to share your plan with your vet and bring relevant paperwork with you when you bring your pet for their final appointment. Typically, the donor will need to contact the school to make arrangements to receive the animal.
Remember, your unique circumstances will determine what is right for you and your family when it comes to pet burial and cremation. There are no right or wrong answers, only what is right for you and your pet.
Pet cemeteries are gaining popularity as a permanent resting place when home burial is not an option. Often, pet cemeteries offer full pet burial and cremation services, including facilities for holding a memorial service. You may also purchase a plot, casket, and grave marker, just as you would for a “two-legged” loved one.
Most pet cemeteries can help transport your pet’s body from the place of its passing, and many offer in-home veterinary services if you’ve decided to euthanize your pet. Full-service pet cemeteries also provide catering services for memorials for an additional fee.
Grieving The Loss Of A Pet: Why It’s So Hard And Tips For Coping
From New York to California and North Dakota down to Texas, pets are found all across the United States. In fact, American pet ownership has risen steadily over the past 40 years, and today, 84.9 million American homes include a pet—that’s 67% of households.
There are many proven or perceived benefits of pet ownership, from protection to companionship, but as any pet parent knows, pet ownership also comes with one very big negative: every single pet in those 84.9 million homes will one day pass away.
It’s a sad fact that no one likes to think about, because the loss is not insignificant. Losing a pet is often said to be just as hard (and sometimes harder) than losing a human family member.
While some people may find this difficult to believe, it is far more than just words.
In fact, in a May 2021 survey conducted by Veterinarians.org of 400 U.S. adults, 68% of respondents reported that the loss of their companion animal was, in some cases, harder to deal with than the loss of a family member or friend, while an additional 17% claimed the loss was equal to that of a family member or friend.
Additionally, 90% of survey respondents reported that the loss of their pet was one of the hardest and/or most profound losses they’ve ever dealt with in life.
Recent research has proven that, due to the nature of pets and our proximity to them, losing a pet really does cause genuine and significant grief, and a person’s support system can play a big role in recovering from the loss.
The Effects of Pet Loss
Non-pet owners or those who have never lost a pet they were especially close to often have a hard time understanding how it can really be that difficult, but in recent years, multiple studies have proven that pet loss can have deep emotional and psychological effects.
A 2014 study in Japan, for example, set out to discover how the death of a pet could affect a pet owner, and made some interesting observations.
The study was performed with questionnaires, which were distributed at four private and commercial animal cremation service centers in Japan. In addition to collecting demographic information and the circumstances of the pet’s death, the 400 questionnaires that were distributed also included a 28-item version of the General Health Questionnaire (GHQ28) and the social readjustment rating scale (SRRS).
Of the 82 returned questionnaires that were available for analysis, 46 responses showed the presence of neurotic symptoms. In other words, neurotic symptoms were apparent in almost half of pet owners shortly after their pet’s death.
A few other interesting observations were made as well. For example, female pet owners exhibited more somatic dysfunction than male owners, and younger owners reacted more severely than older owners. Finally, the death of indoor pets caused deeper depression than did the death of outdoor or visiting pets.
Grief Is Real
Of course, the presence of neurotic symptoms is not necessarily the same as grief. Luckily, a 2018 study at Antioch University in Santa Barbara tackled the question of grief head on.
Participants in the study could be either male or female, and had experienced the loss of a companion animal within the last year. For the purposes of the study, companion animals were limited to either a dog or a cat, and could not be animals whose role was primarily a functional one, such as a service dog.
During the study, six participants were interviewed and asked 12 pre-determined questions designed to elicit their experience of pet loss. Their answersdemonstrated that grief really is a phenomenon shared after the loss of a beloved pet.
The Study Also Found That:
Losing a pet often feels like losing a family member. Each participant in the study made mention of this.
Pet owners don’t only feel loss over their pet, but also a sense of loss regarding the activities they used to share with that pet. Each participant mentioned this as well.
The level of attachment between a human and pet can affect the intensity of the grief. For example, a person may have a different reaction to losing a pet they knew only casually than they would to losing a pet they had considered their best friend for 15 years.
Why The Loss of A Pet Is So Hard
Respected death educator, grief counselor, and author Dr. Alan Wolfelt may have the answer, and it comes down to a combination of factors.
Wolfelt found his calling at a young age, writing his first book at the age of 19. His passion for pet loss training and counseling was part of what led him to found the Center for Loss & Life Transition, of which he now serves as director.
A firm believer that every loss is different, Wolfelt says that some losses are more difficult than others, but no type of death is definitively the worst.
“You simply cannot rank losses,” Wolfelt says. “It has a lot to do with the things that influence the nature of the loss.”
However, he understands firsthand the depth of the human/pet bond.
“The capacity to love requires the necessity to mourn,” Wolfelt says. “And there is nothing easier for us humans to love than our companion animals.”
Pets Are Companions
One of the things that makes losing our companion animals so difficult is the fact that they are, quite literally, our companions. Wolfelt states that “pets delight in our company,” and that companionship is one of the main reasons people have pets to begin with. It stands to reason that the loss of that companionship would be difficult to face.
Indeed, in the Veterinarians.org survey of 400 respondents, the loss of the animal’s companionship was reported as the second most difficult part of the loss, with the inability to enjoy usual activities with the animal (such as walks and playtime) coming in third.
What Has Been The Most Difficult Part Of Losing Your Companion Animal? (Select Up To 3)
Dealing with feelings of guilt, 60%
No longer having the animal’s companionship, 58%
No longer being able to enjoy activities with the animal, 50%
Additionally, pets need to be cared for: fed, groomed, let outside, exercised.
“Pets are part of the ritual of our days,” Wolfelt says. “They become an important part of the ritual of what we do each and every day.”
When they aren’t there anymore, the ritual crumbles, literally altering the fabric of our days.
And for some people, especially the elderly, their pet may be their primary (and sometimes only) source of companionship. According to recent estimates, about 28% of older adults currently live alone in the United States.
When adults in these situations experience the loss of a companion animal, it can be a devastating blow, especially in the absence of a support system to help them through the loss.
Pets Are Family
It’s also difficult to lose a companion animal because of the simple fact that many pet owners do consider their pet to be family—and sometimes, they are far easier to love than our human family!
“Another reason that we are impacted when pets die is they give us unconditional love—the rarest of affirmations,” Wolfelt says.
And the numbers speak for themselves. Nearly a quarter of survey respondents (24%) reported that no longer having a source of unconditional love was one of the hardest parts of dealing with their companion animal’s loss.
Our relationships with our pets are less complicated than those we share with other humans. And there is a proximity factor as well, given that we share nearly our entire life with our animals, day in and day out, while we might see some human family members far less frequently.
“For some people, the death of a pet is more difficult than the death of family members just because of the proximity and relationship,” Wolfelt says. “Pet owners often feel the loss of companion animals very deeply. If asked to explain the significance, they often say that the relationship they had with their pet is one of the most profound they had in their lives.”
The Loss of A Pet: Grieving vs. Mourning
“Many people who don’t have pets will totally disenfranchise the significance [of the loss],” Wolfelt says.
Unfortunately, survey results showed this to be a common occurrence: 72% of respondents reported that a member of their social circle diminished the significance of their loss with unsympathetic rhetoric (e.g., “It’s just a dog”), while 34% of respondents felt they didn’t have a support network around them who understood the profundity of their loss.
If you’re surrounded by people who don’t understand or who try to minimize your loss, it makes the loss that much harder. More than that, it actually prevents you from mourning, which, as Wolfelt explains, is separate from grieving.
“Grief is an inside process,” he says. “Mourning is the shared response of grief gone public.”
In other words, you can grieve alone, but you can’t mourn alone. And when those around you are trying to minimize your loss and make it uncomfortable for you to express your loss publicly, they are sadly preventing you from mourning.
“Grief for a pet is not inferior to or less profound than any other grief,” Wolfelt says. “Only you can be the judge of your grief.”
Real Life Stories
Examples of this bond can be found everywhere, and with many different types of pets, as the following stories demonstrate:
Lily V., from Orlando, Florida, is one of the many pet parents who describes their companion animal as their soulmate. She adopted her Labrador/Pitbull mix, Noah, from a local animal shelter 14 years ago.
During the long span of time they shared together, Lily experienced several big life changes from moving to a new city a thousand miles away for grad school to eventually losing her father to cancer years later.
Noah was a constant through all the ups and downs, providing her with an unending well of emotional support, unconditional love, and healing companionship.
“Simply put, his presence brought me peace,” says Lily. “Whatever the emotion I was dealing with, be it anxiety, stress, or grief, I found sanctuary in his companionship. There was something so calming about knowing he was right by my side at all times.”
When Noah passed away in December 2020 at the ripe age of 14 years, Lily felt as if she’d lost one of the greatest loves of her life.
“There’s no love quite like the unconditional love you receive from an animal who’s been your companion for over a decade,” she says. “In Noah’s later years, our bond became deeper than ever as he depended on me more for the type of special care that’s unique to senior dogs. I count it as one of the greatest honors of my life to have provided him with that love and care, and to have also shared in this life journey with him. He taught me so many life lessons that I’ll carry in my heart for the rest of my life. The biggest one was probably to live each day to the fullest and to derive joy from even the simplest of pleasures. Noah approached every activity, from his daily walks to our afternoon games of fetch, with such unbridled enthusiasm. He truly loved life. So although his absence hurts and always will, I want to live each day loving life as well. It’s one of the greatest ways I can honor his impact on me.”
But pets don’t have to stick around for decades to have deep and lasting effects on their people. Chelsea G., a coach and consultant based out of Santa Clarita, California, will never forget the short time she and her husband shared with their Pembroke Welsh Corgi, Kush, who passed in 2019 due to a rare genetic disease.
They learned about the disease when he was just over a year old, and had less than six months with him before he passed.
Gillman considers Kush to be one of her greatest life teachers.
“He came to us at a time in my life where I was looking for structure and desperately sought a solid schedule after making a huge life and career change,” Gillman says. “He became that foundational piece to start my day with gratitude; in fact, he enlightened and enlarged my capacity for gratitude. Every morning we woke and took a long walk while I listened to a meditation and watched him experience the world through chasing the ducks at the pond, hunting for lizards, and darting after the bunnies. He gave us countless laughs, as Corgis do.”
Gillman noticed that there was something different about Kush. He was connected, but also independent.
“As I look back, I think he kept a bit of distance for all of our sake,” she says. “I don’t know when he knew he was sick, but it was clear, and his decline was rapid and devastating. When he left us in his physical form, I knew he’d be with us spiritually and live on in our hearts.”
Amazingly, she and her husband also received as a gift Kush’s brother, who was born within 24 hours of his passing.
Meaghan T., a business owner from Louisville, Kentucky had a similar relationship with her dog, Tulip—one she may even describe as spiritual.
Tulip, who also passed away in 2019, was Meghan’s teacher and, she believes, her soulmate.
“It was by far the hardest loss of my life,” Meaghan says. “She helped me through some of the darkest corners of my life, and helped move me into my happiest self. I owe her everything.”
Tulip, who Meaghan rescued as a puppy, helped her overcome her traumatic childhood and PTSD and taught her to live in the present. It was her time with Tulip that led her to make big changes in her life – to quit her toxic, high-stress job and open her own business; to leave the big city where they lived and move to a smaller, happier one.
Meaghan was devastated by the loss of her teacher.
“For many months, I was seasick from the seemingly endless and violent ocean of loss,” she says.
Eventually she was able to get through her days without crying, but she believes that this is one loss from which she will never fully heal.
“But I’ve learned how to hold it better, and to live more in celebration of her life than the loss of it,” she says.
Facing The End: When It’s Time To Say Goodbye
Most pets today do not die naturally; their owners choose to have them compassionately euthanized.
A 2017 study of 308 pet owners between the ages of 18 and 69 found that almost 70% chose to euthanize their pet. However, despite how common the decision is, it is one of the hardest for a pet owner to make, and is often wracked with guilt.
Alice Villalobos, DVM, DPNAP, a renowned veterinary oncologist and the founder of Pawspice, a quality-of-life program for terminally ill pets, aimed to help pet owners tackle this difficult decision by developing a scoring system to assess a pet’s quality of life.
The HHHHHMM Quality of Life Scale, pictured below and downloadable in a PDF format from the Pawspice website, covers the five H’s: Hurt, Hunger, Hydration, Hygiene, and Happiness, while the two M’s stand for Mobility and “More good days than bad.”
The scale scores patients on each criterion using a scale of 0 to 10, with 10 being ideal. According to the scale, a total over 35 points represents acceptable quality of life.
*Republished with permission from Alice Villalobos, DVM, DPNAP
In The Veterinarians.org Survey Of 400 U.S. Adults, 58% Of Respondents Reported Opting For Humane Euthanasia For Their Animal. The Top Factors Behind The Difficult Decision Included:
No longer wishing to put the animal through further medical intervention in light of the long and happy life they had already lived
The animal being in too much pain or discomfort in their final days
Knowing the animal’s condition would worsen and eventually put them in too much pain or discomfort
Out Of Those Whose Pets Passed Away Naturally, The Top Factors Behind The Decision For An At-Home Passing Included:
No longer wishing to put the animal through further medical intervention in light of the long and happy life they had already lived
Wanting the animal to pass away in a familiar setting where they felt comfortable
Not wishing for the animal to pass away in a place they didn’t like (e.g., veterinarian office/animal hospital)
How To Deal With The Loss Of A Pet: The Difficult Journey Forward
In the Veterinarians.org survey of 400 respondents, the top 5 coping mechanisms for dealing with pet loss were reported to be:
Looking through pictures of the animal or watching videos of them
Seeking out professional grief counseling (with the growing popularity of telehealth medicine, websites like BetterHelp can connect you with professional counselors right from the comfort of your home)
A third of survey respondents (33%) found solace in making a donation in their animal’s name, while nearly 32% of respondents coped by planting a tree or erecting a monument in their animal’s honor.
Dr. Alan Wolfelt Suggests The Following Tips To Help Individuals And Families Further Cope With The Loss Of A Pet:
1) Surround yourself with people who can be supportive of the loss, not those who diminish it. Grief and mourning are not the same thing, and you should seek out those who will allow you to mourn.
2) Understand that your emotions will vary, and become familiar with what you might feel. You may encounter confusion, disorganization, sadness, or guilt. Remember that nothing is wrong with you; in fact, these emotions are normal and healthy.
3) Hold onto the memories. While this may seem obvious, some people try to shut their memories away after a loss. Talk about and embrace the memories you have of your pet, whatever emotions they may bring.
4) Remember that rituals can be helpful. A funeral or memorial for your pet may assist with the grieving and mourning process. While some friends or family members may find it silly, don’t let them take this special time away if it helps you heal.
Rituals have been used throughout human history to mark milestones and changes in our lives, especially when it comes to death.
While We May Think Funerals, Memorials, And Other Means Of Remembering The Departed Are Exclusive To Humans, This Isn’t In Any Way The Case According To The Veterinarians.Org Survey, Which Showed That:
26% of respondents held a funeral/memorial for their animal
31% opted for a home burial for their animal
37% opted for private cremation in order to keep their animal’s ashes
9% elected to have their animal buried in a private pet cemetery
5) Don’t rush out and get a replacement. It may be tempting to get another pet right away, and well-meaning friends and family might encourage you to do so. But you need time to grieve and heal before you put your energy into a new pet. There is no specific timetable as to when it’s appropriate to get a new pet, but if you’re in doubt, wait.
And if bringing another animal into your life doesn’t feel like the right next step for you, that’s perfectly fine too. While the majority of survey respondents (28%) reported that they felt ready to take in a new dog or cat after 1-3 months and another 26% waited 3-6 months, 15% of respondents reported that they never adopted another animal after their loss.
When it comes to helping a loved one through pet loss, Dr. Wolfelt’s tips are almost identical to the tips he gives to help a loved one through human loss.
1) Listen with your heart. Any type of help begins with your ability to be an active listener. Listen without judgment and without worrying about what you will say in return. If your friend wants to tell the same story over and over, listen attentively each time and try to understand.
2) Be compassionate. Don’t say, “I know just how you feel.” You don’t. Enter into your friend’s feelings without trying to take them away and recognize that they are a natural and appropriate expression of the pain associated with death.
3) Avoid clichés. Trite comments like, “Time heals all wounds,” “Think of all you still have to be thankful for,” or “Just be happy that he’s out of his pain,” are not helpful. In fact, they diminish the loss and make your friend’s grief journey more difficult.
4) Understand the uniqueness of grief. Everyone handles loss differently, so allow your friend to proceed through the journey at his or her own pace. Don’t force your own timetable for healing.
5) Offer practical help. Preparing food, washing clothes, or cleaning the house really can be a great way to show that you care, both at the time of death and in the weeks and months ahead.
6) Make contact. Your presence is important—at any funeral or memorials that may be planned, and in the months following the loss. Don’t forget to reach out.
7) Write a personal note. Sympathy cards are nice, but your personal words are even better. Use the pet’s name and share a story about him or her. This can be comforting because it confirms that the pet that was so special to your friend is not forgotten.
8) Be aware of special days. In the coming months, your friend may struggle with special dates on the calendar: the day they adopted their pet, their pet’s birthday, and of course, a year later, the day their pet passed. Try to recognize these dates, and respect your friend’s grief on these special occasions.
Despite the belief of naysayers, research and firsthand anecdotes prove that losing a pet really does cause genuine and significant grief. For those who love them, companion animals are more than just pets – they’re also valued family members, and losing them can be life altering in a number of ways.
Without a support system to turn to, the journey through grief can be a difficult one. However, it is possible to move forward, despite how difficult life post-loss can be. Connecting with support groups, reading books and articles about loss, and seeking out professional counseling can all be helpful for the grieving and mourning process.
So can savoring the memories one holds in their heart for their dearly loved animal. Doing so can make the unbreakable bond between person and animal stronger than ever, as even after loss, love perseveres and lives on. It’s that very love that can help individuals live not in the loss of life—but in celebration of it.