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  • Pet Loss and Grief

  • As Veterinarians one of the more difficult tasks we have to perform is euthanasia for a terminally ill, or severely injured pet. This is a very difficult decision for pet owners and always needs to be considered on animal welfare grounds, what is best for my pet to relieve their pain and suffering.

    The issue of grief is interesting, we tend not to handle it well in our society and the Australian culture, and sometimes owners feel silly or dismissive about the grief they feel for their pets passing. However when we bond with a dog or cat they become part of the family and we need to understand that there is a grief process to go through before we can move on.Some of the stages of grief include:

    • Shock
    • Anger
    • Guilt
    • Denial
    • Depression
    • Acceptance/replacement

    The stages can take different times for different people. If the death or decision is sudden then it can take time for the event to register. The anger you or the family feels is normal and needs to be acknowledged and it is important not to react or be defensive. The “if only” feeling of being responsible for your pets death is common and is also very difficult to come to terms with. The denial phase can be because you just do not want to believe it has happened and sometimes bargaining is used to cope. Our pets fill our lives with unconditional love and their loss can create a hole where the light and joy of living can be hard to find but there are a few things you can do to lift the depressive feelings. You can create a little memorial for your pet, perhaps where you kept the food and bowls and by adding toys there and a little note recording important dates and some pictures of can help the grieving process.

    Today there are cremation services that can return the ashes of your loved pet which gives substance to the memory. Then we move on to acceptance and you can look back on all the wonderful memories you have shared with your pet and then replacement is a option. Often well meaning friends may push you into this phase but you have to be ready and the timing is important.

    Remember our pet’s lifespan is much shorter than ours. Large breeds can live for 10 years or less, and even smaller breeds have a life expectancy of 15 years on average. The grief suffered through the loss of a pet is the same as for any close companion so give yourself time to work through it.

    Sometimes a decision about euthanasia is due to trauma or an accident or life threatening illness that needs a lot of specialised and expensive veterinary care. It is always an option to consider pet insurance and there are pet insurance companies that you can look at to see if insuring your pet is an option for you and your family. Different companies have different levels of insurance against accidents, illness and trauma. It may just give you peace of mind.