How to Handle the Loss of a Pet

Tips to Help You and Your Family Deal with the Loss of a Pet

Pets become an important part of our lives, and losing them can be devastating. Every loss is different, and how a person responds is unique. Below we will share some ways people respond to the loss of a pet, provide some tips on how to better deal with the loss of a pet, and share some tips on how to best help support children and help them understand the loss of a pet.

Dealing with the Loss of a Pet – Children vs. Adults

As adults, our understanding of death is very different from a child’s. The understanding and comprehension a child has about death depend largely on their age. Death may or may not be permanent in the mind of a child. Read this article for a good understanding of what children understand about death at different ages. Go to How to Tell Your Child About Putting a Dog Down: Dos and Don’ts. If you have pets and children, this article is a must-read.

As adults, our ability to deal with the loss of a pet can depend on many factors. These can include our prior experience with loss and death, other stressors in our lives, our individual relationship with a particular pet, and our family or social support network. There are many different ways a person can respond to the loss of a pet.

How People Deal with the Loss of a Pet

As a veterinarian, I’ve seen just about every reaction to the loss of a pet you can imagine. For some, the pet was their child or family member. They grieve deeply. Others have verbally told me “it was just a dog,” and that is that. No tears. No emotion. And I’ve seen every emotion in between.

Below are some reactions to the loss of a pet that stand out in my mind:

  • Hard being strong. Some individuals get their first pet as young adults, start a family, and find themselves losing a pet with their children. As they work through their own grief, they have to be strong for their family. Sometimes there is concurrent guilt as they reflect how their pet was number one for many years, then became a lower priority as life changed.
  • Suicidal thoughts. I’ve had clients tell me they didn’t want to live after the loss of a pet. This is just about the hardest thing to deal with. Anyone that considers self-harm or contemplates suicide must seek help from a professional. An excellent article that walks you through the stages of grief and support options was written by Bonnie Mader, who was the co-founder of a Pet Loss Support Hotline at the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine. Read her full article here (which includes support phone numbers): Pet Loss Support: Helping You Cope After Your Dog’s Death. There are pet loss counselors — read this interview at Pet Grief Support: Talking with a Pet Loss Counselor.
  • Guilt. A number of clients focus on guilt with the loss of a pet. Guilt can originate from thoughts that they were busy and believe they neglected their pet’s signs of illness until it was advanced. Or, it can have to do with limited financial resources to provide possible life-saving medical care. Some find it difficult to grieve properly due to their guilt.
  • Memorial. Many pet lovers place some of their grief and emotional energy in creating a memorial or tribute to their beloved friend. I’ve seen this in the form of a funeral (some quite elaborate), a photo album, and/or artistic creations such as a painting. Some find a special urn for the ashes and place it in a particular area in their homes and lives.
  • Save the ashes. Some clients find comfort in having their pets cremated and saving their ashes to be later buried with them or mixed with their own ashes. Several believe that this allows them to be together forever and provides comfort.
  • Silence. Some pet owners cope by not talking about their loss and trying to put it out of their mind. If I see them in the clinic, their pet never comes up and if it is mentioned for any reason, they shut that conversation down with a quick topic change.
  • Lost. Some clients become somewhat lost and want to be alone. They avoid social activities and family functions. I’ve actually had clients not want to come back to a hospital because of their profound memories of dealing with a pet’s loss.
  • Rituals. Over the years, I’ve had clients perform quite simple to elaborate rituals to mourn the passing of a pet. For years, I had a client come to the hospital and request to light a candle in a room where she euthanized her 20-year-old pet that had cancer. She felt closer to her pet and believed she felt its spirit present. Another client celebrates her dog’s birthday every year with a glass of wine, close friends, and a stroll through memory lane with a photo album.
  • Sadness. My first pet was named Kali. She died unexpectedly when I was in college and to say I was devastated is an understatement. I still cry when I think of her and become sad. I’ve learned to box off those emotions, at least most of the time. Occasionally I see a cat that reminds me of her and an involuntary tear is shed. Feelings of loss and sadness are common and can continue for years.
  • Jewelry. Another way clients take comfort in this difficult time is to have jewelry made from their pet’s ashes. I frequently have clients show their special pieces of jewelry for pets that I have cared for. They have truly found comfort in knowing their pet is with them all the time when they wear their jewelry.
  • Fake strength. Some try to be strong, they may even say the wrong things, they may even be inappropriate with a joke or laughter, while being devastated by the loss of their special friend. Some find comfort in physically carrying their pet out of the clinic and going home to dig a burial hole. Sometimes the physical act of digging a hole allows them some personal time to say goodbye and provides closure.

Many of these responses described can be categorized into the stages of grief that include anger, denial, depression, acceptance, and bargaining. Learn more about these stages — go to Pet Loss Support: Helping You Cope After Your Dog’s Death.

How to Tell Your Child About Putting a Dog Down: Dos and Don’ts

How to Tell a Child About Putting a Dog Down

Death and dying are two of the hardest facts of life to explain to children. Clients commonly ask veterinarians about how to tell a child about putting a dog down. Very often, the death of a family pet such as a dog is a child’s first encounter with this immutable law of nature. How we handle this event can have a far-reaching impact on our children’s understanding of death and dying.

Eleven-year-old Maria, for instance, was used to greeting her cat Feifel every day after school. One day, he didn’t appear. Maria and her mother found Feifel under a bed, breathing weakly. The veterinarian said Feifel had heart disease. He might be able to save him, but Feifel was 14 and suffered from several other age-related problems.

His quality of life would only grow worse. The most humane course to take was euthanasia. Later, her family held a memorial service, and Maria wrote poems about him.

Understanding Pet Death: An Informal Guide to a Child’s Psyche

At 11, Maria understood euthanasia and the finality of death. It didn’t make the grieving and sense of loss any easier, but she knew that all living things eventually die. After some time, she was able to remember her pet with more love than hurt.

But children younger than Maria often view their relationship with a pet as indefinite. They don’t understand that animals run on a different biological clock, or that illness or injury may make euthanasia the best option.

At all ages, honesty is the best policy, says Marty Tously, a bereavement counselor. “That means using the words death and dying, and explaining the permanence of death. You do it gently but without confusing what dying actually means.”

Tously is a counselor with the Pet Grief Support Service. She says that a child’s ability to understand what death means depends on his/her emotional and cognitive development, but she outlined the generally understood guideline of how children perceive death and dying:

Under 2: A child can feel and respond to a pet’s death, based on the reaction of those around him or her. A child picks up the stress felt by family members, no matter what the cause.

2 to 5: The child will miss the animal as a playmate, but not necessarily as a love object. They will see death as a temporary state – something like the way leaves fall off a tree in fall but grow back in the spring. As they perceive the trauma around them, however, they may regress in their behavior (e.g., thumb sucking).

5 to 9: Children begin to perceive death as permanent, but they may indulge in “magical thinking,” believing that death can be defied or bargained with. This is also the period when children recognize a correlation between what they think and what happens. For instance, a child may resent taking care of the pet and wish – however briefly – that the pet would die. If the pet then dies, the child is often consumed with guilt. Parents need to reassure children that they did not cause the pet’s death.

10 and up: Children generally understand that all living things will eventually die and that death is total. Understanding and accepting are two different things, however. They may go through the normal stages of grief that grownups do: denial, bargaining, anger, guilt, depression, and acceptance. (To learn about the stages of grief, see the story Coping with Pet Loss.) Or they may react in other ways:

  • Depending on the age, the child may regress (sucking their thumb or temper tantrums that they had outgrown).
  • An older child may withdraw from friends and family for a while. Schoolwork may suffer and they may seem uninterested in extracurricular activities.
  • Children may fear abandonment. If a pet can die, then they may reason that their parents could die as well.
  • Children often become intensely curious about death and what happens to the body. They may ask for details that you may find uncomfortable to explain. These are questions you should answer in a straightforward, gentle and careful manner.

How to Tell a Child About Putting a Dog Down: Do’s and Don’ts of Explaining Pet Loss

There are several do’s and don’ts. Treating this delicate topic poorly can scar children for life. Tously explains that the worst course of action is to lie (to say the animal went away) or to use confusing euphemisms, such as the phrase “put to sleep.” Children will eventually learn the truth, and lying can breed resentment and destroy trust between parent and child. “Later in life, when the child learns the truth, they’ll wonder what else the parent lied about,” she says.

How to Know if a Pet Crematory is Worthy of Your Trust

Losing a pet is one of the hardest emotional challenges an animal lover will ever experience. At the very moment we’re most distraught, we have to make end of life decisions that would be tough at the best of times. Along with medical decisions, including whether it’s time for euthanasia, we have to decide what to do with our beloved pet’s last remains.

For most of us, that decision will be cremation. But how can we know which cremation company to entrust with this task?

At the 2016 NAVC Veterinary Conference, Dr. Mary Gardner and Dr. Dani McVety advised their fellow veterinarians on how to tell the good from the bad in the pet crematory field – advice that will also help pet owners make their own choice or evaluate the recommendation of their veterinarian. For pet owners, if at all possible, do this in advance of any need.

Here are their tips:

  1. Call 4-5 large local clinics and find out what crematory they use.
  2. Use Google to identify the largest pet cremation services in your community.
  3. Contact some or all of the crematories and inquire as to available services as well as prices. Use this as an opportunity to judge their customer service.
  4. Visit the crematory. Many pet owners might want to skip this step, but it’s essential for veterinarians.

Their advice to veterinarians: “You should feel confident that once the pet has left your facility, they are treated with honor, respect, and that the private cremations are indeed the same pet.”

About 70 percent of pet owners choose cremation, with the remaining 30 percent opting for home burial. Depending on the time of year and whether the region is rural or urban, cremation numbers can hit 90 percent or higher.


Cremations can be communal or private. When a crematory describes a cremation as “private,” this should mean that there is only one body at a time in the cremation chamber at a time. However, if this is important to you, be sure to ask them to define what they mean by “private,” as some services instead use a metal divider between individual pets in a single chamber.

Other questions to ask include what the price includes, such as a basic urn, and what upgrades are offered. Some cremation services will call a simple plastic box an “urn,” which may feel misleading to many people. Additional services can include paw prints, certificates, photo urns, and more.

Some crematories will offer viewings, visitations, and memorial services, and also offer witnessed cremations for pet owners who wish to be absolutely certain the remains are those of their pet.

What happens to your pet’s remains after cremation? They can be returned to the veterinary clinic for pickup, delivered to you at home by UPS, FedEx, or the postal service, or you can pick them up. Some offer burial in an on-site or other community pet cemetery, and others offer a service that spreads the ashes. In recent years there have been a number of scandals where human ashes have been stockpiled in storage instead of scattered, however, so this is a choice where trust has to be well and truly earned if the ceremony can’t be witnessed.

What if your pet passes away at home? If the pet is euthanized by a visiting veterinarian, they probably offer transport to the cremation facility. Other crematories offer pickup at private residences, or you may need to bring the deceased pet to your veterinarian’s office or even to the crematory. If you have a pet in hospice care, these are important questions to ask the supervising veterinarian as early in the process as possible, as not knowing what to do with your pet’s body, especially if he or she is a large dog, will only make a distressing time much more difficult.

There is not a lot that can ease our pain when a pet leaves this life, but there’s no reason that the worry you were ripped off, your pet’s remains were treated disrespectfully, or that you were forced to deal with difficult decisions in the midst of grief should add to your pain. Open a conversation with your veterinarian at your next visit, and do some research in advance of need. It will only be harder if you delay.

Should Dog Housemates Be Present for Euthanasia?

Should A Dog Housemate Be Present for Euthanasia of a Companion?

Performing euthanasia is one of the most important things veterinarians can perform to alleviate suffering in dogs. Frequently, clients want to know whether they should bring the dog’s “housemates” (that is, the other furry members of the household) to the procedure. Is it beneficial if a dog or cat witnesses the death of their housemate? We will address this question below.
The choice to put an animal to sleep is often an animal lover’s last act of compassion for their dog. When everything has been done that can be done, and when our dogs are on the verge of suffering beyond our control, euthanasia is a kindness. In fact, the word “euthanasia” comes from the Greek phrase that actually means “good death.” Our dogs are our responsibility, and that includes giving them a peaceful and relatively pain-free life. Their natural demise is usually not going to involve naturally going to sleep and not waking up; unassisted death is rarely so serene. And if an animal is suffering, eventually we owners have to make the decision with their best interests in mind.

Grieving the loss of an animal companion, for most people, begins before the decision. Illness, mental decline, and bodily changes in our dogs signal the end. We see it, and sometimes, so do the other four-legged members of the household. They can frequently sense and perhaps even smell disease. They know something is not right, and they frequently act accordingly; sometimes they nurture the ill and sometimes they ignore them, but their awareness can be uncanny.

How Should Dog Housemates and Euthanasia Be Handled?

The question of whether dogs and cats should be present when a companion is being euthanized is more complicated than previously thought. I interviewed veterinarians and trainers for their experience and perspective. As with any care issue, there are benefits and drawbacks to every approach.

The Negative Aspects of Dog Housemates Being Present During Euthanasia

Most veterinarians I interviewed did not particularly embrace the idea of having dog and cat housemates around while putting their companion to sleep. In the home setting, trying to get a vein with a small needle is hard enough without having other animals walking through the scene and trying to see what is going on. One vet interviewed knows of a colleague who sustained a bad bite when the other dog in the house perceived him as hurting the patient. One trainer commented that it would be quite possible for housemates to be aggressive toward the doctor, given the circumstances. Another vet will allow the companions to be there but asks they be put in another room while the actual euthanasia takes place.

Bringing housemates to the veterinary office for euthanasia is not always as peaceful as one might hope. The vet trip can be unnerving in some animals and is more difficult logistically, and who is to say they will not connect the vet’s office with a bad experience (as many animals already do)? Many times, the companion dogs are stressed by the trip and smells of the office, making the events even more upsetting for the dog being euthanized.

The Positive Aspects of Dog Housemates Being Present During Euthanasia

Some veterinarians perform home euthanasia and do believe that having the housemates present is a good thing. A number of owners believe that witnessing the death eliminates any confusion the housemates might have about where their companion has gone, and propose that it could make the patient more comfortable to have more familiar presences surrounding them in their last moments.


How to Housemates React to a Dying or Deceased Dog Companion?

As they experience the sense of death, or perhaps because the patient has become peaceful, and also because they are often very aware of human emotional changes, animal housemates react in varied ways. Some of them sniff the body, some watch and wait, some cry or whine, and others simply walk away with little reaction. If you are extremely upset, your dog may react differently and be more nervous and upset themselves.

Grief in Dog Housemates

Animals mourn in their own ways. Elephants have been known to carry the bones of their departed herd companions for miles, swaying in grief. In my own household I have observed dogs and cats looking for their companions, wandering from room to room, or questioning me with their eyes. In my opinion, dogs are more demonstrative of this type of emotion than cats.

Helping Kids Say Goodbye to a Dog

Death can be difficult to children to understand and it can be equally difficult as an adult to know what to say or do to help a child say goodbye to a beloved dog. There are things you can do to help your child deal with dog loss and cope effectively. There are also things you should never do or say to a child when losing a dog.

One of my earliest memories is of standing on my grandmother’s front porch as we greeted our family veterinarian, back in the days of house calls. The tone was somber, though I remember a laugh or two through tears. I remember the canine matriarch of the family, Holly, resting on a favorite blanket, as we all patted her to say our goodbyes. That Alaskan Malamute was a big part of my small world.

My daughter is about the same age that I was in this photo. Now, every morning, we descend the stairs to be greeted by our senior dog, Lyger.

My girl screeches with delight and he wags his back end. The two of them only know how to greet each other with the utmost enthusiasm. My gut worries about the day when it’s time to say goodbye.

Clearly past the point where she won’t notice if he’s gone, but far too young to grasp the concept of death, I’ve been researching what we’ll say when the day comes. Here’s what I’ve gleaned:

Things Never to Do or Say to a Child Dealing with Dog Loss

Try to avoid causing your kid a need for therapy later in life:

  • Don’t just try to replace the dog or distract the child with another animal or toy.
  • Don’t tell your child that the dog “ran away” or “went to a farm.” This won’t resolve their sadness and will only cause resentment when they inevitably figure out what really happened.
  • Avoid using phrases like “put to sleep,” unless you want to cause your kid to freak out at the idea of bedtime or anesthesia.
  • When the time comes, it’s okay to cry in front of your child, but save the sobbing for a private moment, so that you don’t pile fear on top of their sadness.

How to Have a Conversation With Your Child About Dog Loss:

  • Explain that your vet did everything they could to help, but that the dog was not going to feel better. Helping an animal die allows them to pass away peacefully without fear or pain.
  • If the dog died suddenly or as a result of an accident, explain the situation calmly and quietly, sharing only necessary information.
  • Let your child ask questions and answer them, but avoid giving more details or information than necessary. This will allow you to offer age appropriate information and comfort without bringing up new concerns.
  • Kids may not want to talk about the loss at first, feeling overwhelmed and sad. Encourage them to air their feelings or concerns when they’re ready. Be prepared for the topic to come back up for weeks or months following the loss. This is part of the grief process.


Ways to Help Kids Cope with Dog Loss:

Read books about pet loss. Sometimes, just hearing that another child suffered a similar loss can put the young mind at ease. Sitting down quietly for a story can encourage your child to open up to you about her feelings and give her an opportunity to talk to you about good memories while she has your undivided attention. Your personal beliefs will play a big role in your approach or the story you choose, but I love the painted illustrations in Dog Heaven.

Create a Pet Memorial or Tribute With Your Child

A memorial service or burial ceremony for your dog may help older kids, but it may be too much when the wound feels too fresh. When your child is ready, get his or her involved in creating a fitting keepsake about your dog. Have her draw a picture or write a story about a happy memory with the dog. Create a picture frame or keepsake box with photos, trinkets, and special items. If your child wants to keep the dog’s collar and a favorite toy close by, it might help her feel like they’re not gone entirely. Scrapbooking or reminiscing about good memories about happier times will help both of you.

Don’t Jump to Replace a Dog For Your Child

Bringing a new dog into the home shortly after a loss is a sure way to build resentment and delayed bonding between the child and new dog. It’s okay to follow the child’s lead about when she might want a new dog. If it seems like it might be comforting, consider a stuffed animal or blanket that serves as a physical comfort.

Saying Goodbye to Our Beloved Emmy Lou

Hoping with the Loss of a Dog

Caring for a deteriorating or critically ill pet, and watching that animal eventually die, can be devastating for the owners. The story that Bonnie Mader, co-founder of Pet Loss Support Hotline, tells may help you cope.

My husband, Jeff, and I recently said goodbye to Emmy Lou, a beautiful, red Australian shepherd that Jeff adopted before his 15-year-old son Evan was born. Emmy was Jeff’s first dog, and I shared the last 10 years of her life with Jeff, Evan and our seven cats.

Watching Emmy Age

As Emmy aged, it was hard to watch her grow frail, particularly after she had spent years living an energetic, playful life. In her last couple of years, she could no longer hear, her eyesight faded and her arthritis became crippling.

Jeff and I missed taking Emmy for walks and playing ball with her and, in many ways, we said goodbye to her in stages during those two years before her death. We talked about adopting another dog and agreed that we would wait until after her reign in our home had ended.

Emmy’s quality of life declined quickly during the first week of March. She became incontinent and when we assisted in helping her stand she appeared to grimace in pain. She stopped barking to let us know she needed to go outside. Jeff and I did all we could to keep her clean and dry. Even with our efforts, her bright personality was gone and she truly seemed miserable. We couldn’t stop time and she wasn’t going to get better.

On a Thursday we decided we’d spend one more weekend with her. I called my friend, veterinarian Cheryl Scott, and made arrangements to have her come to our home Monday morning to put Emmy down and help us say goodbye to her.

For a few hours that Saturday morning, I staffed a booth at a local pet fair to raise awareness about our Pet Loss Support Hotline and our new Program for Veterinary Family Practice. It was hard for me to see people walking around with their happy, healthy dogs. Emmy was constantly on my mind.

The New Puppy, Marshall

During the day, a man walked by holding a darling puppy named Marshall who’d been rescued from the pound and needed a home. I told the man about Emmy and that I wasn’t ready to adopt another pet yet.

However, I think he had some intuition about my vulnerability because he kept coming by my booth with Marshall, who had the cutest Emmy-like ears. With every stop he made I noticed that my defenses were weakening. I’m usually strong-willed, yet my vulnerability about losing Emmy was taking an internal toll that I was unaware of, and I became susceptible to this puppy who needed a home.

I decided that morning that the home he would have would be Jeff’s and mine.

The circumstances weren’t ideal, and I was concerned about surprising Jeff by showing up with a puppy we hadn’t planned to adopt. It was Emmy who seemed to tell us we were doing the right thing by bringing this puppy into our lives at this time.

When Emmy and Marshall met, Emmy wagged her tail. Jeff and I hadn’t seen her wag her tail in weeks. We hoped that perhaps this was a sign that she would “bounce back” and regain some quality of life.

Unfortunately, she didn’t and, on Monday morning, we kept our appointment with Dr. Scott.

Jeff and I sobbed as Cheryl, who also cried, gave Emmy a peaceful death outside in the morning sun on her favorite blanket. Marshall stayed quietly nearby until it was time for Jeff to pick up Emmy’s body and take her to where he had a grave ready for her in our backyard.

Marshall quickly became a much-loved family member. We couldn’t have predicted how meaningful it would be for us that Marshall shared our last weekend with Emmy.

Jeff and I are feeling very old trying to keep up with Marshall’s puppy energy. He’s about five-months-old now and already weighs 35 pounds. I swear that his feet doubled in size the week after he was with us.

We take him for walks every day and have met more of our neighbors in the past few weeks than we have in the past few years.

We’ll Never Forget Emmy

We’ll never forget Emmy. We talk about her often, reminiscing about her life with us. And already I find myself wondering how I’ll adjust to losing Marshall someday. That’s normal. After all, I’m still recovering from losing Emmy.

I’m up for the emotional risk involved in loving Marshall. He’s already brought so much joy into our lives. Jeff and I pride ourselves in being responsible “pet parents” and we feel good knowing that Marshall has a fine life with us.

All my former pets live on in my heart. But it’s Marshall’s turn to live in our home.

Do Dogs Grieve Their Owner’s Passing?

How Do Dogs Grieve Human Death?

Pets may also show signs of loss and mourning in ways that the family may not recognize. Although somewhat different, they do feel the loss of loved ones. Many have a significant degree of attachment to their owner that leads to anxiety and distress when even short-term separation is thrust upon them, let alone bereavement.

Perhaps, the most famous dog-grieving story of all time is that of Greyfriars Bobby, a Skye terrier owned by a Mr. John Gray of Edinburgh, Scotland. Mr. Gray passed away in 1858 and was buried in Greyfriars Churchyard, Bobby was one of the conspicuous mourners. As time went by he never forgot his deceased master. Every day for the next 14 years until his own death in 1872, Bobby spent each night lying on his master’s grave come rain, hail, and snow. In honor of Bobby’s devotion, a statue and water fountain was erected to his memory in 1873.

Which Dogs Suffer from The Loss of Their Human Owner?

Dogs that have the hyper-attachment syndrome of separation anxiety are likely to be hard hit following their owners’ demise. Cardinal signs of this all-too-common condition, affecting up to 15 percent of dogs in the United States, are as follows:

  • A checkered history of earlier neglect or multiple owners
  • Excessive following behavior (“Velcro dogs”)
  • Pre-departure anxiety as owner prepares to leave
  • Barking, whining or howling immediately after the owner’s departure
  • Destructive behavior only in the owner’s absence (and often directed toward doors and windows)
  • House soiling only in the owner’s absence
  • Loss of appetite when the owner is gone
  • Depression/inactivity in the owner’s absence
  • Self-directed licking behavior in the owner’s absence (e.g. lick granuloma) or other repetitive, compulsive behavior
  • Excessive greeting behavior on the owner’s return

    A score of 5 out of 10 of the above possible signs confirms separation anxiety. Some dogs with separation anxiety are so bonded to one person that if that person leaves the dog with other people in a crowded room he will display full-blown signs of separation anxiety. Such a dog will not take well at all to his owner going away on a trip or, indeed, to the permanent separation caused by death. The dog will panic at first and will eventually become depressed. While we can’t ask a dog how he feels, we can (and do) sometimes see all the visible signs of depression in bereft dogs that we see in a recently bereaved or otherwise depressed person.

Clinical Signs of Mourning in Dogs

Here are some signs that dogs are mourning a human loss:

  • Lack of energy and interest
  • Absence of play
  • Listlessness/moping
  • Loss of appetite/anorexia
  • Reduced social interactions
  • Increased daytime sleeping
  • Nighttime restlessness/insomnia
  • Weight loss

    In people, post-bereavement depression following the death of a loved one usually begins to decrease. Sometimes it lasts 2 months, and sometimes it lasts longer, requiring medical or psychological help. The same is true in dogs. Some will eventually get over their loss and form new bonds whereas others enter a seemingly interminable funk. The latter cases present a therapeutic challenge.

Treatment of Dogs for Bereavement-related Depression

  • Where possible, allow time to heal the wounds and merely supply appropriate supportive therapy. Make sure the dog continues to eat and drink, even if this means assisted feeding of favorite foods.
  • Provide company during the daytime and at night. Have the dog sleep in the bedroom with his caretakers/remaining human/animal family.
  • Provide distractions during the day such as toys, delicious food treats, games, excursions and so on, so that the dog is gainfully employed and entertained. Some coaxing may be necessary.
  • Attempt to interest the dog in interacting with people or dogs. Sometimes a visitor dog to the house will stimulate the affected dog’s appetite and activity by a process known as social facilitation.
  • Daily exercise is extremely important as it has a calming, soothing, and mood elevating effect. Aerobic (running) exercise is best if this can be summoned.
  • Medication, as a last resort, in refractory cases. Human anti-depressants work well in this situation. Either older tricyclic anti-depressants like amitriptyline or imipramine, or more modern anti-depressants like fluoxetine (Prozac®), sertraline (Zoloft®) and paroxetine (Paxil®) can be used. Each has its own unique advantages in terms of mood elevation and stabilization; and each has its own slightly different therapeutic profile and list of potential side effects. Remember, these drugs must be prescribed by a veterinarian – doses for humans are very different from what dogs are prescribed.

    Following acute loss of a closely bonded owner, dogs can suffer the pangs of separation anxiety or depression just as people do. The extent of the suffering is directly proportional to the strength of the bond with the owner and is a function of the dog’s reliance and perceived dependence on that person. Owners who feed into a dog’s intense dependence on them are more likely to have dogs that do not cope well when left alone for any reason. The emotional pain dogs feel on their owners death is an extension of, and extreme, protracted version of separation anxiety. While we all enjoy a close bond with our pets, and children for that matter, it is as well to prepare them to stand on their own four/two feet (respectively) so that they are not adrift should anything happen to us.


Can You Explain a Pet’s Death to Another Pet?

Can You Explain a Pet’s Death to Another Pet?

When a dog dies, owners often ask their veterinarian whether they should show the body to their other pets. They ask this in a sincere effort to help “explain” the finality of what has occurred to the surviving pets – to let them know why their buddy won’t be coming home.

Whether this is helpful is the subject of debate … and there is little evidence to support either view. On one hand, it may be argued that pets do not have the cognitive ability to understand the finality of death. Showing them a body would be like letting a 2-year-old see a deceased family member at a funeral – the consequences just don’t register. On the other hand, it can be argued that dogs and cats see death as we do, and that viewing a deceased companion does help to explain why that pet won’t be around in the future.

Does a “Viewing” Help Other Dogs Understand the Death of a Companion?

There are many anecdotal reports of pets grieving the loss of a deceased companion. Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, in her book The Hidden Life of Dogs, describes a dog that howled for the first time when it somehow sensed that its buddy was not returning following a final trip to the vet’s office. Howling is a long-distance communication and, in this case, may have been an attempt by the dog to communicate with a “lost soul.” It is possible that the dog may not have been so vexed if it had accompanied its buddy to the vet’s office and witnessed the final event.

In my own book, Dogs Behaving Badly, I describe a dog whose canine companion was put to sleep in its absence. The dog’s owners went out of their way to conceal the event and took the surviving dog away from home until his companion was not only dead but also buried. On returning home, the remaining dog frantically combed every inch of the house looking for his deceased companion until he finally went to the garden, where he immediately honed in on the dog’s well-camouflaged grave. There he sat for days, staring off into space with a far-away look. It was as if he knew what had happened, and maybe he did.

A veterinarian in England wrote to the journal of the British Veterinary Association, The Veterinary Record, explaining his opinion on this matter. This vet granted a woman client’s request to have her setter observe a companion dog’s body, following euthanasia. The woman believed that her dog was better able to accept the loss of his companion when shown the body. In his letter, the veterinarian stated that his own dogs did not seem affected by the death of a close canine companion.

Horse and donkey mares do better if they are allowed to spend time with a deceased foal than if the body is whisked away from them and is not available for inspection. If unable to inspect a dead foal, frantic equine moms may even dig up the foal’s remains from a shallow grave and seemingly reflect for a while before coming to terms with their loss.

Cognitive scientists are still wrestling with the concept that animals have self-awareness, let alone awareness of another creature’s mental or physical state. The weight of opinion today is that a “viewing” is not likely to help a pet to understand the death of a companion. While the argument continues, I think we should give our pets the benefit of the doubt and allow them to view a deceased companion, if we feel it might help.

For a pet that was closely bonded with another, displaying the deceased’s body may help the survivor accept the finality of the event – to bring “closure,” so to speak. When death separates a closely bonded animal from a loved one, whether a person or another pet, the pet may exhibit classical stages of grieving – becoming less active, eating less, sleeping fitfully, and generally appearing depressed.

Whether allowing pets to see a body for a last goodbye lessens the grief is not known. However, if the human experience is anything to go by, it may help some come to terms with what has transpired.


Things You May Not Know About Dog Death

Dog Death: 12 Things You May Not Know About

Below are some things that many dog lovers may not know about the death of dogs.

1. Dogs die with their eyes open. It takes active muscle control to close the eyes. (The same is true of humans.)

2. Many dogs “hide” when they are sick. This is a defensive mechanism to prevent predators from spotting them in a vulnerable state. They can often be ill for days or weeks before an owner may realize it.

3. Many dog owners think that when a pet goes off to “die” it is a peaceful death but many times (most times) it is not. Many dogs will suffer for hours or even days before they die.

4. When humans die, the sense of sight is the first to go and hearing is the last. The same is thought to be true for dogs.

5. Many dogs will continue to breathe and have muscle movements after their heart has stopped.

6. The oldest living dog documented was an Australian Cattle-dog named Bluey who was owned by Les Hall of Rochester, Victoria, Australia. Bluey was obtained as a puppy in 1910 and worked among cattle and sheep for nearly 20 years. He was put to sleep on November 14, 1939 at the age of 29 years, 5 months.

7. Dogs do not suffer from myocardial infarction (heart attack) as people do. In dogs, the term is typically used to either define a collapsing episode (more accurately termed as syncope or loss of consciousness) or to describe sudden death of an animal in terms that people can understand.

8. Humans are not the only species to bury their dead. Both chimpanzees and elephants have been observed covering the bodies of deceased members of their groups. Scientists have observed elephants gently touching the skulls and tusks of other elephants long after the bodies have decomposed.

9. The pharaohs of ancient Egypt believed that animals and people shared the afterlife so they wanted to be buried with the animals that shared their lives. Beloved pets were frequently mummified and placed into tombs with their owners.

10. Dogs get almost every disease that humans get including diabetes, heart disease, lung disease and cancer.

11. When our beloved dogs die many people choose to bury them nearby, in the backyard or garden. While this may bring us great comfort it may also be against the law. In many areas, government regulations prohibit this practice. So find out what is permitted in your area before you bury your dog.

12. Many dogs will mourn the loss of a companion dog although and some dogs get closure from seeing the body of a deceased companion dog. However, many dogs seem to not mourn or seek any closure from seeing a deceased companion.


Pet Loss: Dealing with the Loss of a Dog

Dealing with the Loss of a Dog

The loss of any close friend can be devastating, and dogs can be among our closest companions. A dog frequently provides unconditional love, emotional security, and loyalty. Routine activities with an animal companion often provide structure, fun, relaxation, and social contact in our daily lives. The death of a cherished dog can mean the loss of an entire lifestyle as well as a devoted companion. Lack of understanding and support from people around us can make this period even more difficult.

Be Prepared

In some instances the death of a dog can be anticipated; the animal may be very old or suffering from an extended illness. Other dog owners may face a sudden loss – the result of an accident or short-term illness. Things that will need to be considered with a gravely ill or seriously injured animal include the dog’s quality of life, emotional and financial cost, and when or if euthanasia should be considered. It is best to have contemplated these difficult matters beforehand.

Accept and Express Your Feelings

It is important to understand that grief is a personal experience and there are no right or wrong ways to feel it. The most important part of healing is to acknowledge what you are feeling and somehow release it. Try writing your thoughts down in a journal. A good long cry can help, too. Don’t be afraid to reach out and talk to your friends or a counselor.

You’re Not Alone: Pet Loss Support

Seek out support. Well-meaning friends who don’t understand the bond between you and your pet may say, “He was only a dog.” Others may encourage you to “get another one,” as if your lifelong companion could be easily replaced. This can make expression of your pain even harder. It is important to realize that you are not alone. A support group can act as a wonderful resource for consolation and affirmation.

Do What You Can to Ease the Pain of The Loss of a Dog

Share your thoughts and feelings with others. Talk. Write. Many people find comfort in rituals, like paying their final respects with a brief service or setting up a small memorial with photos and objects that had significance in the dog’s life, such as a collar, bowl, or toy. It’s important to set aside time to think about the good times and remember to pay extra attention to surviving pets. They may need consolation during this difficult period too.

Special Friendships, Special Concerns

The death of a long-time companion can be particularly painful for those who shared a unique relationship with their dog. This includes anyone whose dog was the sole or primary companion, or who was either physically or emotionally dependent upon their dog. Children, the elderly, and handicapped dog owners often have unique bonds with companion animals and may need special attention and support when a dog dies.

Recognizing the tasks of grief can give you landmarks on the path to resolution, and help you recognize that your feelings are normal. The term “task” is used rather than “stage” to avoid giving the impression that grief is something marked by well-defined milestones. The mourner should not feel that he or she must follow some pre-set list, each lasting a determined period of time.

Remember that the grieving process for each individual is as unique as each lost relationship. There is no set pattern or time period for recovery, but there are some general patterns.

Understanding Loss of a Dog: Tasks of Grief

  • Denial. Most people will experience a period of denial, refusing to believe the dog is dying or has died. Denial is usually strongest when there is little time for acceptance, such as with an accident or short-term illness.
  • Bargaining. For dogs facing imminent death, many people will try to make a deal with God, themselves, or even the dog, in a desperate attempt to deter fate.
  • Anger. In frustration, anger may be directed at anyone involved with the dog, including friends, family, veterinarians, and even the dog owner himself.
  • Guilt. Guilt is probably the most common emotion resulting from the death of a companion animal. As the dog’s primary caretaker, all decisions regarding care are the owner’s responsibility. When a dog dies, the owner often feels guilty about actions taken or not taken, even about things that happened before the dog became ill. The most attentive caretaker may feel he or she should have somehow done more. But we all do our best with the information, knowledge, and resources available to us. It is important to try not to second-guess the decisions you made along the way, and to remember that you tried to act in your dog’s best interest.
  • Depression. Depression can indicate the start of acceptance. It is normal to withdraw and contemplate the meaning of the relationship in solitude. Deep and lasting despondency, however, requires professional help.
  • Acceptance. Now is the time to remember the good times. The daily reminders become a little less painful. You find you can now start to think about the future.

When Is It Time to Consider Another Dog?

A new dog is just that – a new dog. He or she can never replace the dog you lost. If you decide to get another dog, you will be entering into an entirely new and different relationship. Be sure that you are psychologically, physically, and financially ready and willing to commit the time and energy needed to care for a new companion, without resentment or unrealistic expectations.

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