Pet Loss: Dealing with the Loss of a Cat

Dealing with the Loss of a Cat

The loss of any close friend can be devastating, and a cat can be among our closest companions. A cat 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 cat 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 cat can be anticipated; the animal may be very old or suffering from an extended illness. Other cat 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 cat’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 cat may say, “He was only a cat.” 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 Cat

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 cat’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 cat. This includes anyone whose cat was the sole or primary companion, or who was either physically or emotionally dependent upon their cat. Children, the elderly, and handicapped cat owners often have unique bonds with companion animals and may need special attention and support when a cat 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.

  • Denial. Most people will experience a period of denial, refusing to believe the cat 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 cats facing imminent death, many people will try to make a deal with God, themselves, or even the cat, in a desperate attempt to deter fate.
  • Anger. In frustration, anger may be directed at anyone involved with the cat, including friends, family, veterinarians, and even the cat owner himself.
  • Guilt. Guilt is probably the most common emotion resulting from the death of a companion animal. As the cat’s primary caretaker, all decisions regarding care are the owner’s responsibility. When a cat dies, the owner often feels guilty about actions taken or not taken, even about things that happened before the cat 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 cat’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 Cat?

A new cat is just that – a new cat. He or she can never replace the cat you lost. If you decide to get another cat, 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.

Read other articles Related to Loss of a Cat

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.

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.

Read Other Articles Related to Loss of a Dog

Pet Grief Support: Talking with a Pet Loss Counselor

Pet Grief Support: Understanding The Role of a Pet Loss Counselor

Understanding and dealing with the loss of a special pet can be very difficult. There are people trained specifically in pet grief support.

Jane Nathanson, a consultant to Angell Memorial Animal Hospital for grief counseling for the loss of a pet, speaks about her work on pet grief support.

Resources for Pet Grief Support

Before we share our interview – here are some resources that may be helpful to you:

Pet Grief Support Interview

PetPlace: What does your role with pet owners involve?

Nathanson: I’m a consultant to the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Angell’s mother organization) assisting with client issues about approaching loss and coping with the loss of a pet. I provide direct telephone consulting to individuals who are seeking information, guidance, and support. I also conduct group programs as well as professional in-service training for issues like how to communicate effectively with clients who are going through stressful situations.

PetPlace: What problems do grieving pet owners struggle with?

Nathanson: Of course, there’s the unique aspect in veterinary medicine of having to decide on euthanasia. This is extremely troubling for many people – whether this is their moral right to intervene in this way. I try to help them find their own sense of what is right for them and their animal.

After an animal has died, an individual’s grief is often fraught with what you might call a desire to rewrite the script. They think: I shouldn’t have put him down, or I put him down too soon, or I waited too long – anything to take back the time, to reverse the decision. That’s a very natural guilty response that can occur in people who are grieving. It’s usually your most conscientious animal caregivers who go through the most intense periods of feeling guilty.

We feel more responsible with regard to the medical treatment of our animals. We’re much more involved with the actual dying and death than we are with human loss. With human loss, it’s almost as if the medical establishment and the funeral system all enter the action. But with our animals, we’re it. We are so much in that decision-making role. We have far more control over our animals. Often that’s quite awesome for people. We go along quite well with it, up until the animal dies or is dying. Then it strikes you: My goodness, who am I to make this decision?

PetPlace: Friends often encourage those who’ve recently lost a pet to get another. Your thoughts?

Nathanson: If we’re talking about people who consider their animals like members of their family, then each animal represents a unique, irreplaceable relationship. But I encourage people when they’re grieving to look at what brought them to opening their hearts and homes to this animal. What is it about the “dogness” of the dog or the “catness” of the cat? It’s not a consolation to say, “Well, you can have others.” But it is a reality that those of us who like to be in the company of animals can enjoy the essence of an animal again by eventually building another relationship.

Read other articles Related to Pet Grief Support: Talking with a Pet Loss Counselor

Pet Loss Support: Helping You Cope After Your Dog’s Death

Losing a Dog is Hard: Pet Loss Support for Dog Death

The loss of a close friend can be devastating, and pets can be among our dearest companions. A pet frequently provides unconditional love, emotional security, and loyalty. It can be difficult to understand dog death and even harder to grieve and eventually move on.

Routine activities with an animal companion often provide structure, fun, relaxation, and social contact in our daily lives. The death of a cherished pet 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.

Depending on the nature of the relationship with the dog you’ve lost and on the effectiveness of the coping skills you’ve developed in your life, the time it takes to feel better after losing a dog can vary widely. What I tell people is that if after one year you feel no different from your worst emotional pain right after the loss of your dog, then you’re a good candidate for individual counseling.

Seek medical help if a few days after your loss you still feel so depressed or sad that you cannot handle even the basic tasks of your life. If you ever feel so hopeless as not to want to continue living without your dog, tell your doctor about these feelings as soon as possible.

Dog Death: Handling the Loss of a Dog

Here are some tips to help you handle dog death.

  • Be prepared. In some instances the death of a pet can be anticipated; the animal may be old or suffering from an extended illness. Other pet owners will be faced with 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 pet’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 express it. The most important part of healing is to acknowledge what you are feeling and somehow release it. Try writing your thoughts in a journal or talking with family and friends. A good long cry can help, too.
  • Perform rituals. Many people find comfort in rituals, like paying their final respects with a service or setting up a small memorial with photos and objects that had significance in their pet’s life, such as a collar, bowl, or toy. It is 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.
  • Seek support. You may be admonished by well-meaning friends saying, “He was only a dog.” Others may encourage you to “get another one,” as if your longtime companion could easily be replaced. This can make expression of your pain even harder. It is important to realize that you are not alone. Speaking with a counselor, joining a support group or participating in an Internet chat room can act as a wonderful resource for consolation and affirmation.

Feeling connected to other people or animals makes it easier to cope with dog death. The more emotionally isolated you are, the harder it can be to heal.

Pet loss support groups are available throughout the country. If you have specific questions about euthanasia or you would like more information about pet loss support groups, contact your veterinarian or check your local telephone directory or pet store.

One such group – Pet Loss Support Hotline at the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine – was co-founded by Bonnie Mader. See the list of options below.

Deciding that you want to feel better is healthy. Some people think that feeling better will take them further away from the relationship they had with their pet. What might be helpful in cases like this is to learn to realize that recovery from grief doesn’t mean forgetting about your beloved dog.

Pet Loss Hotlines

Talking to someone can help you to deal with dog death. The AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association) provides this list of grief support resources:

Understanding Dog Death: The Stages of Grief

Recognizing the stages 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.