Saying goodbye: preparing for the loss of a pet
October 4, 2021
How do you prepare for the hardest day when you will have to say goodbye to your much-loved pet? We’ve teamed up with Carrie Kearns, a Companion Animal Bereavement Counsellor to share some advice on how to prepare for and cope with the loss of a pet.
A special bond
From the moment you first meet your pet, a powerful bond is starting to form. Your four-legged wagging tailed companion will be your best friend, your confidante, your social ice breaker, routine maker, and your reason for getting up in the mornings.
Dogs bring so much love and joy and laughter into our homes our lives and our hearts which is why saying goodbye is so hard.
Deep down we all know that there will come a time when we have to say goodbye. The lifespan of a dog is not as long as humans and so we cram so much into the time we have with them. Dogs live in the moment; every day is the best day ever and they put so much love and energy into their precious time with us.
Preparing for when the time comes to say goodbye
When you go to the vets for a routine health check or for their vaccinations or neutering there is always that fear that there may be a day when something is discovered. It may be that you find that your dog is slowing down a bit, or they seem unwell, and you need to find out what is going on.
Sometimes the issue is easily resolved and, with some medication, they get better. However, there may be that time when something is discovered that you were not prepared for, that can’t be treated, and a decision has to be made.
Hearing that your dog is ill or is injured and there are limited options available to you is devastating. There will be so many thoughts going through your head and the vet’s words may make no sense.
For some, the time to say goodbye to a much-loved pet comes much sooner than anticipated. That said, there is never a right time.
So, what happens? What are the options and how can this whole experience of the loss of a pet be made a little easier to navigate and bear?
Hearing the diagnosis
Once the thumping in the ears, the heart beating way too fast and the cold sweat and goosebumps have receded, then comes the realisation of what is happening. The news sinks in and now there are some serious conversations to be had.
You may have had a poor or grave diagnosis and been offered a timescale; the vet may have explained that there are options to keep your dog comfortable but there is no cure.
It may be at this point where you start to grieve for your pet while they are still here. This is called Anticipatory Grief. It is natural and can be helpful or a hindrance. It can help you to start to put plans in place with a clear head, and be a hindrance because you will be thinking about the time you don’t have, rather than focusing on the time you do.
Euthanasia is a word that may invoke fear, anxiety and a sense of dread. It is a word that is said in hushed tones, and is often avoided, preferring euphemisms to soften the blow.
But euthanasia is not a bad word, it is not a dirty word. It translates as ‘good death’ and that is what our pets deserve.
Remember that euthanasia is a selfless decision. You are doing it for them to end their suffering or potential for suffering. Your pet won’t know what the appointment is for and so there is no fear of what is to come.
Questions to ask the vet
Your veterinary team will be there to help you, to support you and answer any questions or concerns you have. After receiving the diagnosis you might want to take some time to prepare some questions. Then call the practice to arrange a call or a visit to speak to the vet directly before making any final decisions.
Here are some questions that you may find helpful:
You may find it helpful to add your own questions and then print them off to take to the vet.
Coping with the loss of a pet
The period after saying goodbye to a much-loved pet can be very unsettling and a difficult time to navigate. Emotions will be running high. Be kind to yourself and remember that everyone in your family will react differently to the loss of a pet. Even when you are all grieving for the same companion, the bond will have been different for each person.
Make sure that you talk about how you are feeling. Express how you feel and where you are at emotionally and mentally. There is no shame in crying or showing emotions. Sometimes other people are waiting for a moment to drop their guard and let out their feelings too.
Pet bereavement support
If you are struggling to navigate your emotions and feelings about the loss of your pet and finding it hard to process, then there is support out there for you. You may have lots of support in the home, or you may have it from friends and family outside, or you may be doing this alone.
Even if you have all the support in the world around you, sometimes you need to speak to a pet bereavement counsellor who is trained to help This could be on a one-to-one basis with a counsellor or you could attend a pet bereavement support group – either in person on online.
Search online to find your nearest pet bereavement counsellor or contact the Pet Bereavement Support Service, which is run by the Blue Cross.
Carrie Kearns ACC Dip PBC, VCA, Cert Pet Bereavement BC, Adv Dip BCT, MACCPH, Member CMA is a Companion Animal Bereavement Counsellor and former Veterinary Care Assistant. She has provided comfort to many owners who have lost a companion. Having qualified as a Companion Animal Bereavement Counsellor 20 years ago, she now runs her own service supporting clients pre and post-loss. Carrie has a podcast called All Creatures Great and Gone and has written and published three books. Visit Carrie’s website to book an appointment and listen to her podcast series.