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Dealing with the Loss of a Pet
People have a special bond with animals because animals provide
unconditional love throughout their lifetime. Therefore it can be
very hard to cope after the loss of a pet. It is very common for
people to experience grief as a response, and everyone grieves in
"Grief is as individual as those who experience it," explains
Lucy Wendt, registered veterinary technician in the small animal
clinic at the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical
Sciences at Texas A&M University (CVM). "Grief describes the
reaction to a loss, including the emotional and physical process of
fully understanding what has happened and coming to terms with
There are five stages to grief. Those stages include:
denial/shock, anger, bargaining/guilt, depression, and
acceptance/resolution. The order, length, and degree of the stages
vary with each individual. Some stages may not even occur at
One should accept the stages of grief and let them pass
naturally in order to let the initial mourning pass. However,
coping with the loss of any significant companion is a lifelong
"The affected individual needs to accept the reality of the
loss, experience the pain of the loss, adjust to the environment
without the pet, and withdraw emotional energy from the deceased
pet to reinvest that energy in other relationships and activities,"
says Wendt. "You should remember that it is absolutely normal to
grieve over the loss of a pet. You need to accept and know that you
did everything you could to help your pet."
Pet psychologists are available to individuals who are not able
to talk to anyone else about their loss. There are also support
groups and hotlines available. For more information on supportive
methods visit www.humananimalbondtrust.org,
www.aplb.org, www.petloss.com, and www.pet-loss.net.
When one is ready to invest in another companion animal Wendt
recommends that the new pet should not be adopted with the
intention to replace the deceased pet.
"Your deceased pet is irreplaceable," declares Wendt. "Never
adopt with the purpose to replace an animal as you will be
disappointed. I recommend adopting a different breed and a
different sex so that you don't ever compare the two. It is not
fair to your new pet nor is it fair to your deceased pet to have
preconceived notions and expect them to be the same so that the
void can be filled."
One has to go with their own instincts when deciding whether or
not adopting a new pet is too soon. Every person is different as
some deal with grief more readily than others.
People have a hard time dealing with the loss of the pet, but
some people have an even harder time deciding when it is the right
time to euthanize a pet in pain.
"I always let the client know that their pets will tell them,"
said Wendt. "They will tell you with their eyes. Like humans, their
eyes are the windows to their soul."
It is up to individual to decide if they should be in the room
with their pet during the euthanasia.
"I do not recommend small children being in the room, but it is
up to the owner to decide if they should be in the room or not,"
explains Wendt. "Just remember this is a time that you need to be
selfless for your pet. You may want to be there until the end.
Sometimes it is more important for the owner to be strong for the
animal like the animal was strong for them."
Honesty is always the best policy when trying to explain to a
child what has happened to the deceased animal.
"It is always best to tell the child the truth," said Wendt.
"Children are more resilient than we think and they deserve the
right to know the truth. Let them know that their pet died and that
we are all going to miss him/her, but we will get through it
Animals grieve too. When dealing with other pets that bonded
with the deceased pet, it is best to sit with them and talk to
them. This process helps the animals as well as humans.
The biggest thing to remember is that grieving is a natural
process and in order to alleviate some of the pain, one has to
allow for that grieving process to naturally occur.
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