THE LOSS OF A PET:
The loss of a pet is a truly tragic, heartbreaking, and unparalleled experience. We look to our pets for support, comfort, camaraderie, affection, and love that knows no bounds. So what do you do when it is time to let your best furry friend go? The number one thing you must understand is that you are not alone in your grief. Even if those around you do not understand why you are so upset because its “just an animal,” don’t forget that there are people like you all over the world who love their pets with all their hearts and grieve their loss just like the loss of any other loved one. First, with an ageing or critically ill dog, you must decide when it is time to euthanize. After the passing of your beloved pet, you must understand how to handle your grief, how to help your family through this difficult time, and what you can do to make it all a little easier.
Euthanasia is the act of ending your dog’s life with a quick and painless injection given by your vet. This is, of course, not an easy decision. It is not to be taken lightly and it is best you discuss your choice at length with your vet before making a final decision. The best way to gauge if it is time to say goodbye to your dog is if his quality of life has declined to the point where the bad days outnumber the good. At this point, keeping your dog alive is only forcing him to live in pain. If your dog still enjoys the company of his companions, if he still gets excited about his favorite toys and tasty snacks, if he can move about without pain, and still readily participates in play, euthanasia is probably not the right choice. However, if your dog has to endure difficult and stressful treatments on a regular basis, has trouble moving about, is generally uninterested in life, is unaware of his surroundings, does not want to be petted or played with, or if he soils himself regularly, it might be time to make the choice of euthanasia. It is important that you be honest and unselfish with yourself and your family when making this choice. Deciding to let your suffering pet linger may feel like the easier option because you do not yet have to say goodbye, but really it is just a means continuing the agony of your pet and your family.
Whether you’ve chosen to euthanize your dog or you’ve lost your dog to a sudden accident or illness, you must be prepared to go through several of the completely normal stages of grief. A common, early stage of grief is denial. You might not want to admit your dog is gone. You might wake up in the morning expecting Rover to be wagging his tail at the foot of your bed. Allowing yourself to grieve is the best way to get through this stage. Don’t try to just shove your feelings away; this will hurt far more than it will help in the long run. You might also experience anger. This might be directed at your pet for getting sick, at the vet for not being able to make him better, at your loved ones for not doing more to help. Your anger can also be directed towards yourself in the form of guilt. You might be upset with yourself for not having done more, not spending as much time with your dog as you think you could have, or not taking him for that long daily walk he would have liked so much. The best thing you can do is let go of these feelings. Whenever you feel angry, try to think of something your pet did that made you smile or something you two liked to do together, and how it made you feel. Remember that although your dog is gone, no one can ever take those happy memories away from you. Instead of holding on to anger, hold on to those good feelings. Eventually, you will find yourself in the acceptance phase of your grief. You will understand that your pup is gone and not coming back; that he is safe and no longer in pain; and that this is for the best. This phase might feel exceptionally far-off if you have just lost your dear friend, but just like any other heartbreak or sadness, it will fade, and the sun will shine again.
You must understand that you are not over-sensitive, silly, or crazy for being miserable because your dog is gone. These feelings are completely normal. A good way to work through your feelings is to talk to a friend or close family member. However, many of us do not have friends or family who understand the unassailable bond of a dog and owner. If this is the case, seek the guidance of your vet, local humane society, or the club that represents the breed of your late pooch. There you will find supportive, kind individuals who appreciate how you feel, many of whom have been through the same experience. You can also visit our forums which have a specific category for stories and conversations In Memory of beloved pets. You can also try moving things around in your home. Especially if Rover had a certain corner where he liked to curl up, and it breaks your heart every time you look in that direction and he’s not there—redecorate your living room and stick an end table or a lamp in that corner. You’ll be surprised how simple changes can help with the grieving process. Absolutely do not try to replace the pet who has passed. It is more than ok to get another dog eventually, in fact it is recommended, but this new dog is NOT a replacement. Avoid getting another dog of the same breed or naming him the same thing. This will be confusing to children and can breed resentment towards the new dog. Dogs are individuals, just like people, and it is not fair to expect a new dog to take the place of a beloved, deceased friend. If your children are having an exceptionally difficult time handling the death of your dog, take this as a sign that you have raised compassionate individuals with huge hearts. After all, those with the biggest hearts have the greatest capacity for heartbreak. There is no shame in seeking clergy, support groups, or grief counselors to help you and your family through this difficult time. Just remember that, as Edna St. Vincent Millay said, “sadness flies away on the wings of time.”
It is an intensely personal decision to euthanize a beloved pet due to injury or disease. People often wonder if they will know when it is “time”. Many ask their veterinarian “what would you do if it were your pet?”. As a veterinarian, I could never make this decision for any pet owner (just stated the medical issues and facts), but offered this thought: it is probably “time” when the bad days begin to outnumber the good ones. Pet owners usually have a idea of what is ‘good’ and ‘bad’ in the life of their pet.
What happens when an animal is euthanized:
Sometimes we administer a sedative/ tranquilizer prior to the euthanasia drug, which is given in the vein. The tranquilizer is either given as a tablet by mouth or a painless injection under the skin, like a vaccination. The animal is then restful and the owner may elect to spend some quiet time saying goodbye. Each case is different — if the animal already has an IV catheter or medical conditions dictate otherwise, I do not sedate. At this point, the owner may say goodbye to their pet and leave the veterinarian to finish the task. Other owners choose to spend some quiet time now and stay for the whole event. There is no right or wrong way to handle this. As the pet’s caretaker, this is entirely your choice and what you feel most comfortable with. If people are unsure as to what is ‘right’ for their situation, I tell them to consider the pet — if the person is very emotionally upset, some pets become stressed upon seeing their human distraught. The euthanasia drug itself is an overdose of a barbiturate that stops the heart and breathing muscles. This is administered through an IV catheter or with a needle and syringe. Things to be aware of as death occurs:
- the eyes don’t close.
- there may be a last gasping breath, called an agonal breath, that is more of a muscle spasm. The animal isn’t aware of this.
- there may be vocalization.
- there may be muscle twitching.
- the heart may continue beating for a short period after breathing has stopped.
- the urinary bladder and possibly bowel contents will be released.
- In most circumstances, you will notice nothing except a peaceful release of tension, as in ‘going to sleep’. Due to each animal’s individual health situation, things will be different animal to animal.
Everyone is different and some clients prefer to bring their pets home for burial and others opt to have their animal cremated. If you wish to bring your pet home with you they will be in a coffin like box (heavy duty cardboard) and should you wish your pet to have its favourite toy or blanket please leave with the Veterinarian or nurse. We use Craigycor pet Crematorium and also Heaven 2 Earth for our creamtions. They are both a family run independant concern so you can be assured of a personal approach at all times. They deal with the cremation of pets with the utmost care and consideration and offer genuine individual cremations. All pets are handled with dignity and respect at all times, for individual cremations, your pet will be cremated on its own. For individual creamations they offer a range of caskets and scatter boxes. They also offer communal creamations. Your pet will be cremated with others and no ashes are returned to you. For further information on this please contact our office on