When Your Dog Dies: Getting Help From Pet Owners

When your dog dies it can be a traumatic experience, and for some, it is the equivalent of losing a human member of the family. If your pet was an integral part of your life, your grief is likely to be intense, and at times overwhelming.

The best thing you can do for your own well-being is to surround yourself with people who understand the bond that exists between a human and their beloved pet. People who don’t share your love of pets or have never owned one, will not understand the deep sense of loss you experience. If you have to make the painful decision to euthanize your dog, it is very important that you be there for your pet and give it the ultimate gift of a peaceful and pain-free end.

Some people are lucky to have another dog to help them through the sadness of losing a loving companion animal. Pets also feel the loss of their friend, and together you may find comfort in sharing your sadness, even though it is with an animal rather than a human. Animals will never be unfeeling or judge you, telling you to “Get over it,” or “It’s time to get on with your life and forget your dog.”

It helps to understand your feelings of loss when your dog dies. The bond that we form with our dogs can be deep and fulfilling, and the loss of a beloved animal can have an impact on us that is as painful as the loss of a family member or friend. This bond is what makes the connections with our pets rich and rewarding; and also what makes the grieving process so difficult. The greater your love for your pet, the deeper the sense of loss will be when they are gone.

The length of time a person grieves for the loss of their pet is often very different among people. Grief is an internal and personal response to the loss of a pet and there are identifiable stages of grief that most people experience. By understanding the grieving process, you can learn to accept and manage your grief, and help other family members or friends who share your feelings of loss.

There are many stages of grief, but not everyone experiences all of them, nor in the same order. These stages include denial, anger, guilt, depression, and acceptance, followed by the assurance of a life yet to be lived. Grief often comes in waves and can be brought on by something as simple as remembering how you and your pet used to spend loving times together. Seeing other people enjoying their pets can bring back good memories of you and your pet together and can seem overwhelming at times.

Many people immediately get rid of all the things their pet used every day – food and water bowls, collar and leashes, dog food, the dog’s bed, and many other items. This makes it easier to accept your loss because you are not being constantly reminded that your pet is no longer with you. If your pet’s death was sudden, or the time was short between accepting the finality of compassionate euthanasia, the more difficult it can be to accept the loss and the stronger the denial.

Anger and guilt often follow denial. Your anger may be directed toward people you love and respect, which often
includes family and friends. People coping with the death of a pet will often say things that they don’t really mean, and unintentionally hurt people they don’t mean to offend.

Some pet owners may feel guilty or blame themselves for not recognizing the seriousness of their dog’s illness earlier and doing something about it sooner. Others may feel guilty because they could not afford the cost of further treatment to help their dog.

Depression is a common experience after the death of a beloved dog. You will probably find yourself frequently crying, and day-to-day tasks can seem impossible to accomplish. You may also feel isolated and alone, avoiding the company of your friends and family. Some people find it hard to get out of bed in the morning, especially if the morning routine included caring for the dog’s needs.

There may be times when you wonder if you can go on living without your pet. The answer is a resounding YES. Eventually you will be able to handle your sadness and begin to accept the death of your pet. When you can remember your dog and the happy times you spent together without feeling intense grief and emotional pain, you are on the road to recovery. Acceptance does not mean you will no longer feel the sense of loss, only that you have come to accept the fact that your dog has died and will always live in your heart and memories.

Although everyone experiences some stages of grief, grieving is always a personal process one goes through and some people will take longer than others to come to terms with denial, anger, guilt, and depression. If you understand that these are normal reactions almost every dog owner goes through when their beloved pet dies, you will be better equipped to cope with your feelings.

Sometimes family and friends may not realize how important your pet was to you or the intensity of your grief, and may make remarks at times that seem cruel and uncaring. Understand that these comments are not meant to hurt you.

The death of a beloved dog can be extremely upsetting, especially if you had to euthanize your pet. The pain that comes from having to choose euthanasia, initially makes people vow that they will never have another pet dog because they could not stand to go through this kind of pain again. The thought of loving and eventually losing another dog may seem unbearable. Know that if you think these feelings will never go away, be assured that they too will pass with time. The decision of when, or even if ever, to bring a new dog into your life, is a personal one. Although you can never replace the dog you loved and lost, it is possible to find another pet to share your life with.

The length of time from birth to old age is much shorter for dogs than it is for people, and the death of a pet is a normal part of the life cycle. No matter what you do or to what extent you go through to keep your dog alive, death cannot be avoided. Understanding and compassion from friends and family can help you manage the grief of losing a best friend when your dog dies.

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