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Pet Talk: Tips for dealing with the loss of a pet

August 4, 2010

From College of Veterinary Medicine, Texas A&M University

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 different ways.

“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 it.”

Grief includes the following five stages: 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 all.

One should accept the stages of grief and let them pass naturally to let the initial mourning pass. However, coping with the loss of any significant companion is a lifelong battle.

“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. Support groups and hotlines are also available. For more information about supportive methods, visit humananimalbondtrust.org, aplb.org, petloss.com and pet-loss.net.

When one is ready to invest in another companion animal, Wendt recommends 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 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 the 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 together.”

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 to alleviate some of the pain, one has to allow for that grieving process to naturally occur.

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the Web at http://tamunews.tamu.edu. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.

From the Aug. 4-10, 2010 issue

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