Nothing will dull the pain of losing a pet, but these tips on how to prepare for the loss of a pet will help you cope when you lose your dog, cat, or other beloved animal companion.
I Will See You in Heaven by Jack Wintz is the book I recommend if you’re preparing for the loss of a pet.
On my article about Putting a Dog to Sleep, a reader asked for help preparing for the loss of her dog. She says, “Now, we are just trying our best to spend time with our dog and making her happy. I could tell that she is in pain as she sometimes pants a lot and also having nightmares, such as barking in her sleep. The thought of it makes me tear or sometimes cry. So please tell me what I should do to be mentally prepared for it as I know one day I need to put her down.”
This is a wonderful question, because often one of the things that holds people back from putting their pets to sleep is that they aren’t prepared for the loss. Sometimes, people keep their dogs or cats alive for a long time after the pets are ready to pass. It’s a terrible thing – losing a pet – but we need to make sure we don’t cause them more suffering. And, one of the best ways to cope is to learn how to prepare of the loss of a pet.
Preparing for the Loss of a Pet
1. Expect a wide range of emotions – including relief. Some pet owners feel guilty for feeling relieved that their pets have passed. But, relief is a normal feeling after a death, especially if the pet was suffering or creating pain for the family. “There’s a lot you can do to prepare for an inevitable death, but there are a lot of obstacles to people doing it,” says Rev. Janet Frystak in Coping With Impending Death. “A lot of times, the pain is so overwhelming that people shut down and engage in coping mechanisms such as displacing their anger onto the medical community and/or getting lost in the medical minutiae.” When death is expected, you’ll feel anger, shock, denial, numbness, intense sadness, guilt, anticipatory grief.
2. Think about your beliefs about your pet’s spirit and soul. People who believe animals are purely physical and don’t go to “Heaven” after death may feel a different type of grief, loss, and abandonment than people who believe they will be reunited with their pets in some way after they died. I believe that all God’s creatures have spirits and souls, and a person or animal’s energy doesn’t leave – even after the physical body is gone. This comforts me. I don’t care that I can’t prove it, and I have no interest in trying to prove it! I take comfort wherever I can get it – whatever makes this life easier, I will hold on to (paraphrasing Mandy Patinkin). This important tip on how to prepare for the loss of a pet requires you to think about your spiritual beliefs.
3. Let family members grieve in their own way. An important tip on how to prepare for the loss of a pet is to remember that how you grieve may be very different than how your partner or children grieve. Some people feel comfortable with death, and believe our spirits and souls will reunite after we’re gone (the Rainbow Bridge crowd!). Others shut down and can’t open their hearts to love another pet again. No matter how you grieve pet loss, you need to allow your loved ones to grieve in their own ways.
4. Find tips on how to prepare children for the loss of a pet. I don’t have room in this article to include tips on how to prepare for the loss of a pet when you have kids – but I did find a wonderful tip on ivillage.com: “Help your child comfort his dying pet. Encourage your child to feed the pet a favorite meal, sing him a song, draw a picture for him, or spend time alone with her pet. This will help create a positive last memory of doing something special for the pet, as well as prepare your child for the likelihood of the pet’s death.” – from How to Explain a Dying Pet to Your Kid.
5. Think about where you want your pet to die – and how much it’ll cost. A practical tip on how to prepare for the loss of a pet is to think about money. I’ve never put a dog or cat down at home – it’s always been in the veterinarian’s office. I haven’t looked into the cost of having a vet go to a private home, but I’d rather do that than take my dogs or cat to the vet’s to die. Do you want to say good-bye at home, with the vet’s help? If so, now’s the time to find out how much it costs, how your animal’s body will leave the house, and other practical considerations.
6. Plan a pet memorial service or a celebration of life. I learned the importance of even short animal memorial services when I was with my Little Sister (we’re matched through the Big Sisters/Big Brothers program). We were on a guided natured walk by a biologist with a group of Bigs and Littles, and we came across a dead shrew. It was totally intact, so we don’t know how it died. One of the Littles asked if we could bury it and have a memorial service. The biologist agreed, and it was the most beautiful impromptu celebration of life I’ve ever attended! One of the Littles said a prayer, and we bowed our heads in silence for that little shrew’s soul. An important tip on how to prepare for the loss of a pet is to let impromptu prayers and family times unfold naturally. You may not need to prepare an “actual” pet memorial service – but be open to impromptu gatherings and thoughts as you’re grieving your pet’s death.
Read 7 Beautiful Pet Memorials and Gifts for ideas on preparing for pet loss.
7. Think about a pet memorial. Part of preparing for the loss of a pet is thinking about how you want to memorialize your cat or dog. Do you want to bury your pet in a special area or a pet cemetery? (Note that many cities and towns have laws about animal burials on private and public properties). Do you want to cremate your pet, and what urn or pet memorial do you want to hold the ashes? Whether or not you cremate, you may want a pet memorial stone in your yard or home. Who will you invite to the pet memorial service? These are important questions about how to prepare for the loss of a pet – they aren’t easy to answer, but they will help with the grieving process.
Letting Go of an Animal You Love: 75 Ways to Survive Pet Loss is my ebook about grieving and healing after pet loss. I interviewed veterinarians, grief counsellors, and pet owners; their stories and wisdom can help you cope with the loss of your pet.
Help Preparing for the Loss of a Pet
Dog Paw Print Devotion Garden Stone (pictured)
Honoring the Journey: A Guided Path Through Pet Loss by Dr. KaLee R. Pasek D.V.M.
Coping with Sorrow on the Loss of Your Pet by Moira Anderson Allen.
The best way to prepare for the death of your dog, cat, or other pet is to start reading books about grief and loss. Learn what the “stages of grief” are (there are no actual stages — grief comes and goes in waves!). If you know what to expect, you’re better prepared to cope with this sad new beginning in your life.
If you have any thoughts on preparing for pet loss, please comment below. I can’t offer advice – but I can listen! Writing may help you gain clarity and insight.