Publications

Dealing with Pet Loss

Contact:
Trish Consunji: 916-649-0599 (California Veterinary Medical Association)

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

WE LOVE OUR PETS AND GRIEVE WHEN THEY DIE

California Veterinary Medical Association Offers Grief Guidance to Help Owners Cope

Sacramento, CA – When Alex, an African Grey Parrot famous for his advanced recognition and language skills died last month, his owner, the scientist Irene Pepperberg, needed time to grieve over the loss of her pal before she could talk about it. Newspapers and web sites printed his obituary and many people sent condolences. What Pepperberg experienced is a common response to a pet’s death. The California Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) advises that the grief process is a continuum, with each owner and family member handling pet loss in his or her own way.

“We love our pets and will feel grief when they die. People need to be given the space and freedom to grieve for their pets,” said Dr. Jeff Smith, past-president of the CVMA. “A person can be traumatized over the loss of animal.”

Veterinarians are available to counsel bereaved pet owners through their loss, particularly, when a family must make a decision to euthanize an older, ill or severely injured animal. Through that experience, many individuals are overcome with emotion and cast blame on themselves for cutting a pet’s life short. They may go through many stages of grief that could include shock, denial, anger, depression and, finally, acceptance and resolution. But the process is never easy, and it’s important people know they can seek comfort in many places. The CVMA offers a web site, “It’s About Pets,” with information on pet loss and the human-animal bond (go to www.itsaboutpets.net).

“Veterinarians understand better than many what pet owners are going through because often they have seen that pet through a lifetime of care,” Dr. Smith. “Many times the pet owner and doctor develop a bond of trust and friendship so a veterinarian can offer support or refer clients to local pet bereavement counselors for additional guidance.”

According to the CVMA, children may need extra care after the death of a pet as they make their way through the grieving process. Families also should pay attention to the reactions of other animals in the household. Pets form very close attachments with each other and will grieve by showing signs of restlessness, anxiety and depression.

Veterinarians offer these tips on how to help children, surviving animals and pet owners work through their loss:

Children

  • Give the child permission to go through the stages of grief
  • Tell their teacher about the pet’s death
  • Encourage the child to talk freely about the pet
  • Give the child hugs and reassurance
  • Discuss death, dying and grief honestly
  • Include the child in everything that is going on
  • Explain the permanency of death

Other Pets

  • Keep surviving pets’ routines as normal as possible
  • Try not to unintentionally reinforce behavioral changes
  • If the pet’s appetite is picky, don’t keep changing its food, which will make it more finicky
  • Don’t overcompensate for the loss with extra attention to the surviving pet, which could lead to separation anxiety
  • Don’t rush out and get a new pet to help with the grieving process – wait until the pet and the family is ready

Healing

  • Give yourself permission to grieve
  • Memorialize your pet
  • Surround yourself with people who understand your loss
  • Accept feelings that come with grief
  • Indulge yourself in small pleasures.
  • Don’t be afraid to get help
  • Call your veterinarian for advice

Despite the universality of death, there is no right or wrong way to recover from a pet dying. By relying on family, friends and your veterinarian, the grieving process can unfold in a manner that works best for you.

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The California Veterinary Medical Association is the largest state veterinary medical association in the United States, with more than 7,000 members. Founded in 1888, its mission is to serve its membership and community through innovative leadership and to improve animal and human health in an ethically and socially responsible manner.

© 2017 California Veterinary Medical Association

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