Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Why is it so hard when a pet dies?

"Goodbye My Friend
I know I will never see you again,
But the love you gave me through all the years
Will take away these tears
It's OK now
You can go now
Goodbye my friend"

Karla Bonoff

Losing a pet, at any age can be one of the most difficult things we can go through in our lives. Why is it so hard? It can be as bad or even worse than losing a close human family member. I think that this is for a few reasons: our pets give true unconditional love, the loss seems too large to accept, and we can not mourn properly for them.

Our pets give us true, unconditional love. How many people can do this? Pets give and want no more then to give more. They never are resentful or too tired to show you how much they love you. In my opinion, animals are capable of great love and devotion with no strings attached. When you have a special pet, the bond you can share is almost indescribable and deepens over the years. We can grow to understand and communicate with our special fur friend in a truly delightful way. This is not a one way relationship; they always seem to know when YOU need some special attention. When this deep playful, reciprocal love is taken by the death of your pet, the loss can be as deep as the love was.

When we are close to people, we still have disagreements. In my opinion, there is no baggage when a pet dies. I know this sounds terrible. When my 16 year old cat Stahzy died. I was inconsolable. I am a Veterinarian who had to deal with death daily. It did not matter when it happened to me. I had no regrets or guilt about the relationship with my cat. I wanted her back so badly, I truly was not sure I could go on without her. I knew that I appreciated her everyday, and told her I loved her. I do not understand, but this made my grief worse. It was, to me, the most perfect love I could experience with another living creature in this imperfect life. This loss seemed too great to accept.

When we have such a deep loss, unless we mourn properly it is very difficult to move through the stages of grief. In our society, even though our closest pets have been elevated to precious family members we can not grieve for them properly. I believe we need chapels, funerals, personal days and more to truly acknowledge this loss. It is very difficult to process these feelings when we are embarrassed that they are from a pet's death. We should be allowed to own this grief not be embarrassed by it. Part of the job of advocating for Animal Hospice is to ensure the physical comfort of our pets, and the emotional needs of the grieving owner are met as well. We need to understand the death process and understand this is a natural part of the life of the animals we love.

I know I may be simplifying a very complicated issue, and this is just my opinion. However, there is a big disconnect in our society between how important animals have become for us and the allowances made us when they die. The loss in some ways seem worse than a family member, and we are so devastated because it is difficult to pass through the stages of grief. We need to all work together to try to remedy this. We need to make efforts be an empathetic friend to those near us who lose a pet. We need to find ways to memorialize our pets, remember them and celebrate their lives. Acknowledging how large our loss is the first step towards working through it. Seeking pet cemeteries, chapels, having a funeral and talking about our grief can help.

If you need help, I encourage you to speak to a counselor, a Pet Loss Hotline, your Veterinarian and your friends who have been through a similar situation. Memorialize your pet, celebrate their lives.
Compehensive list of Pet Loss Hotlines: http://is.gd/2xI6H
from www.rainbowbridge.com another excellent resource

I also invite you to comment here and join me on About.com to discuss these ideas and how they have affected you: http://is.gd/2xHIz


  1. Jaime, thank you so much for stating your beliefs on this important matter. One of the most frequently stated comments I hear in working with bereaved animal lovers is, "Am I crazy for feeling so bad about this? I didn't feel this sad when one of my relatives died!" The pain of pet loss is legitimate and real, and it is certainly worthy of grief. We all need to do a better job of educating the public about this . . .
    Most sincerely,
    Marty Tousley, Grief Counselor
    Hospice of the Valley, Phoenix AZ

  2. Dr. Jaime, this is a lovely article. I will surely let folks know about it and your new blog.

    Over 3 years later, I am still grieving horribly for my Golden who was eaten from inside out by fibrosarcoma ( http://tinyurl.com/lvdt76 ).

    I have written about loss at my foundation's site ( http://landofpuregold.com/loss.htm ) and speak to the despair associated with the loss of a child, which is the role typically assigned to our animal companions.

  3. Dear Marty and Rochelle,
    Thank you both for taking the time to comment. I am grateful for your heartfelt validation. I am so passionate about this and this is my soapbox, but who else will say it? It has become my dayjob and like both of you I have been compelled to speak for those who can not speak and care for those who others would give up on. I am humbled too by what you both do. Thank you both for your work, and it is wonderful to connect. Rochelle, where are you? Marty, let's get together some time, I am in Mesa!

  4. Dear Dr. Jamie,

    What a beautiful article. I will be sharing a link to this on my blog so my readers can see this.
    I volunteer monthly for a support group at a local vet that helps people through the grief of losing an animal. It still amazes me how "funny" people feel coming at first to the group, but how much better they feel when they realize they are not alone in how they feel.
    I think as a society, you are right that we have to start understanding that our pets are a huge part of our families and the grief is so very real... and others need to try and understand that.
    Thanks again for the excellent article.

    ~Barbara Techel
    Author & Proud Mom of Frankie, the Walk 'N Roll Dog
    Offical Mascot for National Disabled Pets Day

  5. I must count myself fortunate in a way I did not realize until a few years ago. When my first dog died, I was extremely upset. My mother let me stay home from summer camp program - no questions asked. The camp director objected to this, as did some of her friends, saying that this was not a reason to let a kid stay home.

    I vaguely remember hearing a phone conversation (don't even know if I knew who she was talking to) where my mother adamantly defended her decision - as if OF COURSE being upset about a pet was expected and OF COURSE staying home for comfort was acceptable.

    Some time after that I heard her stories: the childhood dachshund, the cat (with one blue eye and one brown) that she had during her first teaching job, and who died suddenly. As is typical for my mother, empathy trumped conformity!

  6. My little Oscar (the dog in my profile picture) passed to the Bridge in February after 15 1/2 wonderful years with us. I find it hard to explain to people the overwhelming grief I still feel. We have another pup in our lives, but I still miss my little man so much and I always will. Thank you for letting me know I'm not the only one.

  7. Thank you for sharing this beautifully-written and very true article on pet grief. I so understand your being inconsolable when your cat died -- I was, too, when I lost Maggie, my black lab, and felt so alone in the depth of my grief. I so agree with you that "there is a big disconnect in our society between how important animals have become for us and the allowances made us when they die." Thanks for helping educate people and bridge the gap on how much support people need when they lose a cherished animal.

  8. Dear Barbara, Jean and Dawn,
    Your comments mean a lot to me. Keep reading Jean, you are NOT the only one. We are surrounded with people who stop and pet our pets, yet we ALL feel alone when it happens to us. We can start to change that by reaching out to those who lose their pets.
    Thank you Barbara and Dawn, when writers respond to my writing, it is special,
    Yours Sincerely ,

  9. loved the article an oh how true our pets are so important in our lives
    Judy Taylor

  10. Last sept I had to put to sleep 2 of my cats 10 days apart from one another. I was crushed. I just wanted to curl up in a ball and cry. Its so true, I did not have the time to grieve properly. I had to get up and go to work. I had both my babies cremated and thier ashes sit on a self in my roon with a picture of both of they sitting together on the shelf. Its been nearly an years and I still cry and talk to them when ever I look at them. I encourage people to be with thier pet in thier final moments to make them feel safe as they cross the rainbow bridge. Tell them you love them. They would do the same for you if the roles were reversed. Patty

  11. When my Molly(cat) passed away last March from a long battle with cancer, I was crushed to have her gone. She was my best friend for 15 yrs of my life, most growing up and needing someone to bond with. When I think of her I have tears trickle down my cheeks, and if my husband says her name I start to ball like crazy. It just crushes me to have to her gone. Thankfully I held her as she crossed to the bridge so peacefully so I know she wasn't alone or scared as she did. Your article is beautiful and I wish that more people would be understanding to those who are having a hard time because they lost a beloved furkid. I have lost friends and family and didn't cry as much for them as I do for my Molly. Your article explains it so well, thank you.


  12. I'm so happy to see you blogging! I just started a hospice service at Georgia Veterinary Specialists in Atlanta - before doing so asked for advice on VIN but there were just seemingly no resources. I envision an email list or VIN board for those of us in the specialty at some point. Dr. Glasser, if you're interested in starting professional dialogue, email me at nutrition at gvsvet dot com. Thanks - Susan G. Wynn, DVM

  13. I think we feel the loss of our companion pets so deeply because they have provided us with the only truly unconditional love that we receive in our lives. They take the bad moods and downright neglect they receive in stride and still strive to give us the love and devotion we rarely deserve. How wise was God when he created them.

  14. Excellent article! So few people speak out on how devastating pet loss can be. I worked at veterinary hospitals for many years and often counseled clients through the grieving process, and yet, when I lost my own cat, I was still struggling with the huge impact such a loss can have on our lives. I share the story of my cat and the universal lessons about opening the heart and living a joyful life she taught me in my upcoming book "Buckley's Story - Lessons from a Feline Master Teacher," and I also share what it's like to loose a beloved animal companion and how to deal with the aftermath.

    Your site is a wonderful resource for grieving pet owners, and I'll be sure to share it with others.

    Thank you!

  15. Dr. Jamie,
    Thank you for posting such a neccessary and beautiful article. I can definitley relate to the loss of a favorite childhood pet. I remember I was so heartbroken, I couldn't go to school for days. It still brings tears to my eyes when I think about how much it hurt me ... because I just didn't understand. AND to make matters worse, he wasn't a relatable pet in other's eyes, he was an iguana. However, he was probably my best friend as a child. I spent more time training him and playing with him than anyone else! :O) There is a happy ending to the story though ... he inspired my children's chapter book series, Iggy the Iguana, and his memory is alive in my books ... including a real picture of him in the back. Who would have thought that the loss was so profound, I would build a career around him? Thank you for sharing.

  16. Wow! Does Sparky still play fetch?

  17. Thank you all for such touching comments. We are all in agreement, we need more help in our society with the grief process for our animals. Yes, Sparky fetches, just not every day. xxxjmedvm

  18. Dear Jamie,
    There's no way to prevent the emotional pain we feel when we lose a source of unconditional love with the passing of a beloved animal companion.

    But grief can be complicated by many factors, and some of those are preventable. An important goal of hospice is to address any preventable cause of complicated grief.

    Animal hospice works towards this goal in the following ways:
    1. Providing support. Having support is important because grief is inherently a very lonely experience. Support is helpful not only after the loss, but also before and during the loss. Support can be offered through active listening, being a sounding board in the process of making complicated decisions, taking over nursing care or nonmedical tasks periodically or regularly, and many other ways of showing empathy.
    2. Second guessing our own actions [and others'] often makes grief more painful that it could be. Hospice philosophy is focused on assisting the family in making the very best decisions and on assuring the greatest comfort possible for the patient. This approach can alleviate at least some of the burden of guilt and self criticism.
    3. Having an opportunity to spend much needed time with and saying goodbyes to your dying companion can be their last gift to surviving family members and a source of comfort during the inevitable grief that follows.

    Please encourage your audience to actively support the increasing number of organizations dedicated to educating animal lovers and veterinary professionals about the benefits of animal hospice.

  19. Thanks for posting such a beautiful sentiment. I found this through Barbara Techel and Frankie.

    We lost our 16-year-old adopted dog, Molly, last Oct. and I still grieve for her. She was such a perfect companion, buddy, friend.

    An internet friend connected me with The Rainbow Bridge and I sent Molly's name into the pet memorial website. It does help to honor them as a dear member of the family.

  20. One of the things that helps me, is that I have a wonderful friend who Paints portraits of animals. She has done several of my FurKids and each time I look at them it is as if they are still here. On Twitter she is @savinglabs

    I also work with Heart of Texas Labrador Rescue and being able to foster and take care of dogs in our program has helped me to get through the grief process.

  21. Dear Jamie,
    i had to put down my beloved cat last month and found solace in your writing. At the same time, my mother who suffers from dementia continues to disintegrate. Sorrow is part of life and love. I would love it if you visited my new blog to share my take on losing loved ones.
    I'm new at this blogging thing, and would love to find a comment from you...
    From one sensitive soul to another,
    best wishes,
    Chris Alba

  22. My 16-year-old Siamese kitty passed away in my arms last Thursday, October 15. I can't stop crying. I am completely broken-hearted. She wasn't feeling well last weekend, so I took her to the vet on Monday. She had an infection of some kind, so the vet wanted to keep her for anti-biotics and iv fluids. She stayed there for two nights. Her white-cell count was going down, so I thought she might be ok. We brought her home with her medicine on Wednesday night. I held her and fed her kitten formula from a dropper to help her regain her strength. I had nursed her back to health after a scare in '07. But she was so weak and had lost control of her bodily functions. She was purring as I held her on Wednesday night. I thought about staying with her that night but did not and now I am wracked with grief over that decision. I wish I had stayed with her. But I made a bed of warm towels for her and let her rest. On Thursday morning, I got up and checked on her. As I bent down to pet her and talk to her, she tried to move herself closer to me. I got her medicine and formula ready, wrapped her in another nice warm towel, and held her close to me like I held my children. She ate a little for me, then refused. She growled a bit - I think she was in pain and I am so upset about that. I held her close; my son and daughter were with us. Then she went limp and she was gone. I am so glad she waited to go until I could be with her and hold her and love her at the end, but I was completely unprepared emotionally for it. I knew she probably didn't have much time left, but I didn't think she would go so soon. I miss her so much. I can't stop crying. Why does it have to hurt so much? How long will this pain last? Her twin sister (they were litter-mates) is wandering the house yowling for her. I don't think I can bear this again. Thank you all so much for listening to me; I feel like you all will understand. Cookie was a wonderful, beautiful seal-point Siamese with a great personality. I got her and her sister when they were 6 weeks old; I've had them longer than I've had my husband! I just don't know what to do. Being at home is so hard; everywhere I look I see memories of her. I thank God for my time with her and I know I'll see her again one day. Now my question is, did she suffer?? Was she in pain?? What caused her death?? Why did she growl at me??? Any insight to these questions would be greatly appreciated. Please help me get through this; it is so hard.

  23. Thank you for a wonderful article. I lost my wonderful cat companion Percy suddenly - so suddenly - of a heart attack last January. I just couldn't fathom that my faithful companion of nearly 6 years, who had never even been ill, could collapse and die in a matter of minutes. By the time I rushed him to the vet, less than 10 minutes away, he was already gone.

    I read your post a few days later, one of many sites I found in working through my grief - but said nothing at the time.

    It was one of the darkest times of my life, and I cried for days. But the best thing I did for myself, along with my partner, was to allow myself to feel the pain and not feel guilty about it.

    As time passed, it helped me to create a bit of a memorial for Percy, just a little collection of his toys and a digital photo of a handful of carefully selected photos. Even now, I look each evening to see what photo has appeared randomly. And some days and evenings, I still imagine what he would be doing if he were still alive taking part in our lives and following his normal routines.

    At any rate, thank you again for sharing your sentiments, and for the kind comments that followed.

    And, Gracie26, though I know it's been several months since your companion died, please don't fret over the growling near the end. I'm not an expert, but I imagine that the growl could have simply been frustration, just as we get frustrated when we're in pain or ill. You were there with her when she passed, and that is a wonderful, wonderful thing. When Percy died, we had just arrived home. I was in the next room when he collapsed, and for a brief time I fretted that I wasn't in the room when the attack struck him. Only later did I realize how thankful I was that we had arrived home, and that I did get to pet him one last time with a normal greeting upon our return. As devastating as the events of that evening were, it would have been so much tougher if we had come home to find that he had collapsed during our absence running errands.

    Just be thankful you were able to be there in her final moments. I'm sure she was comforted, knowing you were there.

  24. It is hard because you have been with your pet most of the times. You shared experiences and moments that you will remember for the rest of your life.
    oxford ms animal nursing care

  25. I lost my beautiful cat Nancy 6 weeks ago she was 17 years old and I loved her soo much. She had been sick for a couple of weeks - old age and a thyriod problem. My husband and I spent about $3000.00 trying to save her life and she was in intensive care for a number of days but everything was shutting down. I brought her home for a while and my vet had previously spoken to me about considering euthenasia to put her out of pain. I still feel the guilt and pain and can't stop crying - I miss her soo much -I know I gave her a good life but losing her has been unbearable.

    Christina - Australia

  26. Excellent blog and a service that is much needed by pet lovers everywhere. I have been visitng and using a wonderful site for many years since my cat Sam died in Dec 2005. For those who need support - it is free and everyone there has suffered loss, understands, doesn't judge and offers encouragement and support through the greiving process:
    This site has helped me and many others

  27. On Easter Monday my 16 year old cat Chilly died. He died in my arms and I am so horribly sad. I did not expect to feel this degree of loss.

  28. Thank you to everyone on here for taking the time to share your anguish. I'm very raw now and it does help to know I am not alone. The guilt is the worst....I should have noticed she was not doing well, I should have stayed off work, I should seen how my taking in other cats and helping the neighbours cat was affecting her.......I know I need to break through this grief and guilt and give her the happy thoughts she deserved...but it's not easy....she was my baby....I still have 7 other pet cats including her mum and they have been the greatest comfort.

  29. My beloved cat Baby has just died. For two days now I haven't been able to sleep or eat. All I do is cry non-stop. Not just an ordinary cry - it's a wailing and my heart and chest hurt. I have never loved any one so much in my life. He went so suddenly. He began having laboured breathing so I finally took him to the Vet thinking that she would just give me some medicine to give him for whatever was ailing him but they took X-rays and he had just a tiny spot of lung activity left. I feel guilty that I didn't take him in sooner but the Vet said that animals hide their pain. I have had BABY for 11 years and during that time I went through a lot of personal pain and turmoil and my cat was always there for me. I guess Love is Grief. I just cannot stop crying or thinking of him and today when I saw his little tins of catfood, his litter box with some little pee still in it and his fur on the floor and on my bed where he slept with me every night and comforted me I am really losing it. I finally have had to take a half a tranquilizer because my chest and head are hurting from so much crying. I am astounded at how many tears we have. I don't think I will ever get over this because he is a great part of me and my heart is literally broken. We took him over to an island where my brother owns land and it's a beautiful forest setting and we buried him still in the box with his favourite toys and pictures of him and then we covered it up with warm earth, flowers, pine cones and rocks. He is buried beside a beautiful tree and next to my brother's dog's grave. I can't stop thinking of when he passed tho at the Vets and how his beautiful green marble eyes were dead. I have three scratches in my hand where he clawed me when I tried to coax him out of the cat carrier at the Vets but he was so traumatized and sick that he hissed and clawed at my hand. I keep hoping the scars will never heal but I am sorry that I upset him. When he was hooked up to anesthetic tho I covered his body with mine and told him how much I loved him and always will and now I have to stop writing because I just can't stand the pain anymore. I can't see what I am writing for the tears streaming down my face. I don't think I have ever loved so much in my life. I don;t know if I can even go to work. I am housebound because I cannot stop crying.

  30. Thank you all so much for sharing your stories. I had to put my 7 year old cat jasmine down yesterday. My wife and I picked her up off the street 7 years ago, she was meowing outside our apartment window so we went out and here was this small dark cat that was about a year old. She started rubbing up against us, she was so thin, we picked her up and took her inside and she has been with us ever since.

    A week ago we discovered lumps on her belly so we called the vet and she said that Jasmine has 4 very large tumors on her belly.
    They said they could operate but more often then not the tumors would come back and you can tell she was suffering, she was weak and very unsteady so we had a decision to make, to put down the cat we love more then anything or to keep her as long as we can until she dies so we decided to have her put down and end her suffering and it was the hardest thing I have ever had to do.

    The pain of losing her is unlike anything I have ever felt before. This may sound bad but I have had friends and family members die and even though I did feel tremendous pain this seems worse.

    I have been crying almost none stop for 12 hours and its even difficult for me to type this.

    Anyway this site has really helped me and I want to thank you for letting me share.

  31. You better believe when my family doberman, cricket, died this past thursday night I called out the next day. I cant lie, just not who I am, so I told them to use my vacation pay. Showing up to work with swollen eyes trying to do a customer service oriented job wasnt going to work. She was an immediate family member for nearly 13 years. Died unexpectedly from a flipped stomach. I went back to work after a day and still got pretty choked up from time to time. RIP dear friend. You were so loyal. You loved family, golf balls, tv remotes, and your wicker beds. Life has changed forever.

  32. I just put my 11 year old lab to sleep. I am completely and utterly crushed. My heart seems so empty. He was the best friend I have ever asked for. He was great with my 3 kids. I love him so much. I am reading comments on how to adapt to this feeling. Not only was he my pet but he was my faithful friend, companion, brother, and son. The night before I had to put him to sleep, I sat on my back patio and cried on his shoulder for a good hour. He has been put to sleep about 1 hour and I feel like I just lost one of my kids. I know that he is in heaven watching down on my as well as running around. RIP Falco 10/9/2012 I love you and you will forever live with me!!!

    1. My heart goes out to you. He will be with you always . Falco sounds like a wonderful and loving companion . Maybe it would help to have a remembrance gathering with those who knew him? I wish you peace.
      Dr. Jaime

  33. This is the first public comment I've made about the death of my 4 1/2 yr old Guinea Pig, Robbie last Thursday. The tears have seemed to have ceased, but I cannot BEGIN to tell you how tough it was for a 34 yr old man to inform his management that he can't come to work today to meet with an important client because his guinea pig is ill and required emergency surgery. However, I did, and I would make that choice again and again.

    Jaime discussed how it could be hard than the death of a close relative - my grandfather, whom I loved dearly for my entire life passed away a year ago. I was extremely sad, and I believe I went home from work early that day. But I cannot even begin to tell you the pain in my heart seeing my little furry friend in agonizing pain. I don't know why it's different, the author gave some ideas - but even Robbie as a Guinea Pig didn't *really* give unconditional love - I mean, he just wanted carrots and hay. ;-) But he's dependent on me, and when you see your pet in pain and close to death, you cannot help but feel 100% responsible.

    It's going to be tough, but I really don't have a choice but to continue on as I have - minus a squeaking buddy to wake me up in the morning looking for his daily greens. RIP Robbie!!!

  34. I think pet cremation is becoming a widely adopted and dignified manner of memorializing a loved pet. The portability aspect is also nice in the event that you move, you don’t have to leave your pet and those memories buried in a former yard that you won’t be able to return.

  35. I'm losing my mine....Stacy died a year ago...as if it was yesterday....