By Jennifer Woolwine

How to Cope With the Loss of a Pet


baghdad to barnyard

April 30, 2021

This week I had to say goodbye to my dachshund Buddy after sixteen years of him being by my side. He was my first pet and got me through some very dark times. He was with me every step of the way through my addiction to prescription pain medication, a suicide attempt, and sobriety; he was there for it all. Pet loss is a challenging experience, but one every pet owner will go through.

Buddy was more than just a dog to me. He provided companionship, purpose, unconditional love, and meaning to my life. He was a beloved member of the family, which is why it was so difficult to say goodbye to him.

Buddy started having seizures, and they increased in frequency over the weekend. On Saturday night, he started pacing for hours. It was like he could not rest. He would have another seizure whenever he would finally pass out from exhaustion. It was to the point that he was having grand mal seizures every two hours. The attacks increased in severity, and I could not watch him go through another one, so I rushed him to the emergency veterinarian on Sunday.

Emergency Vet Appointment

I remember looking at him in the passenger seat and noticing how tired he was. He was not wagging his tail, turned down his favorite treat, and did not even attempt to look out the window. Usually, you could not keep him from trying to jump out the window because he enjoyed riding so much. I knew then it was going to be our last ride together. I rubbed his soft little ears and told him how much I loved him, how I would miss him, and that we would see each other again. It was a challenging ride, but I could not let him suffer anymore.

After the emergency veterinarian conducted the exam, we found out the seizures had caused permanent damage to the left side of his body. During his attacks, he had fluid in his lungs from foaming at the mouth, and the vet suspected he had a stroke on top of all the seizures. The vet offered to hospitalize him and run additional testing, but he was confident it was a brain tumor. At sixteen, putting him under anesthesia for an MRI was risky. The vet did not think he was strong enough to undergo additional testing.

I had to set my selfish feelings aside and do what was best for Buddy. It was not my first rodeo with euthanasia, so I knew the procedure and what to expect, but it did not make it any easier. I held Buddy in my arms and whispered how much I loved him in his ears while the vet gave him the sedative. He did not fight it; he closed his eyes and was gone, and my heart shattered. I felt the loss immediately, and the sadness was overwhelming.

Coping with Pet Loss

Research shows that grieving the death of our companion animals can be just as painful, if not more, than grieving the loss of a family member or friend. While experiencing loss is an inevitable part of owning a pet, there are healthy ways to cope with the pain, come to terms with your grief, and perhaps even open your heart to another animal companion when the time is right.

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Acknowledge your grief

First, your loss is significant and valid. You need to acknowledge your grief and take the time to heal. You may feel a range of emotions in response to the loss, including anger, guilt, sadness, love, and relief, especially if your beloved companion experienced a long and chronic illness.

To adapt to loss, we must find ways to recognize and express our grief. Minimizing the loss and not permitting yourself to grieve can only prolong the process. Memorials and other ways to acknowledge the loss can provide comfort, an opportunity to say farewell, and pay tribute. You can put together a montage of favorite photos or keep ashes in an urn in a nice spot in the house can help.

Find a support system

For us to properly recover from the loss of a pet, it is essential to find a support system of people we know will understand and sympathize with our feelings rather than judge them. Please check with your veterinarian about bereavement groups you can reach out to. You can also research support groups in your area or call a support group hotline.

I announced the loss of my pet on Instagram, and the response was overwhelming. A community of animal lovers reached out and sent their condolences, and even a stranger had dinner delivered to our house. The support from a community of people that understood my pain made a big difference.

Maintain a routine

While you are grieving, your living pets are also experiencing the loss and absence of your pet and their companion. Try to maintain walking routines and feeding schedules to avoid disrupting their process or your own. Routines allow us a sense of structure and familiarity, and although the first few times can be painful, these immediate triggers can reduce over time.

Create a memorial

Want to pay tribute to your pet? Create a memorial by making a keepsake box full of your pet’s collar, tags, favorite toys, photos, etc. In addition, you can also plant a tree or flowers where you bury your pet. If you decide to cremate your pet, you can display the ashes in an urn in your home or spread the ashes in your pet’s favorite spot. You can also make a scrapbook with photos of your beloved pet to remember all your pet’s good memories.

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Consider adopting when the time is right

While many people do not want to rush out and “replace” their deceased pet, it is helpful to start planning to get a new companion. There are so many animals in need of good homes, and adopting one will make you feel better. The evidence continues to build about the fantastic health benefits people derive from owning pets.

Research also shows having an animal in the family lowers our blood pressure and decreases anxiety. Planning for a new pet will keep your mind busy, offer hope, and move the grieving process. If you are not ready to get a new pet, you can volunteer at your local animal shelter or rescue organization.

Pet Grief Resources

If you know someone who has lost a pet, be gentle with them and acknowledge that they are legitimately in pain. And if you are a pet owner experiencing a loss, know that it is ok to be sad, and I am sending you all the positive vibes from one animal lover to another.

xo, Jen

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Jen Woolwine       Author

Jen is a combat veteran and wife who is passionate about animal rescue, homesteading, and mental health advocacy. Jen's amazing journey of transitioning from military service to homesteading can be followed on her blog and social media platforms @baghdadtobarnyard.

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