Dealing with Pet Loss

March 21, 2018

Photo by Atanas Teodosiev on Unsplash


The further we go in life, the more loss we encounter. That’s just a fact that has to be accepted, and these losses include not only people – relatives, friends, loved ones, colleagues, but also pets, our loyal friends – dogs, cats, birds, reptiles, hamsters. They age with us, often spending over 10 years in close emotional contact, and when it’s time to part, it takes a great emotional toll on the owners.

There are many different pet loss-related situations that may arise, and there are distinctive solutions for various cases. How can these issues be handled most efficiently and with the least amount of stress to the benefit of all the sides involved?

Separation with a pet

First of all, let’s consider the situation when it has become difficult to care for a pet due to the owner’s old age or illness. There may be relatives, friends or neighbors willing to take on some pet care responsibilities, allowing the pet to remain with the owner, but, ultimately, there are solutions that will allow a pet to be cared for when there is no one to take over. There are several ways to go about it, depending on the severity of the situation.

  • The first thing to do may be to find a local part-time caretaker, who can walk your dog, get pet supplies and provide hygienic pet care as necessary. This may be done via neighbors or local newspapers, and finding someone is usually not a particular problem.
  • The second type of situation involves the need to find new permanent caretakers for a pet, because it may become impossible to care for the animal. This involves several potential options, including finding a different owner or a permanent care facility, the equivalent of a human nursing home. Just like with nursing homes, there are different levels of facilities, and, of course, they are differently priced. The most farsighted owners, and also the ones who can afford it, actually do some serious estate planning for their pets’ retirement. Information regarding the best possible care for your pet can be obtained at your local Humane Society.
  • Adoption is another option, and while it may be difficult and sad to imagine your furry friend with different owners, it may be best for the pet. A new home may allow them to be more active and better cared for.

The psychological aspect of parting with a pet or pet dying is very important.

Handling this loss is even more difficult, because in many cases the loss of a pet leaves a senior person completely alone, leading to depression. For seniors, the loss of a pet may be especially poignant, reminding them of other losses and triggering thoughts about their own mortality. That’s why counseling is essential to deal with the inevitable grief, fatigue, sorrow, sadness, and other symptoms that may include loss of appetite and a great feeling of loneliness. If counseling is unavailable, there are pet loss support hotlines, just like the one run by Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine.

Sharing the thoughts and memories of your precious pet may help you release the feelings of grief and separation. Coping with loss is a process that varies from person to person, and not everyone finds equal compassion in their surroundings. There are online and offline pet bereavement groups where you may find more understanding from people going through the same situation, and other coping mechanisms. Volunteering at a humane society or pet shelter may also bring some relief.

Pet loss is not easy to deal with at any age, but for seniors it is an especially difficult issue. If you are a caregiver, you should be especially sensitive to the signs of depression and withdrawal and take steps to help the senior person in your care cope with the loss.

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