Putting your pet to sleep is often a heart-wrenching decision, one that no one ever really wants to make, but when the time comes that your pet’s quality of life is suffering, it is often the kindest option. The time prior to, during and following the passing of your pet can be very emotional. They may have been your close companion or part of your family for a number of years, and it’s completely normal to feel sad and upset and to show these emotions – remember, as vets we genuinely understand the strength of the human-animal bond.
It takes some time to get over the loss of a beloved pet. Let go of any guilt – you’ve made the decision to peacefully end your pet’s suffering with their best interests in mind.
Make sure you have plenty of support available, talk to your family and friends – the chances are that most people you know will have lost a pet at some point and will understand what you’re going through. If you feel like you need further support, then you can contact the Blue Cross Pet Bereavement Support Service, which is a telephone and email helpline service to support bereaved pet owners.
Some people choose to have some sort of memorial for their pet. You may have a nice spot in your garden, or choose to keep your pet’s ashes somewhere special.
It’s a personal decision within your family to decide on who will be present when your pet is put to sleep. This is something to consider beforehand, especially with children. Sometimes for children, the loss of a pet may be their first experience of bereavement. This can be difficult and can have an impact on how they cope with losses later in life.
For some, being present at the appointment may give them a sense of closure, whilst others (particularly younger children) may find it too distressing. You will be able to judge what is best for your children and family. Either way, give them some time to say their goodbyes and a final cuddle or stroke.
If you’ve decided as a family that you feel it’s appropriate for your children to be present at the appointment, then it’s a good idea beforehand to help them understand what is about to happen, explain to them that their pet is poorly and suffering, and isn’t going to get better, so the kindest thing is to let them go to sleep forever, so they are no longer in any pain. Sometimes showing your own sadness can help them understand. Afterwards it can help to talk about their feelings, make a memorial or scrapbook to remember them by.
If you have multiple pets, whether or not they are true siblings, they will usually have developed a strong bond with each other. We can discuss with you if it’s a good idea for them to be present at the time of the procedure, or shortly afterwards. They will be able to experience the sense of death, and will also be aware of human emotional changes – so they may have varied responses – this can include sniffing the body, waiting, or just walking away. Grieving pets can experience lethargy, loss of appetite, restlessness just like we do. Afterwards, while they adapt, it’s best if possible to try and keep their routines the same.
There’s no rule about this. People respond to grief in different ways, and the process is different for everyone. Many people experience characteristic emotional responses (often characterised as shock, denial, anger or guilt, depression and acceptance), but these vary dramatically between people and situations. The most important thing is to give yourself time to process the grief, and not be too hard on yourself.
How long it takes also varies between people, so just take your time – it will get better.
Remember that other members of the family who loved your pet as well will also be grieving. They may be showing eccentric or unusual behaviour. It’s very easy to assume that because someone else isn’t grieving exactly as you are, that they didn’t care as much. However, it’s almost always untrue – everyone responds differently. So try to go easy on them as well.
This is again a personal decision. It can be an adjustment to go from having a pet to no longer having a pet, missing their noises around the house, regular walks and company etc. Once you’ve had time to grieve, and work through those initial emotions, you may decide to get another pet – and this can be a good decision providing it fits in with your lifestyle and finances. A new pet will never be a replacement for the pet you have lost, remember each pet will have its own characteristics, and you will grow a new love for your new companion and this can be super rewarding.