My Pet Might Pass Away Soon - How Can I Prepare?

How Do You Say a Goodbye to a Pet? Letting Go With Love

Pets provide unconditional love and a level of emotional support missing from many lives. The loyal, faithful companionship given by a pet enriches the life and creates a special bond between the pet and its caregiver. When the end is near for the pet, difficult decisions of life or death often need to be made. How do you say goodbye to a pet who has become so much a part of your life?

 

Create a Memory for Both of You

The sudden loss of a pet because of an accident or injury robs many of an opportunity for a final goodbye. When preparing to say goodbye, remember that you are creating a moment that both of you will cherish. You will be able to carry the memory with you into the future.

 

Take Pictures You Can Look Back On

You probably have lots of pictures saved of times with your pet. Dig them out of scrapbooks, shoe boxes or the corner of storage on your computer. Reflect on the ones that stir your memories and save them again in a special place. Make sure that you take pictures of your special day together.

 

Verbalize Your Feelings

Saying goodbye is always a difficult task. To avoid the uncomfortable moments, attention is often diverted to details and other activities. Make the most of the last times together by saying things that you wish you had said before. Writing down your ideas before you speak often helps organize your thoughts. Finding the right words to say can be difficult. Here are some prompts to help guide your thoughts.

  • "I cannot begin to tell you the incredible feelings I have when you meet me when I come home." Go on to tell them of the joy they have brought into your life with their affection when you come home from work, or giving you someone to be with at the end of your day.

  • "If I don't tell you often enough, I want to make sure that you know how much I love you." Express how much you love your pet and how much you have experienced love from them. Give an example or two that you remember sharing with your pet.

  • "I know there have been times when I wasn't the best I could have been for you. I am so sorry for those moments." If you have regrets about your caregiving for the pet, express them as well. Offer apologies and ask for their forgiveness. Your pet will listen and understand your feelings and sentiment. The expressions will be cathartic and healing for you.

  • "You have taught me so much without saying a word." Continue by giving examples and honor what it has meant to have such a best friend.

 

Plan a Burial or Cremation

One of the last ways of saying goodbyes for humans is the experience of a funeral service. You can create a similar experience to honor your pet. The experience does not have to be elaborate or expensive. Invite a small group of friends, family, or even those at the veterinarian's office. Begin planning the event to help you in processing your grief.

 

Using Technology to Say Goodbye

Social media platforms have introduced many communication channels for us. Communicate to those in your social circles that this is a special time of loss for you. In addition, there are ways that can help you mourn the loss of your pet.

Consider Joining Support Groups

In addition to your own friends and family who will support you during times of grief, online support can be found by connecting with others who have also lost a pet and are grieving the loss like you. Even though these are virtual strangers, you can find support and encouragement by expressing words to those who have experienced similar losses. It is often easier to share your feelings in a relatively anonymous setting which allows you to be more open and honest.

Pet Loss at Home

What to Do if Your Dog Dies at Home

What should you do if your dog dies at home? Losing your beloved dog is difficult in any situation. If your pet dies or is put to sleep at the veterinarian's office, they will handle the remains for you. However, if your dog dies suddenly at home, you will need to take immediate steps and make some decisions right away. This can be hard to do when emotions are high.

Assess the Situation

Are you sure your dog has passed away? If you have any doubt, it's best to take your dog to the nearest open veterinarian for help. Try to feel your dog's heartbeat to find out if he has a pulse, or if a cardiac arrest has occurred. You may wish to try to perform CPR or administer another type of first aid if you think your dog may still be alive.

If you are certain that your dog has passed away, the easiest scenario is typically to take your dog's body to the veterinarian for assistance.

 

Contact Your Veterinarian

If it is during normal business hours, your vet's office can help talk you through the steps. They may also have a way of getting you in touch with someone who can pick up your pet's body (like a pet crematory or mobile vet service). In some cases, your vet's office may be able to store your pet's body for a day or two while you make a decision about aftercare arrangements, such as cremation or burial. Your vet's office should also be able to put you in contact with a local company to handle cremation or burial. Fortunately, most vets have a relationship with at least one local business that offers these services.

 

Call for Help

This is a difficult time, so it might be best if you don't have to be alone. If possible, call a close friend or family member who can offer emotional support and help you handle your pet's remains in a practical yet compassionate manner. If you do not think you will physically and/or emotionally be able to handle your pet's body, choose someone who you know can do this.

 

Handling the Body

It is not pretty to talk about, but you may need to handle your pet's body. If you plan to bury your pet yourself but cannot do it right away, then the body must be stored properly. If you wish to have your pet cremated or have the burial handled by a company that cannot take your pet's remains right away, you will also need to properly store the remains. This may be the case if your pet dies in the middle of the night or over a holiday. However, some pet crematories have 24/7 phone service for these kinds of situations. The most important thing to know is that the remains of the deceased pet must be handled as soon as possible.

 

The brutal fact is that an animal's body begins to decompose immediately after death. The body will soon begin to give off a foul odor and attract insects. The hotter the temperature, the faster the rate of decomposition. Rigor mortis, the stiffening of the joints, typically begins within 10 minutes to three hours after death and can last as long as 72 hours. Again, the temperature will affect this process. Ideally, the remains will be properly handled before the onset of rigor mortis.

 

How to Handle and Prepare Pet Remains

  • Wear gloves while handling the body. Upon death, bodily fluids are often released. You may wish to clean the areas around your dog's mouth, genitals, and anus if you notice fluid or waste. Additional bodily fluid and/or waste might be released when the body is moved.

  • Obtain a blanket, towel or bed sheet that is large enough to wrap around the body. Also, get a heavy-duty plastic trash bag (double them up if the body is very large or if the bags are thin).

  • Arrange the body on the blanket, towel or sheet. Place the body on its side in a curled-up position, as if sleeping. This may offer a sense of peace and also make it easier to handle the body.

  • Tightly wrap the body in the blanket, towel or sheet. Then, slide the body into the plastic bag(s). This will be a two-person job if the dog is large.

  • If possible, tie the bag into a secure knot or tape it closed. You may wish to double up on bags. If the remains will be going elsewhere, be sure to attach a label or tag with your name and your dog's name.

  • Remains should be kept in a freezer or refrigerator until burial, cremation, or another arrangement takes place. If you are unable to store the remains in this manner and cannot get the body to your vet or a local pet aftercare company, a garage or basement may need to suffice. This should be for no longer than 4 to 6 hours as the odor will become severe and permeate your home. Use of additional plastic bags is recommended if freezer or refrigerator storage is not possible.

 

Burying Your Dog's Body

If you wish to bury your dog on your property, see if local laws allow this. Certain areas prohibit the burial of pets, especially in cities.

Before burial, remove the body from any non-biodegradable materials (such as plastic) before burial. The body can be placed in a wooden or cardboard casket if desired. The grave should be at least 3 feet deep. Choose a location that is not likely to erode or be accidentally dug up again. You may wish to place a headstone or other marker at your pet's grave to memorialize your beloved pet.

What to Do When Your Cat Dies at Home

When facing the imminent death of a terminally ill beloved cat, or when a feline companion has suddenly died, the disposal of the remains is a hard topic to contemplate. However, planning ahead for the inevitable is important and helps avoid making hasty emotional decisions that you may regret later. 

If you are facing the death of a beloved cat, or  if your catwhen has suddenly died, you may be at a loss as to what to do with the remains. Planning ahead is important and helps avoid making hasty emotional decisions that you may regret later. 

Cat Loss at Home

What Are the Disposal Options?

Cremation

Cremation can be arranged through your veterinarian or possibly through a local animal shelter. There are two methods:

  • Communal Cremation: The remains of the cat are cremated along with other deceased pets and disposed of according to law. Usually, there is no charge for this service.

  • Individual Cremation: The remains of a cat are cremated, and the remains are returned to the cat's owner for final disposition. The charge varies, as do the costs of permanent memorial urns for pet cremains. Some people choose to save the remains of their pets to be buried with them when they die.

 

Whole Body Burial

When it comes to burying your pet, you may have the option of burying your cat at home or in a pet cemetery.

  • At Home: This method is used regularly by grieving pet owners. It may bring a feeling of closure by having a private service and keeps the remains of the deceased cat nearby. There are a few disadvantages to this method. If you move houses, you will leave the remains behind. Pet owners that live in an apartment or house with a shared backyard may find burying at home to be inappropriate. Finally, this is prohibited by many state and local laws. Owners who bury their deceased cats at home may be in danger of fines or legal repercussions. 

  • In a Pet Cemetery: Pet cemeteries exist as a final resting place only for animals. If you have difficulty locating one in your area, your veterinarian will likely be able to refer you or help arrange for burial services. Check that the pet cemetery has set aside funds for perpetual maintenance of the burial grounds and that deed restrictions are in place, guaranteeing that the grounds will always be used for pet burial.

 

Taxidermy

While not for everyone, some people may find immense comfort in having a permanent lifelike visual reminder of a cat they dearly loved in their home. The price for this service usually starts at around $1,000 and increases based on a number of factors. A veterinarian can help refer pet owners to professional taxidermists. 

 

When It's All Over

When you have handled all the final details, the enormity of your loss may hit you immediately, or you may find yourself feeling numb and unable to cry. Grieving any loss is a long process, and you may never feel fully recovered. Through understanding and recognizing the progressive stages of grief, the day will come when you will be able to look back on your life together with love and smiles instead of tears.

Time Softens Grief

Although saying goodbye is a difficult and emotional process, it is an expression of the depth of the relationship shared between you and your pet. Time will soften the pain of loss, but creating a moment where you put your feelings into words will help you in the process of moving through grief.

Coping with grief

 

Part of facing the the imminent loss of a pet is the fear of grief. When our dog turned 15 and was aging fast, I remember the added anxiety of not only his passing but also the pain of grief I knew would follow. While grief is a personal experience, you need not face your loss alone. 

Pet Loss Memorial Candle

Here are a few suggestions to help you cope:

 

  • Acknowledge your grief and give yourself permission to express it.

  • Don't hesitate to reach out to others who can lend a sympathetic ear. 

  • Write about your feelings, either in a journal or a poem, essay, or short story.

  • Call your veterinarian or local humane society to see whether they offer a pet-loss support group or hotline, or can refer you to one.

  • Prepare a memorial for your pet.

Grief Never Ends.....but it changes.

It's a passage, not a place to stay.

Grief is not a sign of weakness, nor a lack of faith....

It is the price of LOVE.

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Children
The loss of a pet may be a child's first experience with death. The child may blame themselves, their parents, or the veterinarian for not saving the pet. They may feel guilty, depressed, and frightened that others they love may be taken from them.

 

Trying to protect your child by saying the pet ran away could cause your child to expect the pet's return and feel betrayed after discovering the truth.

 

Expressing your own grief may reassure your child that sadness is ok and help them work through their feelings.

Sad Child Pet Loss
Sad Senior Pet Loss

Seniors
Coping with the loss of a pet can be particularly hard for seniors. Those who live alone may feel a loss of purpose and an immense emptiness.

 

A pet's death may also trigger painful memories of other losses and remind caregivers of their own mortality. What's more, the decision to get another pet is complicated by the possibility that the pet may outlive the caregiver and that the decision to get another pet hinges on the person's physical and financial ability to care for a new pet.

 

For all these reasons, it's critical that senior pet owners take immediate steps to cope with their loss and regain a sense of purpose.

If you are a senior, try interacting with friends and family, calling a pet-loss support hotline,

even volunteering at a local humane society.

Our animal friends teach us more than we could have expected and love
us more than we could have hoped…
that’s why we miss them more than we could have imagined.