Coping with your dog’s death takes time, especially if euthanasia was part of the final process. You may not be prepared for how difficult surviving the loss of your dog can be. Grieving and holding a funeral or memorial service are a normal way of coping with your dog’s death.
A Memorial? For a Dog?
Those who have never had a dog may not understand that your dog’s death can be very traumatic. While some may respond with “it was just a dog,” or “just get a new one,” surviving the loss of your dog is more complicated than just “getting over it.”
Most dogs are included as part of the family and are loved as such. Replacing him immediately is not the solution because, like any other family member, he was unique.
To cope with your grief, you might consider gathering friends and family to hold a brief memorial service. Children can participate in recalling fond memories or passing around pictures of the dog when he was happy and healthy. The company of others can mitigate the sense of extreme loss when your house suddenly feels empty without the sound of your dog’s panting or his claws clicking along the kitchen floor.
Emotional Survival After the Loss of a Dog
You will most likely suffer some emotional turmoil after your dog’s death. Sometimes, an overwhelming grief can lead to depression. Whether your grief is mild or severe, find ways to express it, either through tears, talking or a memorial service.
Along with grief, denial and anger are common ways of coping with a dog’s death. You may be angry with the vet for not being able to save your dog, with yourself if you chose euthanasia for your dog or even at the dog herself for leaving you. Again, some anger is a normal part of the grieving process.
Do watch for signs of depression in yourself or family members as you cope with your dog’s death. If the pain of surviving the loss of your dog doesn’t ease with time, seek counseling or attend a pet loss support group to deal with your loss. Ask your vet about pet loss support groups near you.
A Memorial or Funeral: A Time to Grieve
Building a memorial for your dog may help you express some of your grief. However, such commemorative displays need not be large: a scrapbook page, a framed picture of your dog or a collage of photos all serve as adequate memorials. Making a memorial can help you express both your love for your dog and your grief at his passing.
A funeral and memorial service is another way of coping with your dog’s death. A memorial service lets you grieve openly and say goodbye to your pet.
While home burial, with a personal memorial service, is an option, the available space at home or city bylaws concerning the disposal of animal remains can eliminate home burial as a possibility.
An alternative to the home burial is a funeral service at a pet cemetery, where a headstone provides a permanent memorial.
If you would prefer to avoid burying your dog, cremation is another option. If you decide to cremate your dog, you can either scatter the ashes in your dog’s favorite spot or keep them in a commemorative urn as a memorial.
Euthanasia and Your Dog
Coping with your dog’s death is often more complicated when you’ve had to resort to euthanasia. While some people feel guilty about euthanizing a beloved pet, euthanasia should be considered to be a last gift to your dog—a gift that frees her from pain and suffering.
Euthanasia is a decision best made in conjunction with your veterinarian. Your vet is the authority on your dog’s medical condition and probable pain. Another important aspect of the decision lies in how you feel your dog’s daily life is affected: is your dog still enjoying life, or does pain make every day a struggle? Trust your instincts when considering euthanasia.
If you choose euthanasia to end your dog’s suffering, you can also choose to be in the room with your pet at the very end. For some people, being with their pet for the euthanasia injection is very important. Others can’t stand to be present in the last moments. This is an individual decision, so do what makes you feel most comfortable.
Helping Children Survive Their Dog’s Death
Many children first learn about mortality when a pet dies. By helping your children survive the loss of your dog, you teach them about death while also coping with your own feelings.
Although some may want to soften the news of a pet’s death, it’s best not to lie to children. Telling children that the dog just “went away” can leave them hoping that the dog will return. Even worse, children may start blaming themselves for the dog’s absence.
Telling the truth to children about a dog’s death may leave you handling some hard questions. As your children are coping with your dog’s death, they experience the same grief, denial or anger that adults feel.
While some kids may be angry about euthanasia, others may be confused or want to know if euthanasia hurts. Younger children may even worry that they will be euthanized if they get sick. Answering these questions and assuring them that death is a natural process will help children understand and deal with their grief.
Asking children to help create a memorial or organize a funeral may also help them cope with your dog’s death.
A New Dog
Generally speaking, getting a new dog immediately is not the best way of coping with your dog’s death. You may want to get a new dog in the future, but take the time to mourn the old dog first.
Getting a new dog too quickly can also stir up resentment in your children: they may resent a new dog as a “replacement” or feel that they’re betraying the old dog by liking the new one. Give children, and yourself, some time before getting your next dog.