I have said sad goodbyes to some lovely animals over the last couple of weeks. While it is heartening to see how much a pet is loved, I often worry about how the owners will cope afterwards.
It helps to be prepared for the loss. You can have a consultation at your practice, or you can chat on the telephone with a receptionist or nurse. Home visits are often less stressful for owners and patients, although they can be expensive.
If your pet is anxious it may be better to give them a sedative tablet an hour or so beforehand to ensure they are as relaxed as possible.
Some pets will, when it is their time, sleep peacefully away, but for the majority we are forced to make a decision to try to lessen suffering and ease pain.
I would never put an animal to sleep if I didn’t feel it was the only option, and I have refused on many an occasion, but this is often a source of guilt that the owner has to deal with on top of the distress and grief. It should be remembered that it is the vet who has assessed the patient so no burden should be carried by the owner.
The procedure is normally quick and owners are welcome to be present, but are not obliged to be if they feel they cannot, which is completely understandable.
Afterwards, there will be choices, such as burial or cremation. It will help if you have thought about this and don’t have to make decisions when you are upset. Again, our nursing and reception staff are helpful and can talk you through the options.
It is tempting to try to replace the void with a new pet. It is best to wait at least a few months before considering this as you must allow yourself time to grieve. A new pet can be a joy and a distraction, but it is stressful getting to know a new animal and getting them used to you, and this can add to strain.
Grief is complicated and personal. Pets are very much part of our families. We see them and talk to them daily, telling them our worries, hopes and fears. If we are lucky, we know them for many years, longer than most friendships, and they are part of many memories and sometimes links to precious people we have lost.
Losing a pet is very difficult. Grief should not be trivialised because it is “just an animal”. If you are struggling after the loss of your pet, please get in touch with your local veterinary practice. Pet bereavement is now a well recognised problem and help is available, so please don’t hesitate to ask.
Catriona Gibson, Vet