Pets touch our lives in many different ways, from being a source of amusement to a loyal companion. For most people they are a huge part of the family, and to contemplate a beloved pet passing away is almost unbearable. When we take on the responsibility of a pet we are usually aware that they will be with us for a certain amount of time, with a pet hamster it will only be a few years and with a dog or cat it will be more like 15 years, however it can still be an awful shock when the time comes around. It is important to accept that no matter how much we want our pets to live forever, unfortunately every living thing will die eventually and we must fully accept a pet's passing if we are to move on.
Each individual owners experience of a pet's death will be different, as will how they choose to cope with it. Some people will be distraught and tearful whiles other may feel a sense of relief if their pet was suffering towards the end. There is no wrong or right way to deal with death, but here are some common emotions experienced:
Regret and Guilt - It may be difficult to suppress thoughts, such as "Did I spend enough time with my pet?" or "I shouted at my pet too much". In some circumstances the owner may feel partly responsible for a pet's death, particularly if it was untimely. These are totally normal feelings, however it is important to realise that owners always do their best for their pets and in the end all we can take from death is to enjoy the now.
Anger - A typical emotion to face following a death is anger. This is often directed at somebody else, such as a vet or family members. Many people believe that it was somebody elses fault that their pet died, whether this is really true or not the anger a person experiences is simply a way of expressing their grief and not because they necessarily mean it.
Seeking help from family members or even a counsellor is completely understandable and normal. There are professional people trained specifically to help with grief from the death of a pet and nobody will think that the problem is ridiculous or trivial.
One of the best ways to deal with the death of a pet is to say a proper goodbye. There are many beautiful and meaningful ways to do this and you should choose whatever feels right to you. First of all comes the decision between burial and cremation, and this largely depends upon individual circumstances. If you have a garden then perhaps a burial would be the most appropriate option, an engraved stone could be placed on the grave or perhaps you could plant a tree over the grave. However if you plan to move house in the future then this may one day turn into a regret, if you think there is a chance you will move then an alternative is a pet graveyard or a place that was special to your pet. If you know a particular wood or field your pet loved enquire of the land-owner or council regarding permission to bury them there. The other alternative is to have your pet cremated and then either keep the ashes in a box or vase, or scatter them somewhere special. When either burying or scattering ashes it often helps to say a few words or perhaps read a poem.
There are other ways to remember your pet such as raise money for an animal charity you feel is appropriate or release balloons on the anniversary of their death. Saying goodbye is important for closure and moving on.
We have all seen the classic scenario of a parent trying to find an identical looking animal so they don't have to tell the child that their pet has died! In reality this is definitely not a good idea! Children need to learn about death sooner or later and if you approach it properly it need not be a traumatic experience. How you tell a child largely depends on the age and a child under five will not have much grasp of the subject of death. However children this young can pick up on your emotions so try not to let them see you in a state of despair. Instead be strong and tell them that the pet has gone to a "happy" place where they can do all their favourite things. If you do not believe in an afterlife then an alternative thing to say is they are at "peace", however this will not resonate with the child in the same way. A child over the age of 5 will have more understanding about death and that it is permanent, which may very well be extremely upsetting for the child. The child may feel particularly upset that they will never see their pet again. A good way to approach this is to say that their pet is always with them like a "guardian angel" and that one day they will be with them again. Whether you show the body of the pet to your child is a difficult decision and is more confusing than anything for a younger child. If the child is old enough to be asked if they want to see the body, then ask them and act accordingly.
If you feel the need to get a pet right away, it is probably a way to distract yourself from the grief and a type of denial. Before getting a new pet you need to go through the grieving process and take time to say goodbye to your pet that has died. A new animal is in no way a replacement for your old one. Some owners may feel like they never want a new pet again because the grief is just too much or perhaps they feel it would be an attempt to replace their old pet. This is natural and will pass with time. Usually it is best to leave it 6 months before getting a new pet although this may be longer for some people.