Talking about death is often difficult since it brings about feelings of sadness and confusion. However, none of us will be around forever and in most cases, our pets will predecease us. As much as you hate the idea of saying goodbye to your dog, you will probably have to do so eventually.
Thanks to advances in veterinary medicine, animals can live much longer than they once did. However, this means that pet parents have to deal with the reality that their animals will become elderly and die of illness or old age. If your canine companion has a chronic or terminal illness, you may already be thinking about those final days.
It’s natural to be worried about how you’ll cope when that day comes. However, if you’re prepared, you may be better able to cope with the loss of your pet. Preparing for your pet’s death doesn’t mean that you’ve given up or you no longer love your dog. It just means that you believe you’re getting ready to handle a sad and painful reality. There are practical, emotional, and spiritual ways to improve your preparedness. Let’s look at some of them.
1. Communicate Closely with Your Veterinarian
Your veterinarian will help you to care for your dog as they age and/or become increasingly ill. Be open with them about your concerns and don’t be afraid to ask as many questions as you have. Make sure you’re clear on the symptoms you should be looking out for, the available treatment options, and how you can assess your dog’s quality of life. It’s also a good idea to learn about your options when it comes to palliative care and euthanasia.
2. Continue to Make Memories with Your Pet
Consider creating a bucket list for your dog. Maybe you always wanted to take them to a particular park or you never got around to having a professional photo taken of you two. Try to do those things you wish you had done already once their health and mobility allow it. You may simply want to tell your furry pal how much you love them and give them some extra pats.
3. Simply Enjoy the Time You Have Left
If your pet is unwell, you may spend a lot of your time giving them medication, bathing them, and preparing special meals. You may also be feeling quite stressed given the level of care you have to provide. However, try to take some time to simply sit with your dog, stroke them gently, and talk softly to them. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to enjoy your pet’s company.
4. Don’t Fight Feelings of Grief
Some people experience anticipatory grief. You may feel angry, guilty, or sad when you come to the realization that your dog is dying. This is normal and you should allow yourself to feel these emotions. Anticipatory grief gives you an opportunity to say goodbye to your pet and begin the process of finding closure. Not everyone experiences feelings of grief before their dog dies so if you don’t feel sad or angry, this too is normal. Everyone deals with impending loss and actual loss differently.
5. Seek Comfort from Supportive People
Not everyone will understand the challenges you’re facing. To some people, a dog is “just a dog” and you can get another one. However, you should lean on those friends and relatives who can support you and help you to cope with what’s happening. Talking about what you’re going through can help you to derive meaning from the experience. Your family and friends can also provide a shoulder to cry on or simply encourage you to focus on something else.
6. Decide Between Cremation and Burial
You’ll want to think about what you’ll do with your pet’s remains once they pass. Some people opt to bury their dogs at home in the backyard but this isn’t suitable for everyone. If you’re renting a home or you don’t have yard space, cremation may be a better option. If you plan the final arrangements now, you won’t feel pressured to make a decision when the time comes.
7. Think About How You’ll Memorialize Your Pet
Another thing you can do to prepare for your pet’s passing is to think about how you’ll honor them. This may mean donating to charity in their name, commissioning a portrait, ordering a personalized pet memorial necklace, or getting a headstone. You can also start a blog, put together a photo album, or put your personal spin on a memorial.
8. Seek Help from a Mental Health Professional
Talking to a professional who specializes in animal loss can help you to prepare for your dog’s last days. They will listen to you, offer advice, and provide you with tools to help you cope. This individual can also help you to navigate the grief process after your dog passes.
9. Talk to Your Children About What’s About to Happen
If you’re finding it hard to process your beloved dog’s impending passing, you may be even more confused about explaining it to your children. You’ll need to share age-appropriate information but it’s best to be honest with your kids. Explain that the dog is ill or becoming older and the day is coming when he’ll no longer be in pain. Try to answer their question and provide comfort.
10. Create Keepsakes
Now’s the time to take additional photos or get paw prints and nose prints. You can use these later to make collages, framed photos, scrapbooks, and other mementos. After your pet passes, you can look back at these and remember the good times you had.
Preparing for the passing of your dog will likely result in lots of conflicting feelings. However, it also reinforces the need to enjoy every moment you have left with your pet and take each day as it comes. All living things will die and it’s best to acknowledge this and plan as much as possible. Many pet owners find comfort in knowing that even when their pet is gone, they’ll have a custom pet memorial necklace or a well-crafted headstone by which to remember their canine friend.