grief of losing dog

Grief Dog: how to deal with the loss of a dog

To grief about your dog can be a very painful and overwhelming process. I get that since I have lost 3 dogs in my life who were very important to me. In this blog I want to share my own experience and tips to deal with the grief and loss of your beloved dog. I also highly recommend reading a few books about grief for your dog on Amazon since it has helped me during the process of grieving. You can buy these books here.

When is the right time?

Your dog is part of the family.  They are part of our lives for a long time.  In cats it can be twenty years, in dogs sometimes fifteen years.  Smaller animals such as guinea pigs and rabbits, ferrets, mice, rats and birds often have shorter lives.  But we all love them and want to keep them with us as long as possible.  However, there often comes a time when you as owner have to decide about the life of your dog. It may be that your dog is older and gets more and more complaints, such as pain due to osteoarthritis or tumors.  But of course a younger dog can just as easily get a serious illness or might have an accident etc. How do you, as an owner, decide when is the right time to say goodbye and opt for euthanasia?

As an owner, you can look at your dog yourself and ask yourself:

what else can it  do?  Eating and drinking, walking, hearing, seeing?  Does your dog still enjoy the things it always liked, such as cuddling or playing?  Is it still a dignified life?  What are your own considerations, what makes it extra difficult to say goodbye to your dog?  Did your dog have a strong bond with someone who is no longer there or can you no longer have a dog because of your own age? 

Good to know with this difficult decision, you can ask for help from your own veterinarian or assistant. They are experts in the field of veterinary medicine and have experience in making this decision.  For example, you can also discuss with them what you can do at home to make the last part of its life as pleasant as possible for your dog. 

The right time for my last dog Didi was when she didn’t want to drink or eat anymore and just laid in her dog bed. She died because of chronic kidney failure and you can check this blog post about chronic kidney failure here.

Grief dog. Didi resting during last weekst
Grief dog. Didi resting during last weeks.

Grief for my dog Didi

I might say that I did already grief for my dog Didi already weeks before she died because I saw the end was coming nearby. I felt depressed, sad and every time I looked at my dog Didi I almost wanted to cry because I knew she got worse and worse. She felt almost like a child to me and I felt like a part of my heart was starting to die. But regardless how hard it already felt I tried to make it the best time possible for my dog Didi. We had lots of quality time and sometimes I just started to cry when I was petting her. And I just convinced myself that this is okay and normal.

For 16,5 years she was my most loyal companion and the best company to have. I can say we had a very strong bond since she was a traumatized stray dog from Portugal and always had issues to trust strangers. I became her ‘protector’ even though I tried her to be more social towards other dogs and people. So the last stage of Didi’s life I had mixed feelings: I tried to be as positive as possible to remember this as a memorable and great last time. On the other hand I was so incredible sad and needed to grief for my dog Didi even though she was still alive. I started assembling old photos.

Grief for dog. Didi in happy times

The euthanasia itself

If euthanasia is the best option for your dog, it is good to list a few things.  For example, the place of death.  For many dogs it is less stressful if the euthanasia can take place at home.  They then no longer have to be brought into practice, but remain in their familiar environment.  This is also often more pleasant for you as an owner.  There you can mourn and grief of losing your dog in your own way and on your terms. You can decide for yourself how long you want to say goodbye and that way any other dogs are there if their roommate dies.

Take control what you want with the euthanasia

You may have a preference for a particular veterinarian from a practice to perform the euthanasia.  Or you want your children to be there to say goodbye to your dog.  You can discuss this with your vet or assistant.  They can tell you what options the practice has.  Home euthanasia is usually possible, but not always at any time.  It is useful to have this conversation in advance and not at the time of the euthanasia itself.  Every vet will do his or her best to make the euthanasia as smooth and pleasant as possible.

I highly recommend to be with your dog during the euthanasia. Your dog knows something is going on and if you leave your best buddy alone during the last moments this will be very stressful and scary not having his best human friend around in his darkest moments.

Grieving for my dog Didi during euthanasia

We planned having the euthanasia in our home. However because of the weekend and that she got worse sooner than expected, we went to the vet. My partner and I went to a special room and waited for the vet. I had the dog bed with Didi on my lap and the vet gave her a shot to sleep. Somehow Didi still wanted to live and wanted to snap the vet when the vet gave her this shot. To me this was heartbreaking and I grieved so intense and what I felt was guilt! Guilt because I decided this moment for her and she resisted so strongly.

After she fell asleep I had her in my arms and thanked her again for the wonderful time together. The vet came sooner back than expected for the second shot. I wanted to get more time to say goodbye and I wasn’t sure if she was actually fallen in a deep sleep. So I asked the vet to give me a few more minutes with her before Didi got her second shot.

Take your time to grieve your dog during euthanasia

My advice to you is to take your time you need and don’t let a busy or impatience vet control your last moments with your dog. I believe that these last moments are very important for your process regarding grieving for the loss of your dog. If you are in the clinic you can ask to be left alone for a few minutes if that is what you prefer. I know you might feel that you aren’t capable of nothing during this stage but please stay strong to speak out your needs. And of course make sure you choose an emphatic vet that you trust.

I want to save you the little trauma we had with the first dog . This vet lacked empathy, was impatience and wanted to get over it as soon as possible. So he decided to give my first dog the second shot directly in the heart. This was very painful and unethical to watch and this meant not a quiet and peaceful euthanasia. Every time I think about my first dog this image stays in my head. So please make sure you take control over the last moments with you and your dog. No one can take these moments from you.

After euthanasia 

As the owner, after euthanasia, the question remains: what do you want with your dogs’ body?  There are several options. You may check in your country what the rules are.

In the Netherlands you may bury your dog in your own yard.  This is allowed under certain conditions throughout the Netherlands, with a few exceptions (check with your own vet or the municipality where you live). 

You can also have your dog buried in an animal cemetery. 

Another option is to have your dog cremated.  There are several animal crematoria in our country.  Cremation is possible for every budget.  With an individual cremation you can receive the  ashes of your dog back.  You can keep the ashes in an urn, jewelry or art object.  You can also choose to scatter the ashes. 

A fourth option is destruction.  If you leave your dog at the vet without giving a preference, your animal will be industrially destroyed along with other animals and animal waste. 

Finally, you can make your dogs body available to science via the Animal Donor Codicil.  Your dog will then be used for education to veterinarians in training.  A dog would otherwise be used for this education.  Veterinary practices can register to participate in the Animal Donor Codicil.  Your own vet can tell you more about this.  Think carefully about which choice feels best for you as owner.  There is no right or wrong.  When making this choice, it can also be a good idea to  discuss the options with your own vet.

Grief dog Didi: individual cremation for Didi

We decided to cremate Didi since bury her in our garden was not an option for us. We chose an individual cremation and have the ashes in an urn. I am super happy that we chose for an individual cremation. Why? because the people from the animal cemetery know exactly how to make a worthy ceremony. We went into a nice light room with appropriate music in the background.

Didi laid on a nice dog bed with a beautiful dog blanket wrapped around her. Some flowers were left between her front legs. A few candles were put around her. This sight of her laying there so peacefully brought tears to my eyes. We had a half hour to be with her and say goodbye and costed 28 euro’s. And hell yeah, we grieved so intense as possible but it was good for the grieving process. Afterwards, we decided to drink coffee in one of our favorite coffee shops in our neighborhood and tell stories about Didi. This was our way of dealing with the loss and grief process for our dog.

Grief for dog

After the loss of your dog, the grieving phase begins, this process often feels the same as after the loss of a loved one.  In the beginning there is often a lack of understanding: you cannot imagine that your dog is really no longer there.  You may also feel anger because your animal is no longer there.  All those feelings are normal and allowed to be.  Finally, there is the stage of acceptance that your dog is no longer there and that life goes on. 

You might experience:

  • loneliness: you might feel that no-one understands what you are going through. Especially when people say things like: ‘it was only a dog’ or ‘you can simply buy a new one’. Please note that most people don’t say this to intentionally hurt you. They say this out of concern or not know what to say even though they don’t know how hurtful this can be to you.
  • Extreme sadness and depression: you might feel like one of your closest family members or friends have died.
  • Guilt: you can have feelings of guilt because you were responsible for your dogs’ life and you could have prevented your dogs’ death. Maybe you ask yourself ‘what if i would have’ or ‘if only I could have done..’. After a while it is possible you feel guilty for not grieving and cry that much anymore like you did before.
  • Concentration problems: especially during the first period of time focusing and concentrate on a task can be very hard to do. Remember this is part of the process when you grief of losing your dog.
  • Feeling your dog is still around you: it can be the case you think you can still hear, smell or see your dog like your dog is still around you. Or you are so used to your daily routines you think about walking the dog and think about feeding your dog. This can be very painful because you start to remember your dog isn’t there anymore.
  • Reliving or Re-visioning the Death: for weeks or months you may focus on your dogs’ death and play these last moments over and over in your head. Especially if your dog died in a traumatic way your mind is trying to heal itself by repeating this event over and over again in order to eventually letting this go.
  • Grieving for your dog let you think about other losses: the grief for your dog can be a trigger for you to think about other people or pets you have lost. This can be very confusing since you don’t know anymore for whom you are grieving.
  • Your other pets are looking like they are grieving as well: animals can also bond with each other and the death of their friend can be hard for them as well. Both the dynamics and structure within the family is changed and your other pets need time to adjust to the new situation.
Grief for loss of dog. Didi having her power nap in the last weeks.
Grief for loss of dog. Didi having her power nap in the last weeks.

Grief process: how long does it take to get over the death of a dog?

Acute grief normally one to two months up to a full year.

How long this grieving process takes varies from person to person.  Previous experiences with the loss of loved ones can play a role in this.  And of course it matters what kind of bond you had with your dog.  It is important when dealing with grief to talk about it with people who  understand you.  This can be within the family, family friends or acquaintances.  But your vet or assistant, who has known your animal for years, can also offer support and a listening ear.  Most people who have lost a dog of their own, understand that very well.  Sometimes it can be nice to make a photo book of your animal or to make a memory in another way.  Walking in places where you always walked with your dog can also be beneficial in coping with your loss.  Do it in a way that feels right for you. 

Does the loss of your pet have such an impact that you can no longer function properly?  There are special care providers who are committed to supporting people in grief and grief.  check in your area if there are some support groups.

Why is losing a dog so painful?

It is not only about losing your beloved dog. You miss the unconditional love, the security, stability and comfort. Another very important reason is the change in your daily routine. It can be very stressful to change your daily routine. Since your dog might be the reason for you to plan your entire schedule around your dogs need, the loss of your dog can seriously disrupt your daily routine. This is also an important reason you feel you might grief more over your dog than over a close relative or friend since they don’t disrupt your daily routine and lifestyle that much.

My best practices and tips to grief your dog:

  • Make the last moments and time as comfortable as possible for your dog. Give your dog the best food, treats, love and care there is. These moments are precious and you will never regret yourself anything. Take time off from work if possible and simply be in the now with your best buddy. It’s okay to grief!
  • Euthanasia in your home: my experience is that the less stressful option is to do the euthanasia at home. Your dog and you are in your save haven and is the most comfortable option. For Didi this wasn’t possible but for my second dog, Zeus the Rottweiler, this was a really peaceful option.
  • Euthanasia done by emphatic and patient vet: these last moments you will always remember so better make it count! For my dog Zeus I had a really involved vet who cared and took her time. I can’t thank her enough for the kind and correct way of handling this horrible situation. If your vet wants to get it over with as soon as possible showing no understanding for your emotions and pain, this might effect you on the long term. You don’t feel this situation was taken seriously and you will remain with a forever bitter sweet memory.
  • Individual cremation: since we didn’t have the possibility to bury her in the garden we cremated Didi. I am very happy with the decision to cremate her and pay for an individual cremation. Meaning she would not be cremated with other animals and we could say goodbye to Didi in a very peaceful and respectful way. I believe for the grieving process we made the right decision. Because we chose for this cremation we took our grief very seriously and we allowed ourselves to mourn and grief during the time we could say goodbye. Also the employees of the animal cemetery were very kind, respectful and caring.
  • Create your own service or ceremony: we went for a nice cup of coffee in a cozy coffee shop nearby ordering our favorite latte and pastry. Because we already had an official individual cremation at the animal cemetery, this was our little ceremony. We talked about the good times with Didi and what she meant for us. Again we had taken our grief seriously by making time for it. You can do a service or ceremony in your house or in the garden or wherever you feel comfortable.
  • Read books or articles about grief dog and dog loss: you don’t feel so alone if you read the stories from others who have gone through the same grief process. And you may find new tips and insights from other people who also experienced this intense grief and sadness.
  • Make a photo book: collect all the nice pictures you have from your dog and make a nice photo book. You will see that it might be hard to be confronted with the death of your dog. However, being occupied with making this nice collection is good for your grief process. You take time for your beloved dog again and every photo represents one of the nice moments you had.
  • Mention on social media: I never thought I would say this but after my partner gently convinced me to put a message on facebook, I did it. I simply posted a message like ‘rest in peace dear Didi, thank you for all the good years, we will miss you!’ with a picture of Didi in good condition. I didn’t expect so many kind responds of my Facebook friends and it felt so good that other people cared. It is maybe good to mention that you probably only mention it on Facebook, whats app status or private Instagram and not on LinkedIn. For the grief process this was very good. And if there would be weird responds it would be a sign for me that these people don’t fit with me and my values. This could be a moment to think if I want such people in my life:).
  • Talk about your grief of your dog to the right people: I started talking about my grief and loss with other people who I knew were dog lovers. I felt heard and supported. because of my post on Facebook support came from unexpected corners and I talked about my grief to the right people. Avoid talking about your grief with people who never had pets or you know they don’t understand!
  • Give you and your family permission to grief and mourn. Don’t think it is not appropriate to grief and mourn because it is a dog and not a human. As I mentioned earlier, the loss of a dog can sometimes feel more intense then the death of a relative or friend. This is due to the unconditional love and daily routines you had with your dog.
  • Explain the loss to your children in a way they understand.
  • Maintain other pets’ schedule and routines. If you have other pets than try to keep the same routines as usual. Try to maintain your walking schedule every day.
  • Attend a pet support group or talk to a therapist. If you don’t feel you can talk about your loss wit other people around you than check if there is a support group nearby. Ask your vet about it or check on internet or if there are Facebook support groups you can join.
  • Write a letter to yourself about what you are going through. Write down everything that comes to your mind when it comes to the feelings you are experiencing. This can really help you to get some of the pain and grief out of your system.
  • Write a blog and share your experience with the world. I was encouraged by others to write a blog post about the grieving process. Why? Because there are so many people struggling with the same feelings who don’t feel heard or feeling alone. Writing about this grief both helps me in a therapeutic way and I hope that I help others like you.