Saying goodbye to a pet companion is difficult, but there are ways to help ease the pain. (Photo credit: Stock image)

Coping with grief after losing a four-legged friend

Knowing when it’s time to say goodbye can be a difficult decision

The BC SPCA has some tips to offer on how to help pet owners deal with the sad day when they have to say goodbye to a four-legged friend.

“The bond that we share with our pets is incredibly special,” says Lorie Chortyk, general manager of communityrelations for the BC SPCA. “They bring so much love, joy, companionship, and laughter to our lives. We never want to think about losing them.

“But when our pets reach the point where they can no longer live without pain or distress, we owe it to them to put our own feelings aside and to make the right decision for them.”

Dr. Elizabeth Kuan, veterinarian at the SPCA’s Burnaby Veterinary Hospital, explains that pet guardians should prioritize quality of life over length of life. “Most owners regret letting go too late versus letting go too early,” Dr. Kuan says. “With terminal diseases where we’re expecting quality of life to slowly deteriorate, it’s better to let them go when they’re having a ‘good day’ rather than after they’ve suffered for weeks.”

Quality of life scales and surveys, available from your veterinarian, can help. These tools allow pet guardians to rate their animal’s condition. Does a pet not enjoy the same activities as before? Is the pet trembling or shaking? Does the pet need help to move around normally? These types of questions can help a pet guardian decide when to say goodbye.

Many psychologists have noted that, for some people, the grieving process for a pet can be as difficult as losing a human family member or friend. But there’s no need to go through the grieving process alone. “It’s important to understand that this is a genuine loss and that your feelings of grief are real and valid,” says Chortyk.

“Seek out the support of friends and family during this difficult time. Some communities even have pet loss support groups where people can share and work through these feelings together.”

The SPCA offers these tips to memorialize a beloved pet and help with the grieving process:

• Keep pet tags and put them on a key ring.

• Record the happy memories in a journal.

• Create a collage of photographs.

• Make a donation to an animal welfare organization in the pet’s name.

• Write a poem about the pet.

• Plant a memorial tree.

“The important thing is to treasure the beautiful moments you shared with your pet and to know that, when it was time to say goodbye, you made the kindest decision possible for them,” says Chortyk.

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