How To Cope with The Death of Your Dog

This is a hard one. Hard for me to think about and hard for me to write about, but as dog owners we likely will have to cope with this numerous times. It is the painful part of having a dog. If you have a short-lived breed then it probably entered into your decision to get that breed.  I know it did mine and because of that I think about this issue often. But just because I have dwelt on it, it doesn’t mean I was prepared for the loss.  When my beloved bulldog Daisy died unexpectedly nearly a year ago I was and still am devastated. So clearly I have no secret formula for dealing with this but I do have a few suggestions that may help.

How To Help Children Deal With The Death of Their Dog

Probably the most important thing you can convey to your child is that it is okay to be sad.  It is OK to cry, feel lonely and lost. It may help to talk about precious moments, funny stories and special times they shared. He may want to write a story, draw a picture or write a poem. Let him know that these feelings will pass and share your own childhood experiences of loss.

If you belong to a church, synagogue or an organized religion you may want to touch base with a priest or minister who has had ample experience with grief and may give you some comforting words and concepts. Some children are comforted by the thought that “they are in a better place,” especially if your dog was uncomfortable at the end of his life.

Remember to let your child’s teacher know about the loss of your family’s friend. Your child’s behavior may change in school and he may be moody so it is important that you let the teacher know.

Really young children may not have a concept of death so you may have to explain several times.  Be patient.

Story books about loss may help. This list contains some of my favorite.

Elementary age children are beginning to have a clearer concept of death and their questions may be more specific as to exactly how Fido died.  Remember to try to answer their questions fully. The more information you provide the less likely it is that they will spin some explanation themselves.

Older children and teenagers may want to be involved in the transition.  They may want to be included in the vet visits. Teenagers are often very deeply affected if they have grown up with the dog. They may have been very connected as often dogs serve as confidants to teenagers when they are having problems at school or with friends.  Be sensitive to this.

Other Pets

It isn’t uncommon for your other dogs or pets to act differently.  They may stop eating and drinking or  may eat and drink much less.  They may want to be with you all the time. They may be restless, destructive, or even forget that they were housebroken. Spend a little extra with them giving them special attention. This may help you as well. If unusual behavior continues, see a vet. Personally, it helped me to talk to my other dogs about Daisy and remember the good times they had together.

“It was just a dog” Doesn’t Work

Fortunately none of my friends have ever given me this line but I have heard many stories of others being told this. Not helpful! Some people just don’t get it that your dog was a family member. Steer clear of these people for awhile. Remember that it is normal for you to have  feelings fluctuating from feeling bereft to feeling guilty. You may feel that you never ever want another dog or you may immediately want another dog. Both of these feelings are normal. Talk with your family about how you are feeling.

You may burst into tears unexpectedly, may have problems sleeping and may dream about your dog. You may want to talk about incessantly. Or you may not want to talk about it at all. A feeling of numbness is common or you may feel hyper. All of these feelings are normal.

Many people find grief counseling helpful. Cornell University has a hotline.

The feelings of loss that you may be feeling may always be there, but eventually the intensity changes.

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5 Responses to “How To Cope with The Death of Your Dog”

  1. Laura Neiheisel 25. Apr, 2011 at 1:29 pm #

    Elizabeth,
    This is a great post and is a very hard fact we all experience with our beloved pets. I get emotional just thinking about the day I will have to say good bye to my dogs someday. They are 5 and 6 and look and act quite young, but I can’t help but think about that day sometimes. Perhaps I am trying to mentally prepare for something that is hopefully way in the future?

    The tips are helpful and fortunately I have never been told that it is “just a dog.” I think my friends know better than that. ;) Thanks for this post,

    Laura
    Austin Dog Zone

  2. Elizabeth Deitz 25. Apr, 2011 at 2:33 pm #

    Thanks for the comment Laura. Interestingly, now that I think about it, the one person who said “It’s just a dog” is no longer really a close friend! And I hope you don’t have to deal with this for a very very long time!

  3. Michelle S 03. May, 2011 at 9:38 am #

    Elizabeth, as always, great post!

    I think many of those suggestions work whether it’s a dog or a human. People mean well mostly, but they don’t deal with someone’s grief well and say things that are hurtful. My favorite is “you can always have another.” Not necessarily true and even if you do go on to have 20 more dogs in your life time, this one was special for the same reasons that make us unique as humans. Daisy was a very special dog, and I was blessed, as is anyone, who knew her gentle spirit. She will always be remembered for her insistent paw on my leg demanding love. The thing is, she gave about 100x as she got.

  4. Elizabeth Deitz 03. May, 2011 at 1:27 pm #

    Your response made me well up! I do think people mean well, but just don’t know what to say. And NO ONE can feel your pain entirely. The beauty, and the pain, is that all beings are unique. They can never be duplicated. And our love for those beings is just as unqiue. And also can never be duplicated. Both sad and wonderful at the same time. Thanks Michelle.

  5. S E 23. Jan, 2012 at 12:55 pm #

    My buddy Deuce has a brain tumor and doesn’t have much time. He still enjoys life but I know its coming soon by the drop in his activity. He is an 8 y/o half german shepard half lab. I got him in my early 20s and he is my dog not a family dog. I find myself bursting into tears out of no where. the sadness is so strong it takes me off guard. I havn’t cried since my grandfathers funeral when i was 14 and now im crying everyday it seems like.

    I wish I could just enjoy him now while i have him but it feels like someone is standing on my chest all day long. I had been trying to tell myself “he just a dog” but it doesnt work; its good advice not to think like that.

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