Losing your beloved dog can be one of the most heart-wrenching and traumatic experiences for anyone. Coping with your dog dying is hard, especially when they’re suffering due to a long battle with illness or disease.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Why Is Losing a Dog So Painful?
- How to Mentally Prepare Yourself for Your Dog’s Death
- How to Help Your Children or Family Prepare for Your Dog’s Death
- How to Comfort Your Dying Dog
There are ways to prepare yourself and your family for your dog’s death before it happens to help lessen the pain. But regardless of how much preparation goes into it, you can expect that when the day comes, you may still suffer immensely. You may even go into shock and denial and forget all the things you did to prepare you for this day.
Why Is Losing a Dog So Painful?
Losing a dog can hurt as much as having any beloved member of the family die. The pain and hurt that accompanies pet loss can trigger some of the same grief reactions of other significant losses in life. Dogs carve out a special place in our hearts and families, and their death can create profound pain and suffering for their owners.
When a dog dies, they can leave their owners feeling loss and heartbreak, making them feel grief-stricken for some time afterward. Dog owners will usually suffer through profound grief that they'll need to heal from like any other loss.
Similarly, dog owners tend to build a psychological attachment to their pets that rival their connections to other family members. It's not unusual for the family dog's name to get confused with the children's names in the family or other family members.
Depending on the attachment to the dog, their owners tend to lump the dog into the same cognitive pool containing other family members. This psychological association with our dogs is one reason why it hurts so much when they die. We miss them much like we would any other of our loved ones who've died.
Another reason we feel so much pain after our dog dies is because we mourn the loss of our pet's unconditional love and constant companionship they provided. Even in households teeming with children, a dog occupies a special place within the family that no one else can fill.
In single-person homes, a dog has an even more significant role, and their death can be an especially heartbreaking experience for their owners. A dog companion's death can mean disrupted routines, changes in lifestyle, and increased loneliness to a single person. This type of loss can represent a profound loss to both a single person and a family.
How to Mentally Prepare Yourself for Your Dog’s Death
Mentally preparing yourself for your dog’s death can mean anything from going over in your head what to expect when that day finally comes to learning ways of coping while waiting for it to happen.
Despite all the mental and emotional preparedness you may go through, you still may not know what to do when your dog dies. Here are some ways you can deal with a dying dog and how you can prepare yourself, your family, and your pet ahead of time.
1. Give extra love
Unless you arrange for your dog’s euthanasia in advance, you won’t know precisely how long they have to live. Giving them extra love leading up to their death will make you and your pet feel better in the coming days. Make time for some special one-on-one moments with your dog.
Cook them their favorite homemade meal and give them the extra cuddle time that they deserve. Let your dog know how much you love them and how you’ll miss them once they’re gone. Be sure to tell your dog how much joy they brought into your life and how it won’t be the same without them.
2. Make their space comfortable
A dog who is experiencing an end-of-life illness will need to be made as comfortable as possible when preparing for a natural death at home.
Consider adding extra pillows and blankets in their dog bed or allowing them to sleep in the bed next to you if that’s something that you allow. Keep in mind that their illness may be causing them pain and discomfort, and it may be best to let them sleep in the comfort of their bed.
3. Spend quality time
Spending extra time with your pet will make both of you feel special and loved. Think of this as your final goodbyes. Try to set aside spare time to spend with your dog so that you won’t later regret not having done so.
Recognize that your dog might no longer have the same energy and may not feel like doing anything other than cuddling with you on the couch. Quality time together doesn’t need to be spent doing anything other than being physically present in the same room.
4. Make their last days memorable
Visit their favorite places one last time before your dog dies, if their health allows it. If they’re no longer able to walk, consider using a stroller or pull-wagon to get them around. Show love and patience toward your dog.
They may not feel their greatest during your outings, so consider making a series of short trips instead to make them more bearable for your sick pet. One of the goals is to make your dog comfortable as you revisit their favorite places.
5. Envision your life without them
In the days leading up to your dog’s death, it’s okay to start thinking of how your life will change. If you’re used to daily or weekly visits to the dog park, think about what it’ll be like for you not to go.
Did you make dog park friends whose company you’ll miss? Is this as much a part of your daily or weekly routine as it is for your dog? If so, prepare yourself for these coming changes. You may want to keep up your routine after your dog dies. This way, you’re not shocked by all the sudden changes in your life all at once.
6. Consider euthanasia where appropriate
As much as it hurts to think about putting your beloved pet to sleep, sometimes it’s the most loving and humane thing to do to save them from their pain and suffering. It is worth reviewing all available options with the help of your pet’s veterinarian and your family’s input. Making this decision is almost always a difficult and painful one to have to make.
When considering this as a choice, ensure that you read some information so that you’re better prepared for it and know what to expect. Contact your vet and ask them these important questions:
- How do I know when it’s the right time to consider this option?
- How will my dog be euthanized?
- Who should be present?
- What can we expect to see?
- How will you dispose of my dog’s body?
How to Help Your Children or Family Prepare for Your Dog’s Death
The loss of a pet can also be difficult for other members of your household. The death of your dog has the potential to impact the lives of others in your home. As soon as you know your dog’s dying, gather your family to explain what’s happening.
Not everyone’s emotions will be as invested in your dog’s life and death as yours are, so prepare yourself to confront some indifference. If this is the case, don’t force them to acknowledge what’s happening. Focus on giving them the information and allowing them to process it and ask questions if they so choose to.
7. Explain your pet’s loss in a way they’ll understand
Young children in the family, especially, may not know what it means when you tell them that your dog is sick and dying. You may need to sit with them and explain what’s happening using language that they’ll understand based on their age, experience, and maturity level.
If this is the first time they’re experiencing any type of death or loss, you may want to use simple examples of other types of death, such as when an insect dies.
8. Allow you and your family to grieve
Grief comes in many forms and expressions. Your family will each grieve their loss in their unique way. Children tend to follow the lead of the adults in the family when learning what it means to suffer after the death of a pet.
Consider reading together the loss of pet poems and pet loss quotes to ease their pain and suffering. Allow them the opportunity to point out their favorites and consider a DIY picture and word collage project to help them remember their pet.
9. Make room for expressing their emotions
Children of any age will likely not know how to handle their emotions following the death of their dog. Expect that some children will show an immediate reaction to their loss, while others become isolated and withdrawn. Give each family member time to process the death and give them the space they need to come to terms with their loss.
Children who are having trouble accepting their dog’s death or who become withdrawn should have their grief progress monitored. You may want to talk to a professional grief counselor or therapist for advice on what to do when a child is not adjusting well with their grief.
10. Create a memorial service for your pet
Hold a small memorial service for your pet during their last days. Encourage children to participate in honoring your pet’s life by sharing their best memories of them and your pet. Ask them to write a short living eulogy that they can read aloud. Prepare for lots of tears and sadness while explaining to the children what to expect to feel as they go through their grief.
The memorial service may be a good time for everyone to make an individual DIY pet keepsake to carry with them after your pet’s death.
11. Take lots of pictures
The final days of your dog’s life are an excellent time to take plenty of final end-of-life pictures as you prepare to say goodbye to them. You and your family will be able to look at these last few days spent together and cherish those moments with your pet. Try and capture spontaneous moments showing your children and pet going about their day as well as those they pose for.
Consider playing dress-up with younger children asking them to put on their fanciest clothes so that they can sit for a final formal family portrait with their pet. Perhaps they can borrow a bow tie or hair bow to put on the dog to dress them up a bit as well.
12. Think through major decisions
As your dog’s death is approaching, put off making any major decisions such as getting another pet soon after or before your dog dies. You will want to ensure that everyone is emotionally prepared and ready to bring a new dog into the family. Getting another pet before or shortly after the one you have dies might interfere with their grieving process.
Another thing to consider is that you may not be emotionally ready to offer your love and attention to another dog, especially a puppy. What starts as love may soon turn into resentment.
How to Comfort Your Dying Dog
You can model end-of-life care for your dog much as you would for any other loved one facing their last days. Consider placing emphasis on comfort, alleviating pain, and creating a safe, quiet, and peaceful environment for your beloved dog. Animals react to the loving care you give them during their final days, making for a better dying experience. The tips below may offer some guidance on how you can make a difference in your pet’s life as they make that final transition.
13. Stay closeby
Your presence can be a loving comfort to your dog who’s dying. Dogs who have a close bond with their owners will find it reassuring knowing that they’re close by during their final days. Whenever possible, try to remain within eyesight of your dog so that they know you’re close by them. If it’s impossible to be next to them all day, consider asking another family member to step in while you’re away.
14. Speak softly
You can use the tone of your voice when speaking to your dog to soothe their fears and anxieties about their condition. Use a comforting level of speech when addressing your dog. Also, refrain from giving commands or expecting a response from them. Typically, a dog facing death will have little energy to respond beyond a gentle blinking of their eyes or wagging of the tail. Getting up or complying with any demands may be more than they’re capable of doing at this last stage of life.
15. Play soothing music
Dogs can benefit from hearing healing music played for them as they lay in their bed. Consider downloading a soft or zen soundtrack from Pandora or YouTube. An alternative is to immerse your dog’s sleeping area in healing sound baths using singing bowls. You can play this for your dog or have a soundtrack playing softly in the background. Either way, your dog will be comforted and more relaxed during this challenging time.
16. Make special foods
Your dog may not feel much like eating when facing their last days. Consider making special meals for them to enjoy some of their favorite foods in whatever amount they can stomach. Preparing homemade meals is not only more nutritious for your dog but is tastier and shows love. Check with your dog’s vet to see what types of food might interfere with their medication or that may otherwise be off-limits.
17. Limit the number of visitors
Having a house full of guests may not be the most ideal for your dog during this time. They may be feeling irritable, tired, and otherwise not at their best. The extra attention and noise that comes with having guests over might be too much for your dog’s comfort. Consider limiting the number of guests that you have around at any given time. Also, consider how much guests handle your dog.
18. Ask your vet for advice
Consider asking your vet for their best advice when it comes to your pet’s individual needs. Check to see if there’s any medication available to make their last days more comfortable or if there are alternative healing therapies that may soothe their pain and discomfort. Your vet should have access to the latest medical interventions and can refer you to other professionals in your community that can intervene to alleviate your dog’s pain and suffering.
Coping With a Dying Dog
Facing your dog’s death is never easy. You will not know what to expect from this type of news until you’re confronted with it. Treat each day as if it could be the last you spend together. Give your dog all the love and attention they deserve.
When the time comes, you’ll know that you gave them the best love and care that you could during their lifetime.