Coping with the loss of a young pet

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Opening your heart and home to a new pet is an exciting time for you and your family. No doubt there will be challenges and a certain level of stress associated with house training, particularly if you have a puppy or kitten.

You know that you have made a long-term commitment. Cats have a life expectancy of 13 – 17 years and often live for longer. Dogs are a little more complicated. A small breed of dog often lives for 15 years or more. Medium and large dogs typically live for 10 – 13 years and giant breeds can expect to be around for 7 or 8 years.

It’s not only cats and dogs that will be with you for several years. Smaller pets such as rabbits can live for many years and even hamsters can live for up to 2 – 4 years.

Life doesn’t always go according to plan

I remember when my family and I took our family dog home as a puppy. The breeder said to my son Matthew, who was 5 at the time, that our new puppy would be with us until he went to college.

Thankfully he was right and we still have him today at the grand age of 14 and my son is hoping to go to university in September.

However, this isn’t always the case. Accidents and illness can strike anytime. All the hopes and dreams of sharing family life can be snatched away. Whether it’s through illness or an accident the sudden death of a young pet can leave you feeling shattered and lost.

grieving woman after the sudden death of a pet

The sudden death of a pet can be devastating

Although we expect to outlive our pets, there is an expectation that we will share many years with them. That we will see them grow old and at some point, we will need to make the decision to let them go. There’s no doubt that when we have to say goodbye it is traumatic. The silver lining is the memories of time together. When a life is cut short, it can feel impossible to come to accept what has happened.

Symptoms of shock

A sudden loss can leave you in a state of shock. The side effects of shock can manifest as physical or emotional symptoms. Signs of shock may include a rapid heartbeat, feelings of anxiety, difficulty in breathing, shallow or rapid breathing.

sudden death of a pet can leave you in a state of shock

It is possible to go into shock whether you have witnessed an accident or not. If you are with someone that has witnessed an accident or has just heard their pet has died and you think they are in shock it is best to get them lying down with their feet raised slightly.

Feelings of guilt

After the sudden death of a pet, not everyone is going to suffer the symptoms of shock. However, you may feel guilty and experience repetitive thoughts, guilt and anger, at what has happened.

It’s common to ask yourself whether you could have done anything to save your pet? If the loss was due to an illness, could you have taken them to your veterinary practice sooner? In the case of a fatal accident, could you have done anything to prevent it from happening?

Tips for coping with a sudden pet loss

A sudden and unexpected bereavement brings additional challenges. As previously stated you may feel guilty for not taking actions that could have prevented your pet’s death. You may be left feeling cheated out of a chance to say goodbye.

There are some practical steps you can take to help process these feelings.

Talk to others about your loss – reach out to a trusted friend or family member that you can talk about your pet. If the idea of a face to face conversation is too intimidating you can reach out to others that have experienced loss. There are online forums dedicated to pet loss. You may like to visit our Facebook page.

Make self-care a priority – losing a pet is emotionally and physically exhausting. To help alleviate these symptoms eat a healthy diet and try to take regular exercise. Regular sleep will also help you to get through this difficult time.

What support is available?

Reading our articles on pet loss may offer you some comfort and support. You will find the following articles on this website:

We have also published details of pet loss support services you may find helpful.

Share your thoughts

Have you experienced the sudden loss of a pet? Sharing your experience in the comments below may help you. Other bereaved pet owners may benefit from reading your experiences.


2 responses to “Coping with the loss of a young pet”

  1. I Lost my Dearest Bardolino to CHF at 5 years , he had boxer ARVC from the age of 1, when he developed CHF it he was gone within 7 months . It was a very traumatic illness at the end Weekly abdominocentesis and severe cachexia in the end. It was heartbreaking to witness. I lost him in December 2020 and I have had a really hard time recovering. I miss him terribly and I still cry daily over him. He was like my child. Such a sweet, sweet soul, everybody loved him, he had something special !! It has been devastating for me!

    • Jon says:

      Good morning Karen, please accept my condolences on the loss of Bardolino. He has obviously left a large hole in your life – I hope you can find comfort when you think about him. Thank you for sharing your story. Jon on behalf of CPC.

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