Dealing With Pet Loss

My household lost a key member this week: One of my two cats, Josie, passed away. While Josie had been sick for awhile, she was being carefully monitored. Thus, while we knew it might happen soon, we really didn’t want to admit it’d happen soon. Josie was adopted in 2005 and she was the runt of the litter. She and her siblings were in the newspaper as being up for sale and soon after, I was in the passenger seat, holding her in a blanketed basket as she made her way into her new home.

Josie was a finicky cat – while she was constantly loved, she also suffered from a few issues that made her a bit more difficult. She was anxious and a bit depressed and with every change that occurred, she suffered even more. Being in my mid ’20s, change happened constantly. While Josie was constantly kept in mind, sometimes it was difficult to make sure that she would be able to properly adapt.

Pet loss is a tough thing to deal with. A good pet has an influence on your everyday life – and while you can communicate with them to a point, sometimes they just can’t tell you what’s wrong. It’s devastating when it happens and can often stick with you for years.

Here are some ways to cope, if you’ve dealt with something similar.

1. Don’t immediately try to replace your pet. Let’s be serious – it’s a rebound, just like an immediate new boyfriend or girlfriend might be. It’s great to have something to fill the void but make sure you move on when you’re ready. If you’ve had an older dog or cat, remember that a puppy or kitten will require a lot more attention and training.

2. Don’t shrug off giving your pet a proper ceremony. I’m not saying you should invest in an overly expensive casket or invite family members, but some type of closure will help you to move on. If your pet passed away at a vet, even lighting a candle in memory at home might help.

3. Don’t look through all of your pet pictures immediately. I made the mistake of looking at kitten-Josie pictures a few hours after burial and I was a wreck. Reflecting immediately will intensify everything. Reflection is important, but viewing a pet’s entire lifespan via photo should be done at least a few months after the fact. Let it sink in first and deal with the day-to-day.

HelloGiggles readers, yes. This brought me to tears.

4. Tell people what happened. If you’re in a lousy mood since your pet died, people will understand. Whether it be a dog or a goldfish, everyone gets it. While you shouldn’t use your pet’s death as an excuse to tell off co-workers, they’d get if you’re a bit sensitive due to the news. I posted a picture of Josie and me on Facebook with a caption including her birth and death dates and it got the message out that something traumatic happened that might make me a little off.

5. Avoid people telling you what you should have done. Sure, there are numerous, pricey solutions out there that may have given your pet a few extra months of life. But only you know what you’re capable of. While people might tell you of the blood tests and extra exams that could have prevented the matter, you know whether or not it was reasonable to drop a grand based on chance. While I love my pets, I also know when it’s way out of my financial boundary to get those extra tests, just in case. If you’re financially able to pay for food, litter and necessary vet visits, you shouldn’t feel guilty if a probable surgery that won’t guarantee pet survival for much longer is unreasonable at the time. It’ll always be a tough call. If you truly loved your pet, please trust your initial instinct.

Josie will always be a part of me and while I grieve, I realize that we gave her a great life regardless of the outcome. I’d love for our HelloGiggles readers to share their own experiences with pet loss in the comments. Just remember – you did an amazing job.

And Josie? We all love you.

  • Jessica Carner

    I recently had to put my cat, Dusty, to sleep. She was 12 and I’d had her since highschool. She’d moved with me from house to house and had just always been by my side. She was the sweetest kitty and I miss her everyday. I still have her brother, Dante, along with my 2 dogs. They helped me grieve and made me feel love when I felt so depressed and guilty after losing her. My favorite part of the post above is #5. I have been struggling with this and it’s nice to hear I’m not alone.

    • Karen Belz

      I hate how everyone seems to always have a point of view. Sometimes pet sickness can get way out of control, and seeing them suffer with something you can’t really help with is heartbreaking. Much love to Dusty (And Dante is an adorable cat name!)

  • Hannah Rose Usher

    My cat is seriously the love of my life. She’s also 16 and the thought of her crossing the rainbow bridge brings me to tears every time. I don’t know what I’ll ever do without her so I try not to think about it but it’s hard not to since she’s a senior citizen. I hope you feel better soon. Josie had a great mom.

    • Amber Copeland

      My cat is my soulmate and she’s getting older, too. I’ve had her for 10 years. I’ve told her she is obligated to live forever. Or at least outlive me. She agreed. We’ve have our fingers and paws crossed.

  • Cristina Moreno

    My dog died two summers ago and I’m still not over it. He’d been with my family for over 12 years and he was like my child. I work with young children and the similarities are pretty striking. :)

    One day he was fine and the next he wasn’t. He developed Pancreatitis. I found out about it on a Saturday and by Sunday morning, he had passed away. I hate that I had to hear him yelping in pain and part of me hates that I wasn’t there to put him to sleep, but the other part of my brain thinks that it was actually for the best. I checked him into an animal hospital on Saturday evening and early Sunday morning we received a phone call saying that he’d had a seizure and that he was unconscious. He was a tiny dachshund and the thought of him laying there with a breathing tube down his throat was too much for me. I asked the doctor if he would feel any pain and she assured me that he wouldn’t (which I still don’t know if I should believe, but I accepted it because I needed to accept it) and that was it. I hung up the phone and sobbed. Then I dealt with people who couldn’t understand why I was so upset. “He was just a dog” came up a lot. Especially when I decided to have him cremated.
    I’m glad to know that he had a good life with us. I think he knew that he was loved. I think he also knew that it was his time to go. The way he looked at me in the hospital…he knew that it was a goodbye. I love you, little man.

    • Karen Belz

      Such a beautiful dog, Cristina! I’m so sorry to hear that. My first major pet death was my dog, Buttons (a Bichon). She was such an amazing family dog, and it’s still weird going home and not seeing her by the door. These things definitely take time – don’t let anyone try to minimize your grief.

    • Kaitlyn Shore

      A dog is never “just a dog!” Such a cutie <33

  • Jesse Leal

    ~complete tears here~ I thought I wouls share this story with you. I wondered why God woke me up @ 5am… One of my best friends Vicki, her beloved 19 year old kitty Squeak… we knew she was going to pass. Skueak was trying to prepare Vic for her leaving her for a while; it was like Squeak didn’t want to leave, knowing how much it was going to hurt Vicki. She eventually passed. I had tried to prepare Vic also. And Vic is an awesome kitty mom, loving, attentitive, caring… I had told her she needed to get another kitty; there are a lotta rescue kitties out there that need a good mommy and a household that she could provide, she agreed. When Squeak passed she refused. She was devastated. I brought it up a couple times with a firm “NO” from Vic. Finally one day I pressed the issue, and we sorta got into an argument. We parted, her to shower, me to nap. When I woke up I had a message on Facebook from Vicki, “I blame YOU!!”
    Hey two young children had walked a friend home and bought back with them a feral little kitten. It was the middle of winter, and the kitten would have likely not survived. It looks almost identical to her deceased kitty except for a white, under the neck tuft, and male, and if there is any kitty reincarnation… was about the age from when her beloved Squeak had died. She adores this new kitty. She had to dropper feed him at first, was terrified he wouldnt live. I watched her go from denial of losing her Squeak, to denial of loving this kitten, to fear of losing him, to acceptance, and eventually adoration and love. God bless what animals do to our lives. <3

  • Sarah Jarvis

    I had to put my beautiful doggy Nick to sleep a couple of weeks ago, due to a sudden decline in his health due to Cushings Disease (brain tumours). While there were thousands of $$ worth of tests that could be done and possible surgery if I flew him interstate (he was 11 yo), I could never afford it, nor have him suffer on such an uncertain lonel future, and he knew it was his time I believe also, he was miserable and that wasn’t what he was like his entire life with us. While it was the hardest thing I’ve had to do in my life so far, I know it was the right thing to do, and he had a wonderful life with us. We saw him in the newspaper when he was 1 yo, and my parents went to check him out and found him neglected and suffering. Mum knew because of his name, it was destiny that he would be mine, and he’s been my beautiful, naive, trusting, puppy-minded friend since then :) I’ll always miss him.

  • Jesse Leal

    Godspeed lil Josie, your mommy loved you and we all will not forget you <3

  • Kelly Brighi

    I chose to put my dog, Roxy, to sleep last October (can’t believe it’s almost a year now!) and have struggled with guilt since then. She was 9 and the average life span for a boxer is 10 or 11. She got sick, stopped eating and was depressed. We went to the vet 3 times over the course of 7 days; the 3rd visit was to a different vet for a second opinion because the first vet still thought it was just a “stomach bug”. But she hadn’t eaten more than a bit e or two of food each day for 7 days. The new vet gave me the option of spending a lot of money to find out what was wrong or just accepting what my gut and my heart were telling me already. She was really sick and IF she could get better it would cost a lot of money. The 4th visit on day 10 was time to say goodbye and it was so hard! That last day, before we went to the vet, she wouldn’t even look at me. That broke my heart. I felt like she just couldn’t face me because she knew I wanted her to be better and she couldn’t be. I know that sounds silly, but that was why I decided to let her go. I stayed with her and the vet, who was so kind to both of us and cried right along with me when it was time for the infusion… I’m crying as I write this and still thinking maybe I should have tried harder. Thank you for your reassurance. She’s in my heart forever

    • Karen Belz

      You’re a sweet person, and had an amazing (second opinion) vet. I know it’s tough not to feel guilty, but you were carefully monitoring Roxy. A lot of people would have just accepted the stomach bug theory, but you took the extra step to get more answers. It’s definitely not silly – when my dog passed, I knew she was hurting and felt bad. And she was probably terrified of the next step, just like we’d feel. Animals can be very expressive. You went above and beyond, and I know Roxy appreciated it.

  • Katie Lynch

    Thanks for this. I had to put down my rat Emily two days ago, and her sister Zooey a few months before, both for pituitary tumors. (Yes, they were named after the sisters Deschanel) I’d had them for almost two years, since they were babies.
    I wrote the story of my ratties here complete with pictures…

  • Livi Flynn

    My first cat Bertie had to be put down three years ago – there were so many things wrong with him, he had feline AIDS, lymphoma, a tumour on his neck that was between two arteres and pressing down on his windpipe so he couldn’t breathe properly, sleep, eat or clean himself. He was a beautiful cat, a tabby tortoiseshell with black stripes and four white paws, a white bib and the most bizarre orange spotted belly with…a white bikini. He was adored from day one, despite his despicable temperment and vicious tendancies, and putting him down was one of the hardest things i’ve ever had to do. I’ll always regret not going in with him when his time at the vet came, the idea that he was scared and sick and alone in his final moments still upsets me three years on – it was a mistake i will never, ever repeat.

    • Karen Belz

      Don’t beat yourself up over it – You loved that cat daily, and Bertie knew it. While he was hurting, you constantly gave him your support. Sometimes it’s easier not to be there. Sometimes you don’t know it’s the last time. Always, always think of the good memories, and know that you made the right choice for him.

  • Eizelle Gonzales

    Just reading the title made me cry. I lost a dog my boyfriend and I and adopted. Her name was Lemmy like from Motorhead. I only had her for six weeks, but it was the best six weeks we could give her. We love her and miss her dearly and think about her regularly. We haven’t adopted since. At first we didn’t want to replace her and then it was because we moved and the aparments doesn’t allow pets. But one day we hope to adopt again. In the meantime we will always have our six weeks.

  • Sarah Hoffman

    This couldn’t have come at a better time. I had to put my cat Han down less than a week ago. I got him for my 10th birthday and he was 16 when he died, 10 days before my 26th birthday. I’m having a hard time coping because it happened very suddenly and was unexpected. Especially since I took him to the vet 2 weeks prior and he had blood work done and the vet said everything was good. I just came home one day and saw he wasn’t going to make it and had to make the decision right away, because even if surgery was an option he was too old to survive it. The morning of I looked at him and he tried to meow and it broke my heart. I feel guilty, but I know there really wasn’t anything else I could do. He was in my arms when they gave him the sedative so I know he didn’t feel anything, he just went to sleep. It was hard to be there for it, but I didn’t want him to be alone.

  • Carly Lane

    My family had to put our first dog to sleep about 6 years ago after we discovered he had stomach cancer. By then, it was too late to even try chemo or any other options – he had really good days where he was super healthy and energetic, but when he had his bad days, they were really bad, to the point where it was obvious to us he was in pain. The tumors in his stomach made it pretty much impossible for him to eat anything, and when the vet recommended putting him to sleep, we knew it was the right thing to do. His previous owners came with us so we could all be there when he passed, and right up until the moment it happened we could tell he was almost worried about US, like he didn’t want us to be sad just because he was sick. But we told him it was okay for him to rest. <3 Instead of cremating, we buried him underneath his favorite tree. And a year later, we got a brand-new puppy who reminds us of him in so many ways but is just different enough to help with the healing. It's been six years since he died, but he'll definitely always be missed. Thanks so much for this article and for letting people know that it's really okay to give yourself time to grieve after the loss of a beloved family friend.

  • Sarah Ann Schatsiek

    definitely needed this. I lost my dog, Trixie, last year to old age. it was one of the hardest things I’ve every been through.. especially because I wasn’t around when my parents had to have her put down. It killed me and it still kills me today. I miss her very much and she will always be my puppy. Thanks for this post.

  • Lisa Tiedemann

    Karen, I am happy Josie had such a loving owner. I think you have the right idea about this process, just don’t be shy if a new kitty presents itself sooner than you expected. I’ve found that cats tend to find us, rather than us finding them. I also recommend the book, “The Tenth Good Thing About Barney,” my mom always used this book when we lost a kitty and it helped with the grieving process.

    • Karen Belz

      Even prior to losing Josie, I was all for a third kitty! (The rest of my household said it might be too much, but…) I’ll definitely check out the book. Thanks for the recommendation!

  • Jacqueline Buccarelli Kepple

    Thank you so much for this article. I had to put my beloved rescue cat, Sage, to sleep in late Aug after a week of not knowing what was wrong. She couldn’t move her hind legs but was eating up a storm. We brought her to the vet, who performed some tests and told us that she had FIP, which is a terminal illness most often affecting kittens. Sage was between 2 & 3. We were so shocked, we spent a lot of money to figure out if this was exactly what was wrong with her, and it was completely confirmed. I still remember her pulling herself onto the air mattress we were sleeping on (to keep her company b/c she could no longer jump onto our bed) and snuggle next to me. By the next day, she was too far gone for her to realize what was going on. I miss her so much.

    • Karen Belz

      Jacqueline, I’m so sorry. I’m sure Sage was an amazing cat. You’re amazing for rescuing her. You gave her a life that she wouldn’t have had a chance to have!

  • Alexandra Shytsman

    I lost my beloved kitteh in March. I’m still devastated. I wrote about it here:

  • Danielle Boecking

    I lost my cat that I had for almost 12 years in February and it was the hardest thing and greatest loss in my life. I couldn’t even describe to people how much she meant to me. She was my best friend, always there and such a huge part of my life that I couldn’t imagine it without her. She got sick very quickly with a liver/gallbladder condition and we fought really hard to get her better with constant vet visits, meds, and even IV fluids at home for over a month. I spent nearly $5,000 of student loan money and credit cards. Some people thought I was crazy but I could not give up on her if there was still a chance. She was fighting it and vets were amazed by her strength and when we finally thought things were okay and she was in recovery after a surgery things took a sudden turn. She had a stitch come loose and had to put down. It was incredibly traumatizing holding her in my arms on the way to the vet and telling her to hold on as she gasped for air and later saying goodbye to her. Walking away from her lifeless body was the hardest thing and I almost couldn’t do it. It was only with my wonderful family support and a friend who knew what I needed without being asked that I made it through the days after. I just couldn’t imagine not having her with me so I made the choice to have her cremated privately and picking up her ashes was surreal but comforting, like I was bringing her home. Slowly the time has passed and things have gotten easier but I am always reminded of her seeing her in pictures everyday and passing her ashes on my dresser. I don’t think I will ever be able to take her final picture off of my phone background; her basking in the sun she loved finding peace even as she was so sick. I will always see her as the strong, independent force she was and she will never be replaced. I think about a getting a kitten but I know it won’t be the same. Part of me wants to start over but a big part of me also thinks I can’t do it again and risk the loss. I know eventually I will have another cat but there will never be another KiKi and she will always be my best friend, the love of my life and my first true pet.

  • Kaitlyn Shore

    I couldn’t even imagine losing my puppy now. You guys are all so strong, and definitely did the right thing if you’re having doubts!

    It’s funny, Josie looks just like a cat who wasn’t mine but that I love very, very much who passed away far too early in June. Makes me miss him a lot :’) Thank you for writing this!!

  • Beth Say

    Our cat Mittens died this summer of heart failure at the age of 14. She was sick for a month, and went on medication. She really wasn’t herself for this last month. We were with her when she passed away at home.
    We found her when she was a young cat. She was a stray living in a field behind our house, and my family adopted her. She was the first pet we ever owned. My parents were not “cat people” but they loved her. My brother and I grew up with her… she was such a big part of our lives. It’s definitely hard to adjust to not having her with us. I still choke up from time to time (I was in tears after reading these stories) I was kind of a mess for the week following her death (had to lock myself in a room at work and cry… luckily my co-workers were sympathetic)
    A good friend of mine got me a framed photo of Mittens with this quote:

    “Cats come into our lives, leave paw prints on our hearts and we are forever changed”

  • Allison Maxwell

    Thank you for writing this I lost my Binky Boo on Tuesday and his brother Pinky 2 weeks before. They were twin grey tabby’s So I guess Binky died of a broken heart. They were 17 years old and were the sweetest cats. We have their brother and sister Crispy and Amber as well as 8 other kitties. It is wonderful having a lot of kitties but it sure is hard to lose them.

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