Death can be a difficult topic. And that’s no less true in thinking about the death of a pet than a person. Our joy of loving a companion animal brings with it the inevitability that one day we will lose them and have to face the naturally upsetting emotions that this brings.
For some, death might be a part of long-anticipated process, perhaps at the end of a period of nursing a sick pet with disease or cancer. For others, sudden death from a road traffic accident, euthanasia of a pet for unsurmountable behavioural problems or death following an acute injury or disease, is no less a blow.
While death is not something that most of us want to dwell on, working past the initial emotional barrier and allowing ourselves to think about and prepare for our pets end-of-life and eventual death will in the longer run give us comfort and reassurance that we provided for our companion’s emotional and physical needs to the best of our ability.
Grieving is a very natural process. You can read more about the emotions involved in grieving for a pet in our Feelings of Loss page. For some, grieving can start before the pet has actually died. This is called Anticipatory Grief. This is the name given to the feelings that occur in some people who are expecting death in a loved one. It can apply just as much to pets as to people.These feelings can be similar to the feelings of grief that are experienced after a pet's passing, but in addition might include feelings of fear about what life might be like without a beloved companion. Anticipatory grief is normal; it doesn't mean that you are giving up on your pet. In the same way that you would reach out or express your emotions of grief after your pet has passed, it's equally valid to express your grief before your companion is gone.
What anticipatory grief does do, is to allow us to reflect on life without that companion. It gives an opportunity to spend time with our beloved friend, and to express your love before they are gone. You have the chance to spend the time doing some things that you perhaps hadn't got around to, or to just simply spend precious spare moments cuddling on the sofa.
Keeping a grief diary or journal is one way of helping us come to terms with the impending death of our companion. Committing our thoughts to paper helps to validate our feelings and provides an outlet to the intense emotions that we are feeling. We can express any fears and identify where we might need more support.