Health & Wellness

How to Cope When Your Dog Dies

The emotional pain of losing a dog is just as strong, and just as real, as the emotional pain we suffer when we lose a human loved one. So the same five stages of grief that we must pass through when we lose a friend or family member apply when learning how to cope when your dog dies. Old Dog Care Guide offers a heartfelt recount of one person’s progress through the stages of grief when she lost her 14 year old Golden Retriever, Jake. Here is an excerpt:

Whether your dog is at the end of a long life or dies unexpectedly, the grieving is no easier either way. Allow yourself to go through the five stages of grief as you cope when your dog dies.

The five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance) were identified in 1969 by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. In the days after Jake was euthanized I don’t remember ever being in denial.

I didn’t feel the second phase, anger, either. The life expectancy of a golden retriever is 10-12 years. I was fortunate to have Jake longer than average. And because I had him so long, bargaining wasn’t part of my grieving process. But I can see how people who suffer a loss of pets could easily do this. It’s that negotiation with a higher being.

No, I skipped over steps two and three and landed head-first in Phase Four: depression. I was so very sad. I was so very lonely. I’d heard the expression “heavy heart” before but I didn’t understand until then that it is more than an expression; it is a physical feeling. My heart actually felt heavy.

It took quite a while before I could walk in the house and not expect him to be lying on his bed in the middle of the family room. My acceptance (the fifth stage of grieving) began when I received his ashes in a wooden box, wrapped in a blue velvet bag, a plaque with his name and dog print and a certificate that said, “I’ll be waiting for you at the end of the rainbow bridge.” But that was just the beginning of this stage. I placed his ashes on the bookshelf in his favorite room – the family room. I passed them each morning when I went to work. Sometimes I’d touch the velvet bag and say, “Bye buddy.” Other times I’d just say goodbye to him.

As those days when I would say good-bye became less frequent I knew I was on the path to healing. And six months later I was ready for another dog.

When it’s time to say goodbye to your best furry friend, allow yourself to pass through the five stages of grief. There is no one timeline that fits everyone. Only you will know when you are ready to advance to the next stage. Whatever you do, do not allow anyone to marginalize the pain you feel as figure out how to cope when your dog dies.

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5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Miriam

    Jul 23, 2013 at 10:08 pm

    We just had to put our Welsh Corgi down due to bone cancer. We miss him so much. I think there is also guilt you feel that maybe you should have done more for him, or tried something else. You’ve had a routine for years so every little thing you do you think of him. When I eat a banana (one of his favorites), or when I see a tennis ball(he loved to play ball)or when I hear the mailman come I expect to hear barking, etc., etc. At first I didn’t want to be home much because everything reminded me of him. Now I guess I’m accepting it a little better. When we get the ashes back & bury him I think I will be on the road to acceptance. I guess it just takes time. For now I’ll just try to think of the great memories we had.

  2. Jenny Smith

    Jul 2, 2013 at 10:49 am

    We sent our precious basset hound, Lemon, to heaven two weeks ago today. I miss her tremendously. My heart aches. You just don’t realize how much your dog is a part of your life until they are gone. Our daily routine is abruptly stopped and evenings seem to be the most difficult time for me when we would go for a “sniff”, get a treat and go upstairs for her to sleep in grand-daddy’s old rocker/recliner. I too skipped the first couple stages of grief and jumped right into depression. It is so lonely and quiet. I know she “is in a better place” as she had cancer, and it had spread throughout her body, into her stomach, where she couldn’t keep any food down. I thank God that He made the decision to send Lemon to heaven such an obvious one. The afternoon we received the diagnosis was the afternoon we put her down. I didn’t want her to be in pain a second more. I know one day we will have another dog. I don’t like that term, “another dog”, b/c it reminds me that there was a before and this will be an after. I do know one thing for sure; there will never be another Lemon. She was my little angel who was sent to be beside me through some of my most tragic and most joyous times in my life. She adapted to ALL of life’s changes which were many. I know she is waiting for me, for tummy rubs, and ear rubs and hugs and kisses. I hope she has stopped eating her poop. Humor really is the best way for me to grieve. Ohhhhh, I miss my good girl.

  3. Tess

    Jan 23, 2013 at 2:50 pm

    THANK YOU for writing this article! I stumbled upon it by accident – my Golden Retriever had his 11th birthday 2 days ago. Excellent health, thank GOD! I have never had a beloved pet this long (from 6 wks old),NOR have I ever LOST a pet before. I have, however, thought often about what I need to DO when he passes; not how I would GET THROUGH the grieving- so again: THANK YOU!
    I will save this article for future reference… I pray that my boy will be with me a number of years more.

  4. Nancy

    Sep 5, 2012 at 3:58 pm

    I remember when I had to put my beloved 14 year old beagle Snoopy down in March 2011. It was so sudden, I felt hurt like I’ve never before. He had developed gastric torsion. I remember crying for days and it wasn’t until his ashes were brought home that I felt at ease some what but it still hurts but time does help make it easier.

  5. Linda

    Aug 29, 2012 at 11:20 am

    This is my story about my big guy I lost to cancer 4 years and and still have not been able to get over loosing him. This is in his memory. I love you Cherokee and momma miss you everyday.

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