13 Things to Do When Your Dog Dies to Help You Through the Transition
It's never easy saying goodbye to a good friend, especially one that was your snuggle buddy and constant sidekick. If your dog is moving closer to his final days, or has recently passed, you might be feeling overwhelmed. It's tough to think clearly when your heart is breaking. Don't worry, friend—no one expects you to have it altogether. But if you're looking for some guidance to get through it, here's a list of steps so you know exactly what to do when your dog dies.
How to Prepare for Your Dog's Passing
It's not always possible, but if you have time before your dog passes to do a few things, it'll make for a smoother transition.
1. Ask Questions
If your dog has a health condition or is simply getting older, talk with your veterinarian about what changes may occur as time goes on. Knowing what to expect can help you prepare for how you'll handle future challenges.
If you think your dog may be nearing the end of their life, it's also good to have a dialogue about pet euthanasia (putting your dog to sleep) and how your vet performs this service as well as options afterward like burial and cremation. Veterinarians usually partner with companies to provide these services after your dog passes. You can also contact other providers who specialize in end-of-life care (like veterinarians who perform euthanasia in your home) to learn more about their services.
"Never feel bad asking questions about how your pet will be handled," says Haylee Bergeland, KPA-CTP, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA. "It's your pet, your family member, and you shouldn't hesitate in finding out every detail that you want to know."
2. Lean on Your Veterinarian
The hardest decision you'll ever have to make as a pet parent is if, and when, to euthanize your dog. Only you can determine the right answer to that question, but it helps to have expert input from your vet.
One key thing to consider is whether your dog is suffering. Your vet can let you know if you've exhausted all of the options to make your dog feel better. You can also discuss if it makes sense to continue testing and treatment if your pet's condition will inevitably deteriorate.
3. Have a Plan
You'll probably have a better feel for how you'd like your dog's last days to be once you've done some research. Having an end-of-life plan in mind could include:
- If hospice care is a good solution to keep your pet comfortable in their final days
- When euthanasia makes sense for you and your pet (e.g. if he can no longer walk)
- Who will perform euthanasia
- Where you'd like it to happen (e.g. veterinary clinic, at home, or in the park)
But Bergeland says it's important to understand that sometimes things don't go as planned. "Just do the best you can in the situation you're given. In any case, your pet will remember how much you loved them and they loved you, and that's really what matters most."
4. Spend Quality Time With Your Dog
Time is our most limited resource. You can't get more of it when it's gone. So cherish the moments that you have left with your four-legged friend. Do those things that your pet loves to do with you.
Does your dog live to fetch a ball, but isn't up to it anymore? Try rolling the ball to him on the ground or just letting him play with it in his mouth. If walks around the neighborhood aren't possible, consider loading your pup up in a doggy stroller or in a wagon for some fresh air.
Anytime you spend together is good, even if it's just being in the same room. Your presence will comfort your pup.
5. Give Your Workplace a Heads Up
If you have an idea of when you think your dog will pass, you might want to let your work know, Bergeland recommends. That way they'll have advance notice that you may need some time off soon.
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6. Determine What Services You Want
If you haven't already decided what you want to do with your pet after he dies, now is the time to make that choice. If your pet was euthanized, the veterinarian who performed the service should provide information about your options. Cremation is most common, since city and town ordinances usually don't allow dogs to be buried at home. Burial may be an option if there's a local pet cemetery.
7. What to Do if Your Dog Dies Naturally at Home
If your dog died unexpectedly at home, you can contact your veterinarian for advice, but it's probably easier to go directly to a pet cemetary or a crematorium. Either way, you'll have to transport your pet to their facility. If you can't afford services to care for the body, your veterinarian or animal control can dispose of it for you, says Bergeland. Typically this is through a communal (group) cremation.
8. Give Yourself Time to Grieve
Pets are a part of the family. So it's perfectly normal to grieve when your dog dies. Give yourself grace and permission to mourn, understanding that it's going to take time to heal. Don't rush the process, Bergeland says. You (and your pet) deserve this period of grief.
9. Find Support
Oftentimes, sharing grief with supportive friends and family helps ease the burden of a pet's passing. You can also find pet lovers who understand what you're going through in online communities. Or you can ask your veterinarian if there's a local pet bereavement support group or hotline.
"If you're having a hard time coping with loss, don't be afraid to seek help," Bergeland advises. "Find pet support groups or work with a counselor or social worker. The important thing is to talk with someone who can help you acknowledge and process what you're going through."
10. Support Your Kids and Other Pets
This will be a difficult time for your whole family, but maybe particularly hard for young kids who haven't experienced the death of a loved one before. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) recommends the following strategies for talking with your kids about the death of a pet:
- Make your children as comfortable as possible
- Tell them in a familiar setting
- Be honest and accurate in telling the kids that their pet died and what that means
- Answer your child's questions simply and honestly
- Talk with your child about their feelings
- Offer reassurance and comfort
- Give your kids time to mourn and remember their beloved pet
A recent study shows that our pups may also mourn the deaths of other dogs they live with. They're also in tune with their family's emotions. That means any surviving pets you still have need your attention, love, and support now more than ever.
11. Honor Your Pal
For many pet parents, it may help to create a lasting keepsake that pays tribute to the special place their dogs had in their hearts and in their lives. Search the internet and you'll find numerous ways to do this. Some pet memorial ideas include displaying your pet's ashes in an urn, commissioning artwork, or wearing a necklace of your dog's paw print. It can also be as simple as hanging on to one of your dog's favorite toys or framing some of your pet's most lovable moments caught on camera.
Remember, the choices you make about your pet's final days and remembrances are incredibly personal. Although others may offer their opinions on what you should do, only you can determine what's truly best for you and your pet.
12. If Possible, Avoid Other Major Life Changes Right Now
While sometimes it can't be helped, choosing to lay low for a bit if you can will help make the transition easier once your pet passes. Major life events like moving to a new house or changing jobs can make the stress of losing your pet more difficult. Give yourself some time and space to focus on your own mental and emotional well-being for a while.
13. Consider the Effects of a New Pet in the Home
While you'll likely feel the loss of your beloved pet for a long time, now may not be the best time to bring home a new dog or puppy until everyone in the family is ready—including both people and other pets. Someday a new pet will bring you all so much joy, but no pet can ever be replaced. Give yourselves time to grieve and then have a family discussion after a few weeks, months, or even years when you all agree that it's the right time for an additional furry family member.