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How to Cope with the Loss of a Beloved Pet: Dealing with a Dying Dog

Original Question:

My dog is dying. She has arthritis in her hips and walking is difficult and painful. I am hoping she will be better in the spring and summer. My husband says she will not survive another cold winter. We want her to die peacefully at home and be buried in the backyard so we have to bury her before winter when the ground is frozen. I am home alone all day during the week with only my two dogs to keep me company. I have loved my sweet dog for almost 11 years. My heart is breaking as she is getting worse. How do I deal with a dying dog whom I dearly love?” (Edited to remove personally identifiable information)

Thank you for writing about this important topic that impacts so many! I’m so sorry you and your family are experiencing this, and I hope this article can bring some practical solutions as well as ideas that can help you explore your grief journey further. Disclaimer: I’m not your vet, your personal therapist, or your doctor, so please consult these professionals if needed for more personal advice. I’ll try to answer your question in a few ways, first addressing your situation, then discussing pet loss and grief more generally, and ending with sharing a few resources.

Your Question: “How do I deal with a dying dog whom I dearly love?” I called it a journey for a reason, grief is a process, and it’s not bound by time. It seems like you might be experiencing something called “anticipatory grief” which is essentially starting to grieve/feel the rollercoaster of emotions before your dog has passed because you can see what is happening to her. Here are a few things that might help you specifically:

  • If you need to, give yourself permission to honor your feelings. Dogs/pets love unconditionally and we can form very deep and significant attachments to them. Your feelings are valid and you are not alone in how you feel!

  • Talk to your vet about your dog’s quality of life and what to anticipate in terms of the progression of the disease (arthritis in this case). If she is truly dying or in end-of-life stages, you and your husband may choose to make the impossible decision at some point to euthanize. Talk to your vet about options to best honor your wishes for your dog and your family. 

  • Hit the highlights/favorites. While your sweet dog is still with you, some people find meaning/comfort in making it their mission to do a “bucket list.” You could take her to her favorite spots, offer extra snuggles, treats, playtime, etc. to make the time you have left special. This might be especially helpful for you to honor that connection that you have with her. 

  • Talk about it with someone who can be helpful in addition to your husband. I say this because your husband could be on a different grief journey and that is normal. Grief is also not meant to be experienced alone. Find people or at least one person you feel who “gets it” but know your audience. I would not recommend seeking support from someone who is “not a dog person” because they might not understand or appreciate the level of emotional connection that can happen between humans and dogs and they may not offer advice that is as helpful to you. Therapy can help, especially if you are having difficulty identifying different supports in your life.

  • Plan for “coping ahead.” In the therapy world, “coping ahead” is a term used to describe planning for difficult things you know are going to happen. This might mean sitting with uncomfortable feelings and really being honest with yourself about the parts that will be hard- many people who have lost a dog find the silence/ lack of noises a big change, seeing things like leashes, and toys, etc. Could you make a plan with friends/family to call to check on you or visit to help fight loneliness during the day? Maybe plan on continuing walks you would normally take with your other dog or plan dog playdates or a dog walker at first if you might not feel up to it. Grief is not meant to be experienced alone. You might be surprised how your friends, family, neighbors, coworkers, and community might want to show up for you if you allow people to know that you are experiencing a difficult time. 

Pet Loss and Grief in General

People tend to think that you have a certain time to “get over” a loss, but that is not the case. Grief is unique to the person who experiences the loss and there is no “right way to grieve.” Here is an image that I’ve found helpful in my work with clients and for myself as well. 

Growing around Grief and loss

You may experience a variety of feelings during your grief process, and all of it is normal. However, if you feel that you are not feeling yourself, you are worried about your safety or the safety of others, or something just feels off, seek additional support. You are not alone, and with help you can find different ways to “grow around” the grief that you might be experiencing. 

For some people, they find it helpful to have some things “to do” on their grief journey. If you fall into that category, you might like reading more about Worden’s Four Tasks of Grief:

4 Tasks of Mourning and Loss

Again, your grief journey is going to be unique to you and this experience. So take what is helpful and leave what is not.

Here are some additional resources on pet loss and grief:

Thank you again for allowing me to write about this common and difficult topic. I hope you find support and connection through this difficult time. In solidarity for what you are experiencing, here is a pic of my family’s sweet cuddle bug Rusty when he was a puppy. He had a full life of playtime, gourmet food, and snuggles and we ended up having to put him down at age 10 due to medical concerns/pain. I thought of him as I was writing this response for you, thank you for that opportunity. <3

Dog Loss

Thank you,

Jacintha Carson, LPC

Are you experiencing grief from the loss of a pet? Drop something that was helpful to you in the comment section. Feel free to share a pic of your pet too! Together we can all grieve and find healing. 

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