Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Saying Goodbye to Pets - How to deal with grief.

Saying goodbye to beloved family pets is one of the hardest trials life can throw at us.

Russian dwarf hamster death pet grief
Photo by Pumpkin Becki
We have just had Minky our Russian Dwarf Hamster put to sleep by the vet. She was 2 weeks away from her 2nd birthday, which is very good going for a little Russian Dwarf, but overnight she became poorly, bleeding from her back end, and one eye was closed. She was still her feisty little self, but weak, unbalanced and falling asleep mid-activity.

Many people can't understand others feeling grief and loss for an animal. Others can understand it if the animal lost is a dog, cat or horse, but not a 'small animal'. They assume that small animals have no personality to become attached to, that they are emotionally 'disposable'.

I hope that through this blog I can help reverse that view.

Be kind to yourself. Take time to grieve, you have lost a family member.

Allow children to grieve too. I've met many parents who refuse to allow their children to have any sort of pet, because they don't want to have to deal with the upset of that pet becoming ill or dying, and their child's subsequent emotions and questions.

It's a real, genuine shame, because experiencing the loss of a pet will help a child learn about the circle of life, and make dealing with the death of a relation or friend a little easier to cope with. I'm not suggesting that you have a pet solely for that purpose, that's not right at all, but to grow with a pet, form a bond, let that pet go physically and emotionally, and then learn to celebrate the joy it brought you is a very healthy, normal process. Don't deny a child that just because you don't want to deal with it.

When the time comes, options open to a small pet owner depend on the situation:

Natural death:

If your pet passes away in it's sleep it's probably easiest to bury it in your own garden, providing you have the appropriate place to do that. I tend to wrap my little friend up in a compostable bag, with a 'nest' of paper bedding. It makes me feel better about the process. Make sure you bury the parcel deep enough, ideally with a stone laid on top of the soil so a dog, cat or fox doesn't try to dig it up. It's also worth marking the grave somehow so it doesn't get disturbed when you're gardening.

Vet assisted death:

If you and your vet agree that the time has come to put your pet to sleep, the veterinary practice will have several options for you.
  • You can take your pet home with you for burial
  • You can opt for a communal cremation - no remains are returned to you
  • Or a solitary cremation - where you will receive ashes in a canister that you can scatter or keep.
guinea pig death pet grief
Poppy and Coco
Photo by Pumpkin Becki

Some practices may offer to dispose of the body for you, this was certainly offered to me years ago, but is not something my current vet practice does.

We have taken all three options with various pets.
Twinkle and Minky were both brought home and are buried in the flower garden
Coco and Poppy were cremated with other people's pets, and the remains disposed of by the crematorium.

guinea pig death pet grief
Photo by MrPB
Pudding...Now Pudding (aka PudPud, Pu Bear, Bumble) was a VERY special guinea pig. She touched our hearts in a way that I don't think will ever be equalled.

She passed away in MrPB's arms at home, but we took the decision to take her to the vets the following morning and have her cremated on her own, so that we could have her ashes back.

We keep them in a little blue and white china ginger jar on our sideboard. No, it's not weird or morbid, we just couldn't let her go completely, and when we disagree on something we still refer it to PudPud for ultimate adjudication.

Obviously there is expense involved with any vet assisted death. You will have to pay for the appointment and method of dispatch. Burying at home is free, but the cremation options increase the cost dramatically, with solitary cremation and ashes being the most expensive.

Plan for this expense!

If funds are an issue, then start a 'pet fund' as soon as you get your pet (if not before), to give you a buffer from unexpected expenses like vet care. It's the only responsible course of action, an animal cannot suffer because you don't have the funds to offer it a pain-free death.

Pumpkin Becki xx

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