Senior Staffordshire Bulldog
There’s no way around it. Learning that you’ll soon be saying goodbye to a beloved pet because of advanced age or a terminal diagnosis is heartrending. However, pet parents can make the situation more difficult by focusing solely on the grief of losing their pet … even while said pet is sitting at their side.

It’s understandable to feel this way. As humans, many of us are all too aware of the circle of life, and when we know that death is imminent, how can we focus on anything but that? The key is realizing that your pet is possibly unaware of what’s to come and living in the present — with you! By appreciating the present rather than fearing the future, you’ll benefit yourself and give your pet a reason to wag or purr throughout his final days. Here are a few tips.

What To Do

  • Spend extra time doing things your pet enjoys, such as petting him on your lap, going for car rides, or walking along the beach at sunrise. You really won’t regret getting somewhere a few minutes late because of that epic snuggle session. Honest.
  • Help him with daily activities. Is grooming difficult? Is he sliding on the tile floor? Take notice of small changes in his behavior, and adjust accordingly. Gently groom the spots he can’t reach, and provide floor coverings with grip for arthritic or achy pets who may slip.
  • Take some special pictures, either of him or of the two of you together. Maybe even hire a professional photographer. When you look at these photos in the future, you’ll remember the bond you felt, not the sadness.
  • Talk to your vet about quality of life. What activities does your pet enjoy, and what would indicate that he’s not enjoying them anymore? It’s a difficult conversation, but you and your veterinarian must be on the same page regarding any treatment and end-of-life decisions.

    What Not To Do

  • Try to avoid feeling pressure to fulfill a bucket list of everything you’ve ever wanted to do together. That doesn’t mean you can’t create such a list or shouldn’t make some special memories! But make sure your adventures are all about your pet in his current state, and keep his safety and comfort at front of mind. This might not be the best time to find yourselves across the country and away from your veterinarian.
  • Don’t shut yourself away or minimize your pain. Focusing on enjoying quality time with your pet is significant, but it’s normal to experience moments of grief. Reach out, either to friends and family or to health professionals, if you find yourself in need of support.

Finally, be sure to talk to your veterinarian about how you want to handle your pet’s final days, remembering that opting for a natural death does not mean doing nothing. Ask your vet about pain management and end-of-life options, such as hospice care and in-home euthanasia. (You can also search for “end-of-life care” on to read more about these topics.) And consider making your pet’s final moments happy ones with a special treat. You just might find yourself smiling through your tears as you say goodbye.

This article originally appeared in the Fall 2016 issue of HealthyPet magazine.

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