Coping with Pet Loss and Grief

Our animals are a huge part of our lives; they help to make our lives whole.  That’s why losing a pet can feel like losing a part of ourselves.

Grieving for your pet and for your loss is normal and understandable; and you should never feel embarrassed or ashamed about your feelings.  It is important to recognize the grief that you and others may feel surrounding the loss of a pet, but remember that not everyone will show and experience grief in the same way.

Grief can affect all aspects of life, and the effects can be widespread.

Symptoms can be physical, emotional, mental, social, and spiritual.  No matter how grief affects you, it is important that you recognize that what you are going through is quite natural.  It is also important that you give yourself time to grieve.  Find a way to honor the memory of your faithful companion, something that feels right for you and helps you to cope and, eventually, to heal.  Options include memorials, candle lighting, and rituals.  Our website has a paw wall where you may leave a memorial for your lost friend.

 As veterinarians, we are often asked how to help children through the grieving process.

Perhaps one of the most important facets of this is not to shield children from death.  The loss of a pet is often a child’s first experience with death, and this experience can be a powerful learning opportunity for children.  While it is natural to want to protect our children from the heartbreak associated with loss, it is often better to be honest and support them through the process.  Be willing to answer all of their questions, no matter how strange or complicated they may be.  Consider involving your child in saying goodbye to the pet, if at all possible. Above all, help your child to remember the good times with a much-loved pet, and encourage them to share happy memories.

When the right time to bring a new pet into the family?

This is a difficult question, and the answer is as unique as you and your family!  First take time to grieve for your pet, but remember that having another pet (while never a replacement!) can help your family and your heart to heal.  There are many pets out there who would love to come into your home.

It is also important to realize that when you lose a pet, you are not alone.

We are here to help, and there are plenty of other resources available to you as well.   Charlotte has a pet loss support group that meets on the second Thursday of each month from 7:00-8:30 at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church.  These meetings are facilitated by a grief counselor from Presbyterian Hospice care and also have a veterinary advisor (Dr. Ginny Dodd) in attendance to answer any questions you may have.  You can find more about this group at www.petgriefsupportgroupnc.com.  The ASPCA also provides a Pet Loss Hotline that you can reach by dialing (877) GRIEF-10.  The ASPCA Hotline can provide support in your decision to euthanize, in coping with pet loss and grief, and in helping children through the grieving process.  Other websites you might find helpful are www.petloss.com and www.petlosshelp.com.

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posted in:  Pet Loss

It’s Dog-Gone Hot Outside: 5 Tips for Preventing Heat Stress in Your Dog

by Dr. Monica Tarantino

Summer is here and we are so excited. We get to spend a lot more time outdoors with our wonderful animals during the warm summer days.  But, there are a lot of things to keep in mind with regards to beating the summertime heat.  Some owners are unaware, heat stroke (a potentially deadly condition), and other injuries, like burned paw pads are a frequent occurrence during the summer.

Here are a few tips to help keep your pet healthy during and avoid heat related emergencies during our hot Charlotte summers:

1.Limit walks and Exercise to Morning and Evenings:

Our dogs have a limited ability to dissipate heat.  One of the most common reasons we see pets on our emergency service during the summer is heat stroke.  Heat stroke can be a life threatening condition where a dog is unable to lower it’s body temperature after being outside and overexposed. This can happen to dogs even at temperatures as low as 75 degrees for some breeds, ages, or during exercise. These animals may show signs such as weakness, collapse, excessive drooling/panting. If this condition is allowed to progress without intervention, heat damage can occur to vital organs, and in severe cases cause death. One study showed a survival rate of 50% in our canine heat stroke patients.  No joking matter. For this reason it is best to limit your animal’s exposure to the warm weather. We can do this by only exercising our pets during cooler hours of the day. This mostly restricts activity to mornings and evenings, and avoids the mid-day heat. This is especially the case for overweight dogs, older dogs, dogs with thick fur coats and the breeds with shorter faces (Bulldogs, Sharpei’s, etc.). If they do need to be outside during a warmer day keep reading for more tips!

2. Keep backyard outings short, shaded and hydrated:

It simply gets too hot in the middle of day to leave dogs outside for extended periods of time.  Shade and water help, but the risk of heat stroke pertains even to sedentary dogs simply being left outside in hot temperatures.  Have a brachycephalic breed (like a Pug, Bulldog, Boston Terrier, etc.) or an obese dog?  Then your pet is likely less able to dissipate heat as well. This applies to breeds with thick fluffy coats as well as dogs prone to airway disorders like older Labradors with laryngeal paralysis.

3. Paw Pads burn on Hot Pavement:

During the day the pavement heats up to the point that it can burn your pets paw pads.  I’ll never forget the first dog I saw come into the clinic with raw, blistering pads a day after a long midday walk on a hot summer day.  It can make the owners feel terrible as they don’t often realize how hot the pavement gets when you don’t have shoes on your feet. Often dogs will keep following their owners despite the pain.  That is how loyal our companion animals can be! To help prevent this, place a barefoot or your hand on the black pavement for 30 seconds and see if you can tolerate it.  If you can, then it’s probably ok to walk.  Another tip is to always give your dog the option of walking on grass instead.

4. No pets left in cars please:

Heatstroke is what happens to dogs that are unfortunately left in the vehicle during even mild summer days.  A study done in human Pediatrics (see chart here ) showed that on a 70 degree day outside, the inside of a car can rise 20 degrees within 10 minutes!! So, even if it is for just a minute, even if the window is cracked… Don’t. Even. Think. About. It.  It truly takes JUST MINUTES to put your pet in danger in a hot car.

5. Know the Signs of Heat Stroke:

Know the signs that can save your dogs life. Should a mistake happen and you suspect that your pet is at risk for heat stroke, please note the following signs. Noticing these are important and almost always indicate a life threatening emergency

  • panting
  • excessive salivation (often this is thick/ropey)
  • weakness
  • collapse
  • bright red gums
  • vomiting/diarrhea.

Should you see any of these signs call/come to your vet immediately and if possible, apply room temperature water (not cold**) to your dog’s body and paw pads immediately.  This helps start the cooling process and can save lives.

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