End of Life Rituals for Pets

End of Life Rituals for Pets

6 minute read

The frosty faces, slow steps and sleepy days - the signs start to show when our pets get to end of life. We all seek connection and closure with our pets as they age. While many different cultures around the world have rituals as humans age and pass away, many people struggle to create the same meaning with their pets. Ideally, we will have time to plan and process as our pet gets old, though sometimes illnesses and accidents happen and we might unfairly lose a pet sooner. If you know your pet is approaching the rainbow bridge, there are a few things you can do to prepare. 

  1. Accept that the loss of your pet is extremely difficult. Pet loss is described as one of the most excruciating losses that we endure. Pet loss is also very often disenfranchised - meaning that the general attitudes in society are that you "shouldn't" grieve as much for a pet as you would for a human loved one. Disenfranchised grief can be extra difficult as many people find that they do not have as much support as they would for the loss of a human loved-one. The cruel irony is that many who have lost a pet say that is more painful that the death of a friend or family member and need more help.
  2. Let your grief take its course. There is no timeline or boxes to check for grief. You may start to go through the stages of grief before you have even lost your pet. That is normal and ok. Use your support system of friends and family and take care of yourself. You care deeply about your pet so your feelings of pain may equal in size and intensity to your love for them. Many also say that this grief never truly leaves you, you just learn to carry it differently. 
  3. Spend some time reflecting on your values and what is important to you & your pet. Do you feel like having a family and friends gathering to celebrate your pets life would feel comforting or would you prefer smaller, private rituals? Do you and your pet have a tradition that you'd like to include somehow? If you have personal religious, spiritual or cultural beliefs that are important to you, will they play a part in your pets end-of-life process? What support do you think you will need after?
  4. Have a plan for end of life care. Consider if you would elect euthanasia vs. letting nature take its course. If you do chose euthanasia, would you prefer it at a vet clinic or somewhere else such as your home or pets favorite park?  Decide on what you would like for your pets remains - burial, cremation, aquamation, composting, etc. Would you like their ashes back? If so, what kind of urn would you prefer? Do you want a clay or ink paw or nose print? Fur or whisker trimmings? Research what services are available in your area and/or any local laws about burying or spreading pet remains. Deciding on these will make the days surrounding the loss easier as you can focus on your needs.
  5. Stay in close connection with your vet. Make an appointments if your pet seems painful or sick to help manage pain and improve quality of life. Advise your vet of your end-of-life wishes so they can be prepared to help if needed. Don't be afraid to ask your vet as many questions as you need regarding your pet and their plan of care. Your vet should also be your pets advocate. They should advise you on their professional opinion regarding euthanasia and end-of-life care. 
  6. Realize that the death process is never linear. Your pet will have really good and really bad days. If they have an illness, they may seem to magically improve one day, then be worse than ever the next. This is normal and if you have specific questions, chat with your vet. 
  7. Take as many pictures, videos and other recordings as you like. Record them sleeping, purring, barking, meowing, playing, eating, grooming. It may be painful to view these immediately following the loss of your pet, many people say they wish they had taken more videos of their beloved animal. 

Pre-death ritual ideas:

  • A photo/video shoot with or of your pet
  • Trip to your favorite place(s) - coffee shop, parks, camping spots, hikes
  • A new small routine or treat 
  • Writing them letters or notes
  • Assembling a scrapbook or photo album of your time together
  • Doing an art project together
  • Designing their memorial or headstone
  • Writing down their life story
  • Notify your pets groomer, trainer, & daycare staff so they can also say goodbye
  • Join a pet-loss support group on social media

After your pet has passed:

  • Spreading their ashes in a certain place
  • Burying them in a sacred place
  • Setting up a memorial or shrine in your home where you can place pictures and keepsakes
  • Having their ashes, fur or whiskers made into a piece of jewelry or art
  • Volunteering or donating to an animal non-profit in their honor 
  • Sponsoring a pet (police, therapy, search or shelter programs may allow you to name or sponsor a dog for a certain donation)
  • Holding a celebration of life
  • Planting a tree or flowers dedicated to your pet
  • Take care of yourself - seek counseling, talk with your friends and family, journal and try to nurture your physical self

Nothing can truly prepare you to lose your best friend. Nothing will soften the blow. The only things you can do are to take the best care of them and yourself that you possibly can. Remember that our pets live in the moment, they don't remember that time you stepped on their tail accidentally, they only know that they love you so deeply and they feel your love in return. You gave them an incredible life.

To anyone who has or will experience the loss of a furry best friend, we send our deepest condolences. 

For more resources and information, please check out Lap of Love at https://www.lapoflove.com/

This article was written without the help of AI.

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