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Woman with a gray fuzzy sweater holding a small green bird and smiling

Protect Your Pet: 4 Steps to Create an Estate Plan for Your Pet

By Estate Planning, Pets

When creating an estate plan, most people think about caring for their families after they die. But what about your pets? How do you know that your pet will continue to be cared for?

There are plenty of crazy stories about the rich setting aside millions for their pets, but you don’t have to be a millionaire to make sure your pet is cared for after your death. Follow these 4 steps to create a plan to protect your pet!

DISCLAIMER: Individual circumstances and state laws vary. Only undertake estate planning with the help and assistance of an attorney licensed in your state.

1. Choose a Caretaker

Woman with a gray fuzzy sweater holding a small green bird and smiling

Who do you want to care for your pet when you’re gone? Picking a caretaker is an important first step.

Do you have a responsible friend or family member who gets along well with your pet? While you look for a possible caretaker, talk to the people you trust to see if they would be interested. Some people may have other pets, small children, or demanding jobs that could make them unwilling or unable to take on the extra responsibility.

If you don’t know anyone who can care for your pet, there are other options. Pet legacy programs around the world work to connect pets with loving families after they lose their owners. You could also leave your pet with a local no-kill animal sanctuary or rescue organization that will find it a new home.

2. Add Your Pet to Your Estate Plan

Small fluffy brown dog running in green grass

Once you’ve chosen a caretaker, you have several options for ensuring your pet goes to them. The most common ways to leave your pet to your chosen caretaker are with a non-legal arrangement, a clause in your will, a trust, or a pet power of attorney. Before deciding, consider whether there may be a conflict about your pet’s care among your family or any extra provisions you want to make, like setting aside money for your pet’s care (see point #4).

As you consider the best option for you and your pet, talk to your estate planning attorney. They can provide you with extra information regarding your state’s specific regulations and help you set up a plan that fits your needs.

3. Share Your Pet’s History

Vet holding a black and white bunny

Even if your caretaker is someone you know, they’ll need extra information about your pet’s history. To help with that, you can create a document with the necessary information. Consider adding details about your pet’s:

  • Vaccination history
  • Current and past medications
  • Medical issues (past and present)
  • Adoption papers
  • Any American Kennel Club or other breed registration information
  • Special dietary needs

Make sure to keep the document up-to-date when things change with your pet.

4. Set Aside Funds

Older woman petting a peaceful cat on her lap

Because pets are legally considered property, you can’t leave them money in your will. However, you can set aside funds to help pay for their food, care, and medical expenses as they transition to their new caretaker. One of the most common ways to do this is by setting up a pet trust.

If you choose to set aside funds for your pet’s care, consider the typical cost of their food, medical expenses, etc. By providing these funds for your chosen caregiver, you can lighten the burden of caring for your pet and ensure that your pet is cared for in the way you want.

While thinking about what will happen to your pet after you’re gone can be sad, remember that planning ahead can make the transition easier for them. Once you make decisions about your pet’s future, trust yourself and your choices. You know your pet best, and once you have an estate plan for your pet in place, you can rest easy knowing that they’ll be well cared for.

Close-up of white wiry dog placing paw in young woman's hand

Practical Ways to Support a Grieving Pet

By Grief/Loss, Pets

While pets may not fully grasp the significance of death, they can deeply feel the loss of a human or animal companion. The depth of feeling will vary from pet to pet, but it’s not unusual for a pet to feel out of sorts for several months following the death of a loved one. But there are ways you can support your pet through a loss and help them recover more quickly.

Person sitting on floor, hugging a dog and cat close

Signs of Grief in a Pet

Before we discuss how you can support your pet through the loss of a companion, it’s important to know how to identify grief in an animal. Here are several physical and behavioral changes that may indicate your pet is grieving:

  • Changes in appetite (eating less)
  • Acting withdrawn or sad
  • Whining, howling, yowling, or crying
  • Changes in personality (your standoffish cat becomes a cuddler)
  • Pacing or searching the house for the missing family member
  • Hiding from or avoiding other family members
  • Changes in grooming or bathroom habits (especially in cats)
  • Showing signs of separation anxiety
  • Changes in sleeping patterns (sleeping more or less than usual)

Man in dark-colored sweater hugs gray cat

In a research project called the Companion Animal Mourning Project, the ASPCA found that over 60% of pets experience four or more behavioral changes after losing a family member. So, if you think your pet may be grieving, it’s very likely they are.

But once you know your pet is grieving, how can you support them? Let’s talk about 8 things you can do!

8 Ways You Can Support a Grieving Pet

Every pet will react to a death differently, so some of these suggestions may work better for your pet than others. Try each suggestion and see which ones work best for your pet and their personality. These methods could help your pet cope with the loss of either an animal companion or a human companion.

1. Let them say goodbye

While animals have a limited understanding, they do comprehend that death occurs. Consider giving your pet a chance to say goodbye by providing an opportunity for them to smell or even nudge the deceased human or animal companion. Just as it can be valuable for humans to see a loved one before burial or cremation, the same practice can be beneficial for pets. However, if this suggestion makes you uncomfortable, feel free to skip it. Instead, you can focus on other methods for supporting your pet through loss.

Two cats and a black dog all eating with faces in food bowl

2. Provide for their physical needs

During times of grief, both people and animals may struggle to look after their physical needs. For pets, this means making sure that they eat, sleep, play, stay clean and brushed, and aren’t acting emotionally depressed. To help, you can take your pet for walks. Play with them to increase their activity levels. Make sure they are washed and clean. Monitor their sleeping and eating habits. If you see a concerning change in any of these areas, contact your veterinarian for help.

3. Keep a few reminders around the house

For animals, scent is a very powerful sense. To help them grieve, consider leaving out a few blankets, pillows, pet beds, an old shirt, or other items that carry the scent of the companion who has died. When your pet feels sad, they can take comfort in the smell and familiar presence of the companion they miss so much. It may also bring comfort to your grieving heart when you see your pet resting on a special pillow or snuggling into a blanket.

Close-up of white wiry dog placing paw in young woman's hand

4. Spend quality time with your pet

When your pet is feeling down, they may seek you out for attention. Spend positive quality time with your pet and give them the attention they need. Go to the park with your dog. Brush your cat. Give a few extra treats here and there. These extra moments together will help your pet feel secure and strengthen their bond with you. However, try not to reinforce bad behavior. For example, if your cat begins to meow obnoxiously, don’t give them treats. That will only encourage them to meow more often. Instead, ignore the bad behavior and reinforce the good.

5. Stick to a consistent routine

Pets thrive on routine, and the loss of a companion can really disrupt their daily life. If you have lost a person in your family, and they typically took your dog for a walk every night, try to step into that role and begin taking the dog for a walk each night. Keep up with meals, play time, exercise, and even bedtimes. Grief has a way of throwing everything in chaos, but re-establishing routine brings a sense of safety and security to everyone involved.

Older man in red flannel playing with white dog outside

6. Add new activities to your pet’s life

While you definitely want to establish routine, you can sprinkle in new activities to your pet’s everyday life. Sometimes, fresh and exciting activities can provide a happy distraction and cheer your pet up. Consider introducing a new toy. Walk a new trail at the park. Give your cat different boxes to try to sit in. Add a new perch by the window. These different forms of stimulation can help your pet move past their feelings of grief and find happiness in new things.

7. Give your pet time to grieve

With the loss of a family member, everyone needs time to adjust to the new normal in your home. However, when a pet companion dies, you may be tempted to fill the void by bringing a new pet home quickly. Try not to be hasty. If your pet is grieving deeply, they may not be ready to accept a “stranger” into their home, and it could cause more disruption to your pet’s routine. Give it time. One day soon, your pet will be ready to welcome a new furry member to the family.

Woman at home working on computer with cat sitting in her lap

8. Consult your vet if your pet doesn’t improve

While grief will look different from pet to pet, pay close attention to how they are doing. If your pet isn’t eating well, they aren’t taking care of themselves (like your cat isn’t grooming), or they seem depressed, contact your veterinarian for help. Your vet can offer additional guidance as you support your pet through grief. Because your pet can’t communicate what they are feeling, it’s up to you to pay attention to their unconscious cues and get them the care they need.

With time and love, most pets heal from loss within a few weeks or months. May these 8 methods of support help you look after your pet and help them through this time of loss.

Pet portrait of a husky dog

11 Pet Memorial Keepsakes to Consider

By Grief/Loss, Pets

Pets are a welcome addition to our lives. They bring comfort, hope, laughter, joy, and companionship. Unfortunately, you will outlive many pets during your lifetime, but that doesn’t mean you can’t honor each pet’s life and cherish their memory for the rest of yours. If you’d like to create a memorial keepsake that both brings you comfort and helps you remember your pet in a meaningful way, consider these 11 pet keepsake options. Perhaps one will feel like the perfect way to remember your pet for years to come.

1. Painted Pet Portrait

Pet portrait of a husky dog

Whether you choose to paint the portrait yourself or commission it with a friend or artist, a painted pet portrait can be a beautiful and whimsical way to remember your pet’s life. You can request certain colors and provide a sample photograph. With so many styles available, you can choose an artist that meets your tastes, who will paint a portrait that will be a lovely addition to your home.

2. Photographs

Woman relaxing on window seat as she looks at framed photograph of her pet

Photographs are a simple yet versatile way to remember a pet’s life. You may choose to place a favorite photo in a frame and find a home for it in a special location. Or you can order a single canvas print or a collection of canvas prints. You could do a tiled collage of photos for the wall or find a frame that will allow you to create a collage on your own. There are so many options to consider with photographs, and you can make it as simple or as detailed as you’d like.

3. Memorial Photo Book or Scrapbook

Scrapbook materials for a pet scrapbook

While related to photographs, the photo book or scrapbook is much more involved. The act of selecting photos and designing each page can be cathartic and help you both honor your pet’s memory and process your feelings of grief. And while it will take time, the finished product is something you can go back to again and again. Or show friends and family when you share stories about your beloved pet’s antics.

4. Memory Box or Shadow Box

Crate of a pet's belongings like toys

With a memory or shadow box, you can collect items your pet cherished and keep them close to you. Perhaps include a photo, a favorite toy, leash, collar, tags, or whatever else is special to you. With a memory box, you might keep it on a bookcase where you can easily pull it out. And with a shadow box, you can hang it on a wall or set it in a place of honor.

5. Headstone or Garden Stone

Pet headstone with light purple flowers nearby

If you want a more natural option, a small headstone or garden stone might be a good way to honor your pet’s life. If your pet is buried in your backyard or in a local pet cemetery, you could include a small headstone with the pet’s name and an engraving, like a paw print. On the other hand, a garden stone may be better, with a sweet sentiment like, “Best friends live furever in the memories we hold dear.” If you wish, you could combine the two ideas by including your pet’s name and a short sentiment.

6. Personalized Calendar or Stationery

Calendar with white cat in the monthly photograph

For the letter writer, ordering special stationery with your pet’s image may be sweet and meaningful. Every time you choose to communicate with a friend or loved one, you have the chance to see your pet’s face and reflect on how amazing they were. Alternatively, you could create a personalized calendar (or any other paper products you regularly use) with favorite photos of your pet.

7. Customized Fabric Items

Embroidered pillow with orange bird on it

As with photographs, the possibilities with this category are pretty broad. After choosing a favorite photo, you can order a t-shirt, socks, hat, towels, or any number of fabric items with your pet’s image on them. Or, instead, you could choose to order a custom pillowcase, throw blanket, comforter, or even curtains. With so many businesses out there specializing in these kinds of custom requests, you are sure to find something that will meet your wishes.

8. Stuffed Animal Replicas

Gray crochet cat

Another option to consider is a stuffed animal that resembles your pet. The replica could be displayed or given to a child as a reminder of your beloved pet. There are many companies out there that specialize in this kind of work, including Cuddle Clones and Petsies. If you’d prefer a crochet or knit option, websites like Etsy will likely have options from artists around the world to choose from.

9. Paw Print Memorials

Focus on the front paws of two dogs

For pets with paws, a paw print memorial is worth considering. Either before or after death, you can take an imprint of your pet’s paw. Often, the vet or the funeral home can take this imprint for you (if your local funeral home offers pet loss services). Once you have the paw print, you can do many things with it. There are artisans out there who can use ink, clay, glass, and even stone to create a special memorial that implements your beloved pet’s paw print.

10. Christmas Ornaments

Hedgehog ornament on a Christmas tree

For those who love Christmas and decorating the tree, you could purchase an ornament that represents your pet. For example, if you’d like to remember your pet hedgehog, you can find ornaments in that shape. If you’d prefer, you can purchase a photo frame ornament and place your pet’s photo in it. There are also options to engrave your pet’s name on the ornament. Regardless of which type you choose, you can honor and remember your pet’s unique place in your family each holiday season.

11. Glass Memorial Items

Glass blowing; man creating glass creation

If you have chosen to cremate your pet, there are many ways to create memorial items with the ashes. With glass memorial items, the ashes are mixed with the glass during the creation process. The ashes can be infused into glass earrings, rings, necklace pendants, figurines, or a host of other items. You won’t be able to tell looking at the items that they include cremated remains, but they can serve as a beautiful reminder of your pet and the life you shared.

While this list certainly gives you many good ideas, it’s not exhaustive. If none of these feels quite right, please brainstorm your own ideas. Think about your pet’s personality, their favorite things, or memories you particularly cherish. This information can help you come up with meaningful ideas that will help you honor your pet for their unique contribution to your life.

man holding a black and white cat

Can Animals Help You Grieve?

By Grief/Loss, Pets

Grieving the loss of a loved one looks different for everyone. Each person has their own unique needs and ways of coping with a loss. But did you know that interacting with animals can actually help you grieve? Whether you feel overwhelmed by stress, struggle to keep a routine going, or have a child who won’t talk about their feelings, animals can help you and your family as you move along your grief journey. Here are 5 ways that animals can provide support and care to those who are grieving.

Boost Mental Health

man holding a black and white cat

Did you know that just being around animals can improve your mental health? For most people, just being in the presence of an animal can help boost positive hormones like dopamine and decrease stress-related hormones. Interacting with animals can also reduce anxiety and help those with depression.

Even more importantly, animals provide companionship – an important need after losing a loved one. Many people struggle with loneliness after someone they love dies, but a pet can combat loneliness through their presence.

Provide Physical Benefits

woman walking her dog in a park

Animals can also provide physical benefits to those who are grieving. Pets, especially dogs, need exercise, which helps their owners stay active. Exercising is known to help with depression and sadness, which are common during times of grief.

Plus, having a pet can encourage you to take care of yourself. No matter what type of pet you have, your animal friend relies on you to feed and care for them, which can motivate you to get moving when you don’t feel like it. Even more importantly, having a pet can encourage you to take better care of yourself – whether that’s through exercise, diet, or choosing to do things you love.

Create Routines

man with iguana on his shoulder

After losing someone you love, you may feel like your world has been turned upside down. That feeling can make everyday life a struggle, but sticking to a routine can give you a sense of normalcy when everything else feels chaotic.

Animals need to be fed and cared for on a regular basis, which can help you create a structured routine. The motivation to care for a pet that’s relying on you can encourage you to keep moving and stick to your daily routine. Whether you’re feeding your pet iguana, playing with your pet rabbit, or taking your dog for a walk, a routine can help you find your new normal at a time when your world might feel hectic and stressful.

Give Social Support

guinea pig standing in grass

Social support is important after the death of someone you love. But did you know that animals can provide social support, too? Animals are great to talk to, and most pet owners have built relationships with their pets. This relationship can reduce loneliness, especially for those struggling with grief.

In fact, one study about social support found that people who had pets or interacted with animals were more likely to feel supported in their grief. Because most animals are very loving and enjoy attention, they provide an unconditional, endless source of companionship for grieving people.

Help Children Process Grief

young girl hugging a cat

Coping with grief can be a struggle for children. Their brains are still developing and learning to navigate the world and their emotions. The death of someone they love can bring on emotions they are unprepared to handle. While they struggle to understand their feelings, they must also learn how to process their grief and the sudden absence of someone they knew well.

Spending time with an animal can comfort a child. But many children also love talking to animals, which can help them learn how to talk about their emotions. Many children may not feel comfortable sharing their feelings with an adult, or they may not know how to describe their emotions. Talking to an animal provides a low-pressure way for children to explore their feelings and begin to process their grief.

Different Kinds of Support Animals

Animals can support people who are grieving in different ways, depending on their level of training! Here are the different ways animals can help.

As a pet

An animal doesn’t need to be certified or specially trained to help with grief! Any pet can provide emotional support to its owner. Even pet fish can help your mental health!

As a therapy animal

brown dog with therapy dog vest

Therapy animals are typically pets that help support large groups of people. For example, dogs or other animals that visit hospital patients are therapy animals. So are grief therapy dogs that some funeral homes have. Therapy animals don’t always need to be trained or certified, but they must be well-behaved and may need to undergo obedience training.

As an emotional support animal

Just like therapy animals, emotional support animals (ESAs) don’t need to be trained or certified. But instead of helping a group of people, ESAs help a particular person with a mental or psychological disability. To obtain an ESA, a person must receive a prescription letter from a licensed mental health professional who determines that an animal would benefit them. ESAs are not service animals since they only provide mental health support and aren’t trained to perform a particular task.

As a certified service animal

A service animal is trained to perform a specific task for someone with a specific disability. For example, a seeing-eye dog is trained to guide someone who is blind or visually impaired, so it would be a service animal. Service animals must be specially trained and certified to assist someone with a disability.

While everyone has different needs, interacting with animals can greatly benefit you while you’re grieving. Whether you spend time with your own pet, interact with a therapy animal, or apply for an emotional support or service animal, consider spending time with an animal as you continue your grief journey.

Black and white French bulldog looking out the window

Is My Pet Grieving?

By Pets

Have you noticed behavioral changes in your pet? If you’ve recently lost a member of your family – human or animal – then your pet may be grieving. Pets are often very attuned to their humans and companion pets, so when a death occurs, they are likely to feel it, too. Because pets can’t speak, their grief often manifests in behavioral changes. So, the question becomes, “Is my pet grieving? How do I know?” Let’s talk about it.

Do Pets Grieve?

There’s solid research out there to support the fact that pets – especially dogs and cats – do grieve the loss of an owner or a fellow pet.

In a 2016 study out of New Zealand, it was found that dogs and cats exhibited behavioral changes associated with a death in the home. They were more likely to seek more affection, act clingy or needy, whimper or whine, and eat less, among other changes. Back in 1996, the ASPCA conducted a similar study on cats specifically. They called it the Companion Animal Mourning Project, and they had similar results. In fact, they found that most cats experience a significant increase in vocalization after the death of a family member.

Black and white French bulldog looking out the window

What Behavioral Changes Should I Look For?

As with humans, there’s no right or wrong way for your furry friend to grieve. However, there are certain behaviors that are common indicators that your pet is sad or in distress.

Look for:

  • Changes in appetite (eating less)
  • Acting withdrawn or sad
  • Whining, howling, yowling, or crying
  • Changes in personality (your standoffish cat becomes a cuddler)
  • Pacing or searching the house for the missing family member
  • Hiding from or avoiding other family members
  • Changes in grooming or bathroom habits (especially in cats)
  • Showing signs of separation anxiety
  • Changes in sleeping patterns (sleeping more or less than usual)

In their research on the topic, the ASPCA found that over 60% of pets experience four or more behavioral changes after losing a family member. So, if you think your pet may be grieving, it’s very likely they are!

Young woman holds gray, striped cat in her arms and kisses the cat's head

How Can I Help My Pet Grieve?

If your pet is exhibiting any of these behavioral changes, then they might be experiencing grief. Of course, if you just aren’t sure, make an appointment with your veterinarian. They can help rule out physical causes for the changes in your pet or put you in touch with a veterinary behaviorist (who can help your pet through any behavioral issues).

However, if your pet is grieving, there are some things you can do to help them:

Give them extra love and snuggles

If your pet is acting more needy, give them the extra love and attention they’re craving. It will help both of you as you mourn the loss of a family member.

Reinforce good behavior and ignore bad behavior

If your pet is acting out because of grief (howling, having bathroom troubles, etc.), try not to punish them for it. Instead, be patient with them; the behavior will pass. Additionally, you may be tempted to comfort your pet when they are crying, pacing, or acting distressed. However, if the behavior is unwanted, don’t reinforce it with soft words or pets. You may accidentally end up encouraging the behavior.

Man and woman sitting on couch with black dachshund sitting on the man's lap

Give it time

The death of a family member causes disruption for everyone, including a pet. Everyone needs time to figure out what the household looks like now that a member is gone. With multiple pets, the remaining pets will need to figure out their new social structure, and that takes time.

Maintain daily routines

Go for walks, have playtime, give treats and regular meals. People and pets thrive on routine during times of stress and strain, so as much as possible, give that to your four-legged friend.

Carefully consider when to introduce a new pet

If your current pet was very attached to the pet who has died, don’t be too hasty in bringing a new pet into the home. Give your grieving pet time to process the loss and go back to normal behaviors before introducing a new pet.

Fluffy calico cat lays on a bed and receives pets from its owner

Provide entertainment while you’re gone

If your pet is showing signs of separation anxiety, give them things to do when you have to be away from the house. Hide treats around the house, put in a scratching post, lay out favorite toys, or buy a new toy.

Not all pets will exhibit feelings of grief, and that’s completely normal. However, if your pet is amongst the many pets that do grieve the loss of a human or animal family member, give them the care and compassion they need. Establish your new home routines. Give them love and affection (when they aren’t acting out). In time, they should adjust to the new normal in your household, but if their behavioral changes don’t improve or get worse, reach out to your veterinarian for professional help.

5 Tips for Helping Your Child Process the Death of a Pet

By Children, Grief/Loss, Pets

If you’ve ever owned a pet, you understand just how much you can come to love that animal. Whether it’s a dog, cat, guinea pig, ferret, fish, turtle, or rabbit, pets have a way of making their way into our hearts. As an adult, you have experienced loss in your life before, but for children, the first death they may go through is the loss of a pet. So, how can you help your children process their emotions and move toward healing?

Honor your child’s feelings

One of the best things you can do for your child is treat their emotions with respect and validity. Assure them that it’s okay to feel sad, hurt, or angry. It’s normal to feel this way after loss. Stay away from telling a child how they should feel or that they need to “be strong.” This exhortation may be why so many adults have learned to brush away their emotions, to stifle them, but that’s not the way to healing. It’s a form of avoidance, and undealt with emotions can lead to long-term consequences. By letting your child know that their emotions are real and valid, you give them the freedom to feel what they feel and not be afraid of it.

Share what you feel

Your first inclination may be to push aside your own emotions so you can “be strong” for your child. But your child needs to know that you cared about the family pet, too. If you don’t show your own sadness, your child may think that their own sadness is wrong, that they should be more like mommy or daddy, unphased. Now, it’s up to you how much emotion you want to show in front of your child. Don’t scare or frighten your child with your emotions, but do let them know that you’re sad, too.

Be honest

Some children are more inquisitive than others, but no doubt, your child is going to have some questions. Answer as honestly as you can (taking their age and maturity into account). Don’t use euphemisms or half-truths. Instead, sensitively explain what happened and answer their questions. Children can handle the truth (often much better than adults can). According to the Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement, children between ages 7 to 9 will have the most questions, so be prepared.

A few questions you may hear:

  • Why did [pet name] die?
  • Is it my fault?
  • What happened to [pet name]’s body?
  • Will I see him/her again?
  • Where did he/she go?
  • Will he/she come back?

Give them time and encourage discussion

Grief is an interesting thing. It doesn’t go away in a day, and sometimes, it sticks around for a while. That said, let your child know it’s okay if they need to talk about your pet again. In fact, sharing stories and talking about our grief is both healthy and necessary. While you may have personally moved on, give your child the time and space they need to grieve. And if they need to talk, create the space for it.

Find tangible ways to help them grieve

Children are hands-on learners, which is why touching and play time are important to their early development. Because of the hands-on nature of children, you might consider using activities to help them process the pain they feel.

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Draw a picture of your pet
  • Write a story
  • Create a collage of favorite photos and place it in a prominent place
  • Hold a short memorial ceremony where each member of the family has a chance to share
  • Sit down as a family to share favorite pet stories
  • Make a scrapbook or memory book together
  • Buy a stuffed animal to represent the lost pet
  • Choose a memorial marker – a plaque or a stone – and place it in a special place

By helping your child deal with the death of a pet, you are giving them valuable life skills that will aid them as they grow into adulthood. After all, the loss of a pet, while difficult, is not the only hard situation they will face in life. By giving them the building blocks now, you can help them learn how to grieve in a healthy way, no matter what kind of loss they may encounter in the years ahead.

How to Talk to Children About Euthanizing a Pet

By Children, Grief/Loss, Pets

Pets are a lovable, adorable, and often irreplaceable part of our families. Because of our attachment to them, the decision to euthanize a pet is incredibly difficult, especially when you have kids. For many children, the loss of a pet is often the first death they experience. However, you can turn the decision to euthanize into an opportunity to teach your child about healthy grieving. Let’s talk through a few helpful tips for talking to your child about euthanizing a pet.

1. Be open and honest.

Your first instinct may be to sugarcoat the situation or rely on euphemisms. Instead, stick to the truth. Taking your child’s age and maturity level into account, gauge just how much information they need to hear. It’s preferable to use words like “death” and “dying” – it will help your child realize the permanence of your pet’s absence.

A few don’ts:

  • Stay away from euphemisms like your pet went “to sleep” or was “put to sleep.” Children are very literal, and by using these terms, you may inadvertently give your child sleep anxiety because they begin to associate sleep with dying or never coming back.
  • Avoid glossing over the truth with a white lie like “Sunny ran away” or “Fido went on a trip.” These may give your child a sense of hope that the pet will return, which prevents them from grieving and moving on.
  • Stay away from saying that the pet was so special that God wanted him in heaven. This could cause a child to grow angry at God or fear that they themselves might be next.
  • Don’t blame the veterinarian. Instead, consider asking your vet for advice on how to talk about euthanasia with your children. They may even be open to personally talking to your children about why euthanasia may be the best option for your pet.

Ultimately, the best policy is to tell them the truth in simple terms and then be ready to answer questions.

2. Help your child understand why euthanasia is necessary.

Perhaps the biggest challenge will be explaining to your children why euthanasia may be the best option. First, explain why you think euthanasia is necessary. This could be old age, terminal illness, or an accident. A few examples of what you could say:

  • Sunny is sick and the veterinarian has done everything he/she can to help. Sunny is hurting, and this will take away her pain.
  • The doctor has done everything he/she can, but Fido’s not going to get better. By doing this, we can help Fido die peacefully. He won’t hurt or be scared.
  • When an animal gets very old, their body stops working. When that happens, we can help by taking away their pain.

If your children ask what euthanasia is, you could say, “When a pet is really old or hurting, the veterinarian will give them a special shot that stops the heart and takes away the pain.” Maneuver through the questions as best you can, taking your child’s maturity level into account.

3. Discuss what’s happening as a family.

It’s best not to euthanize your pet without talking to your children first. In fact, if it’s possible, include them in the discussion. Talk about how old your pet is and how much pain they feel. Discuss your pet’s health diagnosis and the cost of treatment. Together, as a family unit, make the decision about what’s best. It may be a difficult conversation, but your older children will appreciate being allowed to participate in the decision. Also, it will be a growth opportunity as you model positive decision-making.

4. Give the kids the opportunity to say goodbye.

Once you’ve decided that euthanasia is necessary, give your child an opportunity to say their goodbyes. When we don’t have a chance to say goodbye – whether it’s to a pet or a person – there’s something in us that just doesn’t heal properly. So, rather than taking your pet to the vet while your kids are away, tell them what’s going to happen. Give them the chance to say goodbye and to hug or kiss your pet. They need this moment of closure just as much as you do.

5. Let your child decide if they want to be present for your pet’s euthanasia.

If your child is older (around 6+), let them decide if they want to be present for your pet’s euthanasia. For some children, seeing the peaceful reality is easier to deal with than whatever fantasy they may conjure on their own. If they don’t want to go, that’s fine, too. Just having the option to choose is often enough. If your child does want to attend, let the veterinarian know and do what you can to prepare your child for what they will see.

Children are often more resilient than we give them credit for and allowing them the choice can help create positive coping abilities for the future. Additionally, giving your child a voice in the process makes them feel part of the decision, giving them a semblance of control in what can feel like a helpless and overwhelming situation.

6. Help your children grieve.

Finally, after euthanasia has taken place, help your child through the grieving process. For many children, a pet can almost feel like a sibling – the bond is so close and deep. That’s why it’s important to help them grieve the loss of their dear, furry friend. You might plan a small memorial for your pet and let your child take part. Or, you could put together a scrapbook of photos and memories or create a DVD. You could place a photo of the pet in your child’s room or purchase a stuffed animal that looks similar to your pet to help bring them comfort.

Above all, encourage them to talk about what they’re feeling and look for ways to help them express those emotions. And don’t be shy about sharing your own feelings – they need to see them! What your children learn now will help them process grief as adults. Teach them now how to process grief in a healthy way, and they will carry it into their adulthood and use what they learned to cope with future grief.

What You Need to Know About Pet Burial and Cremation

By Cremation, Pets

When a pet dies, we often feel a deep sense of loss. But no matter how we feel, we must also deal with the logistics of ensuring that our pet finds a final resting place. For most families, that will mean either burial or cremation. Let’s review both options so you can select which works best for your family.

Pet Burial

First, let’s review burial. This option has been around for a long time, and for many families, it’s the best option for keeping things simple and cost effective.

1. Home Burial

If a family has the available land, they may choose to bury a pet at home. By doing this, your pet will remain close to you, and you can even add a grave marker or have a burial ceremony. If your family chooses this option, there are a few things to consider.

  • Is it legal? Check your local laws to ensure that pet burial on personal property is allowed.
  • How deep should you dig? Four feet is usually sufficient to keep predators away.
  • Do you have a large pet? For large animals, digging a grave can be difficult so you may need a back hoe or help from friends or family.
  • What should you bury them in? Make sure that anything non-biodegradable is removed (like plastic) and consider placing your pet in a wooden or cardboard casket or box.
  • Have you chosen a good place for burial? Make sure that you know what’s below the ground where you plan to dig a grave, ensuring that you aren’t going to disturb buried lines or your neighbor’s water supply.
  • What if your pet dies in the winter? If you live in a place where snow blankets the ground in winter, making it difficult to bury a pet, have a chat with your veterinarian. Often, the vet’s office is willing to preserve the pet until spring arrives.

2. Pet Cemetery Burial

Another burial option is to talk with a funeral home that offers pet services or a pet burial services company to request burial in a pet cemetery. With this option, you don’t have to worry about potential legal issues, and if you move away, your pet’s grave will always be in a place you can visit, if you choose.

Typically, you can choose whether you’d like private burial or communal burial. Private burial is often more expensive, but it comes with the ability to add a memorial marker and gives you a specific place to visit, if that’s important to you. Communal burial means that your pet will not have an individual marker and may be buried with other pets. However, the cemetery may offer a memory wall where you can add a memorial for your pet.

Pet Cremation

Cremation is a second option to consider when deciding how best to care for a pet’s body after death. As with burial, you have a few choices, though cremation entails a few extra decisions. Let’s review your cremation options.

1. Private/Individual Cremation

The most important thing to consider when looking at pet cremation is whether or not you want memorial items. For instance, do you want to have an urn at home with your pet’s ashes? Do you want cremation jewelry or to have a memorial box? Would you prefer to keep your pet’s ashes close to you? If you do, then private/individual cremation is best for you. While this type of cremation is more expensive, it gives you greater flexibility on what you’d like to do with your pet’s ashes.

2. Mass/Communal Cremation

If you know that you don’t want memorial items and you also don’t want to bury your pet, then mass/communal cremation might be the best option for you. Because your pet will be cremated with other pets, this option is typically less expensive (often based on the weight of your pet), but it also means you won’t receive any ashes back.

With both of these options, speak to a funeral home that offers pet services, a veterinary clinic, or a pet burial services company to determine the current rates and full range of services available for each type of cremation.

What’s Next?

Once you’ve chosen which type of final disposition is right for your pet, you can decide what to do next. Do you need to purchase an urn or memorial item? Should you select a spot in the backyard for home burial? Do you need to choose a grave marker or headstone?

Another thing to consider is whether you want to have some kind of burial or memorial service. This practice is often quite helpful for children. If you opt for home burial, you can allow your child(ren) to choose the burial spot, encourage them to decorate the area with flowers, and maybe say a few words. With both home burial and private burial, you can work together as a family to choose a meaningful grave marker. These actions may help your child grieve and find closure following a pet’s death.

With cremation, you will need to decide what you’d like to do with the ashes. You can place them in an urn or memorial box, where your child could see it daily. Alternatively, you could scatter the ashes at a favorite park or outdoor area. Saying goodbye is always hard, so deciding what’s best for all members of your family is important and necessary.

For some additional ideas on memorial options for pets, feel free to read 7 Pet Memorial Options and 10 Family-Focused Pet Remembrance Ideas.

Helping a Friend Grieving the Loss of a Pet

By Grief/Loss, Pets

In so many ways, pets are family, too. Because we have the ability to create such deep connections to the animals we love, their loss affects us deeply. The more you lean on a pet for stability and companionship, the greater you feel their loss. For those who put a lot of time and energy into a pet, that loss can create an empty hole in that person’s life. So, as a friend, what can you do to support someone who is grieving the loss of a pet?

Realize that every grief journey is different

We grieve many things throughout our lives: loved ones, pets, relationships, jobs, etc. Each time we feel any type of loss, grief is a natural consequence. The grief may vary in its intensity, but it’s still there. So, even though you may not understand or perhaps you’re not really an animal person, realize that your friend’s grief journey is very real. For them, it’s deep and true and difficult. Accept the complexity of what they feel and look for ways to support and walk alongside them. They need friendship, kind actions, and a listening ear for the road ahead.

Allow them to express their feelings

When we feel loss, many emotions get pent up inside, so let your friend express their feelings without fear of judgment. You may not fully understand the depth of their emotions, but that doesn’t matter. This isn’t about understanding; it’s about sympathizing. Be a safe place. Be ready to hear and recount stories. Show compassion and a willingness to listen. You may hear the same stories again and again. That’s okay – telling the “stories” is a way of grieving and may be exactly what your friend needs.

Don’t try to fix it

Grief is not something wrong that needs to be fixed. Grief is the natural consequence of love. For so many of us, grief has almost become a negative emotion, but in reality, grief is beautiful. It means that we truly loved, that we felt deeply, that we were able to open up our hearts to someone or something. So, don’t try to fix your friend’s grief; allow them to experience it so they can truly heal. Some ways that we may try to fix grief are:

  • Suggesting they get a new pet right away
  • Minimizing the loss through words or actions
  • Brushing over their feelings

Instead, let them embrace the pain. Only by confronting our pain can we begin to process it and find the healing we need to move forward.

Help them celebrate and remember their pet

There are many memorial options for remembering and celebrating our pets. For a few ideas, read 7 Pet Memorial Options. Or, if you have young children, go to 10 Family-Focused Pet Remembrance Ideas. The point isn’t to forget and move on. The true end goal of grief is to learn how to incorporate the loss into your life, reconcile yourself to what life looks like now, and find a way to move forward. So, help your friend find ways to grieve in a healthy way by celebrating their pet and never forgetting the incredible impact pets can have on our lives.

Look for ways to let them know you care

It’s really the little things that mean the most. A quick phone call to ask how they’re doing. A sympathy card with personal comments about their pet and how he or she will be missed. Sending a bouquet of flowers to bring a sense of cheer. An invitation to go on a walk to enjoy the pleasant weather. Or, send in a donation to an organization that benefits animals in remembrance of your friend’s pet. All of these things (and more!) will let your friend know that you truly care and want to stand by them as they mourn their loss.

While grief for a pet may be short-lived for some, it may be a much longer road for others. Grief doesn’t have an expiration date or a time frame. It takes the time it takes, so be ready for the long haul. Check in with them regularly. Allow your friend to feel what they feel. And be a friend always.

How to Talk to Children About the Death of a Pet

By Children, Grief/Loss, Pets

Pets are a lovable, huggable, irreplaceable part of the family. This can be especially true for children, some of whom may not even remember a time when your pet wasn’t part of the family. Because your pet has always been around and has a special place in the family, your children may take its death hard. It may even be their first exposure to grief.

While we often want to shelter our children from the tough things in life, it’s better to help them face it than to prevent them from experiencing it. After all, life is filled with difficult situations our children will have to learn to navigate. That being said, there are helpful ways to talk about the death of a pet. Let’s go over 10 tips for talking with your children about the death of a pet so you can feel prepared to answer their questions and meet their emotional needs.

1. Be honest

Rather than sugarcoating the situation, stick to the truth. Taking your child’s age and maturity level into account, gauge just how much information they need to hear. It’s preferable to use words like “death” and “dying” – it will help the child realize the permanence of the pet’s absence. Also, stay away from saying things like, “Red ran away” or “Clover went on a trip.” These won’t help your child process their sadness and may make them feel abandoned. On top of that, if they find out you glossed over the truth, they may become angry at you for not telling them the truth.

If you must euthanize your pet, talk to your child about why it’s necessary, especially if they are older. If the death is more sudden, calmly explain what happened and answer their questions.

2. Keep it simple

Keep the information as simple as possible. Small children aren’t going to ask too many questions, but if they do, calmly answer them in simple terms. They need to know that the pet isn’t coming back, but you can share that information in a gentle way. For example, “Clover was in an accident today, sweetheart. She was hurt very badly, and she died. That means she won’t be coming back to us. Are you okay? Do you have any questions?”

If your child is older, take time to address their concerns. They will be more vocal with their questions. If you are considering euthanizing your pet for health or quality-of-life reasons, discuss the decision with your children and come to a decision together.

3. Break the news in a familiar place

When you break the news, make sure your child is in a safe and comfortable place. They are about to hear news that may deeply upset their world, so it’s best to make sure they are in a place they consider safe. Use a soothing voice, hold their hand, and minimize the distractions.

If you have multiple children, consider breaking the news to them individually. Each child will respond differently to the news of the pet’s death, and you will want to be able to respond to their separate needs.

4. Tell them it’s okay to be sad

Every child will respond differently when confronted with loss. Some are more likely to cry while others may seem unfazed. No matter your child’s reaction, it’s important that they know that whatever they feel is normal. If they need to cry, tell them that’s okay, and it’s good for them to cry if they feel sad. Don’t try to prevent them from expressing their grief. Instead, allow them to feel what they feel. In the long run, it’s better to allow a grieving child time and space to grieve than to make them think their feelings aren’t acceptable or normal.

5. Share your own feelings

As parents, the tendency may be to play down your own emotions so that you can “be strong” for your children. While it may feel counterintuitive, don’t try to hide your emotions from your child. Your openness and vulnerability will help your child understand that it’s okay to express their own emotions. When you model healthy grief, it helps your child learn how to process grief and understand that it’s normal to feel sad when a death occurs. Of course, make sure not to frighten your child with your own emotions. Crying is fine, but for expressive forms of grief, find a time to be alone or with an adult you trust. You want to share in your child’s sadness – not overwhelm them with your own.

6. Avoid euphemisms

Children are very literal, so you have to be careful how you explain the death of a pet. If you euthanize your pet, don’t use the terms “to sleep” or “got put to sleep.” These terms may make your child afraid to go to sleep because they fear they won’t wake up. Or, they may develop possible fears about surgery or anesthesia because we use similar terms.

Also, don’t say that “God has taken” the dog or that it “went away.” In the first case, the child may begin to resent God for taking their pet away and wonder who God might take next. In the second case, a child may wait and wait and wait for the pet to return from wherever they “went away” to. It’s best to be completely truthful and tell your child that their pet has died, and that you are there to comfort them.

7. Reassure them

For some children, loss can trigger fear. They may fear that another pet will die or that people they love will die. In particular, they may fear that something will happen to you – their parent. Calmly and patiently calm their fears. Hold them close to you. Let them cry. Reassure them with words like, “I love you. I don’t plan to leave for a very long time.” Over the coming days, weeks, and months, they may suddenly fear that you will go away. Each time the fear crops up, reassure them of your love and that you plan to stay with them until you are very old.

8. Give them a chance to say goodbye

Just like adults, children need an opportunity to say goodbye to the family pet. For younger children, this may be as simple as placing a kiss on the pet’s head or attending a small family ceremony to bury the pet. Older children may want to be present if the pet is euthanized, but that decision should be left entirely up to them. No matter the age of your child, make a point of saying goodbye to your beloved family pet so that everyone feels a sense of closure and completion. This doesn’t mean that the grief is done, just that you have had a chance to say goodbye.

9. Answer their questions

Children are inquisitive by nature. According to the Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement, children between the ages of 7 and 9 will have the most questions about death. If your child does start asking questions, don’t panic. Continue to give simple yet truthful answers. There’s no need to go into great detail. Answer their specific question. And if you don’t know the answer, it’s okay to admit that you aren’t sure. Some things about death are still a mystery.

A few questions you may hear:

  • Why did my pet die?
  • Is it my fault?
  • Where does my pet’s body go?
  • Will I ever see my pet again?
  • Is my pet in heaven?
  • Can I make my pet come back?

10. Help them grieve

The final step is to help them through the grieving process. For many children, a pet can almost feel like a sibling – the bond is so close and deep. That’s why it’s important to help them grieve the loss of their dear, furry friend. You might plan a small memorial for your pet and let your child take part. Or, you could put together a scrapbook of photos and memories or create a DVD. You could place a photo of the pet in your child’s room or purchase a stuffed animal that looks similar to help bring them comfort.

Above all, encourage them to talk about what they’re feeling and look for ways to help them express those emotions. What they learn now – as children – will help them process grief as adults. Teach them now how to process grief in a healthy way, and they will carry it into their adulthood and use what they learned to cope with future grief.

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