Coping With Your Elderly/Sick Pet – Understanding Anticipatory Grief

One of the most difficult times we as pet parents have to face is watching our beloved furkids begin to age or be diagnosed with an incurable illness.

It may be that we begin to notice their greying muzzle or see them struggle to get up in the morning. Or perhaps we get caught off guard by that horrible diagnosis of a terminal illness. The reality begins to hit us that our time with our furkids is limited.

Part of what makes this time so difficult is that, even though we intellectually   understand that when we bring these precious furkids into our families their lives will most likely be shorter than ours, our hearts don’t want to go there. And, in truth, that’s okay because one of the lessons our furkids teach us is how important it is to stay in the moment and enjoy each day with them.

Yet, whether due to age or illness, we begin to feel how strongly we are affected by this period. We often feel sadness, anger and guilt, and very often we begin a process of bargaining. We try bargaining with our pets to stay with us or with their vets for more time.  We may even look to a higher power for that miracle to give our beloved pets more time.

As difficult as it may be, by allowing ourselves to prepare and deal both with the emotions we are feeling and the situation at hand, we can make the end of our pets’ lives hopefully as enriching as the rest of their lives have been.

In this 2-part series we hope to provide you with some coping strategies for helping both you and your pet get through this most difficult time. We begin with some suggestions for making good decisions for your pet.

1)    Working with your Veterinarian

Whether you are dealing with an aging pet or if your pet has been diagnosed with an incurable illness, it’s vitally important to feel confident and have a good relationship with your Veterinarian.

When dealing with these difficult circumstances it can be difficult not to get emotional when talking to the vet. If you can, bring a friend or family member along so you can compare notes afterwards and make sure you are getting the information you need. Just as important is writing a list of questions to ask the Vet before your appointment. Be sure your questions and concerns have been addressed before leaving, and ask the doctor what the best procedure for getting a hold of him is if other concerns come up.

The most important thing at this point is to have a good working relationship with your pet’s Veterinarian. Don’t be afraid to discuss any concerns as they come up.

2)    Make Plans Ahead of Time

As difficult as it is to think about the inevitable, by making important decisions ahead of time, we can focus on the time we do have with our furkids

  • Ask yourself, and then write it down and put it away, what changes do I have to see in my pet that would make me consider euthanization. Is it when he/she no longer wants those special treats? Or when he/she stops grooming him/herself? By thinking about these things ahead of time, you will take the pressure off yourself at a very difficult time.
  • A good tool that can help with these decisions is the Quality of Life Scale by Dr. Alice Villalobos (  This scale allows you to objectively monitor how your pet is doing based on 6 variables (hurt, hunger, hydration, hygiene, happiness, and mobility).
  • It’s so difficult, yet so important, to think about how you want things to happen when that difficult time comes. Would you want to bring your pet to the Veterinary office or would you rather an in-home Vet come to you? Again, as difficult as these decisions are to make, they are easier to make ahead of time then when you are more emotional. The same goes for deciding ahead of time whether you would want your beloved furkid to be cremated or buried.

Having personally had to go through these difficult situations, we can tell you that making these decisions ahead of time will make a huge difference both in the  time you have with your pets and in dealing with that difficult time when it comes.

3)    Keeping Your Pet’s Needs First

Diseases that years ago were untreatable are now more treatable with the advances in Veterinary medicine today, giving us more time, and in some cases, more hope for our pets. Still, it’s vitally important to always remember to Never let the treatment for the disease become worse than the disease itself. As hard as it is for us, we really do need to continue to let the quality of their lives stay more important than the quantity of years

Don’t be afraid to talk to your furkid. Let them know that you want to do what’s best for them and that it’s okay for them to go when it comes time.  If you can, take note of the knowledge, dignity and grace with which they go through this time. It is a life lesson you will never forget.

More than anything, never let your fear of losing them become stronger than doing what’s best for them.

We have written a Pledge from the Heart, that’s on our website, that can help you remember these important points and enjoy the time you have with them.


In the 2nd part of this series, next week, we will discuss how you must begin to take care of yourself during this time so that you can make the best decisions for your pet.

We welcome both your feedback and your questions.

Have you recently gone through this type of situation with your pet? What were some of the things you went through that you can share with us?   Are you now going through this type of situation? Are there any questions we can answer for you?

As always we are here to support you and can be reached either through this blog, our emails or by phone.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  • Latest News

  • Contact Us

    • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.
  • Would You Like to Help?