When you have a small family practice such as the vet clinic I own, you form strong bonds with clients and patients. In the last month I’ve said goodbye to some long-term beloved patients. Two of these patients were from my house call practice days; they were patients even before I opened my hospital! One patient went to heaven from his congestive heart failure. One had cancer in her mouth. Another lost the fight to chronic kidney failure. Although I have a knack for diabetes, my clinic is a general practice. It’s a wonderful feeling to treat a pet from youth through senior years, but saying goodbye often breaks my heart. Long fought battles ended for some of my most beloved patients in the last few weeks. My nursing staff and I have felt an emotional fatigue dealing with all this pet loss lately.

Coincidentally, this week I also got emails from 2 of my ADW Diabetes readers, telling me that their own sweeties are no longer with us. There are no words that make us feel better after such loss. No one is an expert in handling a broken heart. For all the giggles and hoorahs a career in veterinary medicine can bring, the flip-side is saying goodbye. Pets just don’t live as long as humans. Veterinarians have to face goodbye more often than general practice MDs would. As a woman who has spent all of my adult life in the veterinary field, all I can do is share what I do myself when I feel heart wrenching sorrow.

Babysitting!

When loss hits close to home it might just be too painful to say anything. When I know someone has lost a spectacular pet, I may have no words to offer. Sometimes the best I can do is suggest we go out to dinner after the end of the work day. Personally, I don’t do well being alone after losing someone I love, whether that is a pet, a parent or a friend. I just need to be with someone. I need a babysitter. I suppose some folks prefer to be alone after loss, but that is not my personality type. I need distraction, a friend, a babysitter. This doesn’t necessarily mean I need to chat. Sometimes just going to a movie with a friend after loss, without saying a word, is a huge gesture.

Redirect Your Feelings

When I’m feeling low after the loss of a pet, my best tactic of all is to redirect my feelings. If a relationship is spectacular such that the loss of the pet makes you want to lay in bed for a week, concentrate on the things that made that relationship great! Instead of wallowing in sorrow, think about your pet’s silly little habits that were so endearing. Instead of focusing on the last few days when your pet likely did not feel well, remind yourself of the wonderful moments. Redirect your thoughts to moments of joy. Think of your pet’s favorite activity and your most cherished memories.

Shower Attention on Your Other Pets

Yes, some people only have one pet. What do they say about potato chips? Most of us can’t have just one pet. My own clan used to be bigger than at present. It was me, my cats and my Labrador. When the dog went to heaven, we all mourned her. There was a palpable change in my cats’ demeanor for at least 6 months after my dog passed. It only makes sense… We humans go about our days, head off to work, hang out with friends, while our pets spend time at home. Together.

This experience of watching my cats mourn our dog gave me one more tactic for healing a broken heart after losing a pet. Shower your other pets with love! Not only will this take your mind off of your own feelings of loss, it will help lessen the depression of your surviving pets. Cats in particular are more emotional than they let on. I’ve seen a cat go on a hunger strike when his human was diagnosed with cancer. Don’t underestimate the emotions of the surviving pets.

One of my theories of life is that my highest highs are often followed by the lowest lows. When you lose something spectacular it obviously hurts more than if you misplace something of lesser value. It’s only natural. And the lows make you appreciate the highs all the more the next time you are on a high. We need to live in the moment and appreciate our friends and family and especially our pets. Pets are the family we choose. It may be corny, but when I leave for work each moving I say goodbye to my pets. Then when I get home from work they meet me at the door. It’s what we do.

Have a question or comment? Post below or email me at joi.suttondvm@adwdiabetes.com. I always enjoy hearing from my readers!


NOTE: Consult your veterinarian first to make sure my recommendations fit your pets special health needs.

Dr . Joi Sutton

Dr . Joi Sutton

Dr. Joi Sutton is a 1993 graduate from Oregon State University. She has practiced both in emergency medicine and general practice. Dr. Sutton has done extensive international volunteer work and is the President and Founder of Veterinary Ventures, a nonprofit organization that takes teams of veterinarians to undeveloped countries for humane medical care. She also runs a small animal practice in South Florida.
Dr . Joi Sutton