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Grief for a lost Pet

When a much-loved pet is aged, sick or perhaps both and it goes missing it is a very distressing time for everyone involved.

created at: 2010/09/23

Many old or sick animals - particularly cats - seek solitude when they feel low. This is normal. It is a deeply ingrained instinct. In the wild the elephants’ graveyard is a well-documented example of this. Elephants often choose caves in which to die, well away from the others of the herd.

Owners are often really keen to give extra attention or fuss around ailing pets but unfortunately sometimes this is not what they want or need. At least with humans a patient can request to be left alone and be understood. Animals are often giving the same signals but of course these can be hard to read. It is completely understandable that at this time we want to lavish on them extra care and comforts and fortunately for many pets the attention is duly appreciated.

There comes a time though when animals need to find peace. Sometimes this equates to deliberately seeking a quiet place away from their home.

As a veterinarian I was frequently involved in such situations. Owners would be deeply distressed and often blamed themselves for somehow not being watchful or alert enough in their pet’s time of need.

I was often told of cats and sometimes dogs that were found curled up deep in a recess of the garden or under the house. After they had been “rescued”, cleaned and dried and returned to their safe bed the owner would be horrified when they disappeared again. For me this sometimes meant they had decided to die. They wanted to go - had lost the will to continue. Sometimes there were treatments or medications to help them feel better but sometimes their time had come. All living things must die and it may be that when their time comes our pets recognise and accept the event more clearly than we do.

So, if your pet has disappeared and you are searching frantically and beating yourself up with feelings of irresponsibility - perhaps think again: they are not lost, terrified and alone: they are more likely to have just decided to let go and choose a quiet solitude to achieve this. It is no one’s fault. It is the natural way for life to end for many creatures in the wild and, even for our much-loved friends, a fitting one as well.

Author Dr Eric Allan