Pet parent hugging her cat next to a window

What is Anticipatory Grief?

Managing the Emotions That Accompany Long Goodbyes

Part of being a pet parent is knowing you will say goodbye too soon. No lifetime ever feels long enough when it comes to a beloved animal companion. Seeing your fur baby grow old and slow down can be painful. Watching them advance through the stages of a terminal disease, knowing you will have to make a choice sooner or later about when to let them go, can be one of the most agonizing parts of pet parenting.

If your dog or cat has been diagnosed with cancer, kidney disease, or another degenerative condition, or if they’re just slowing down with age, you may find yourself caught in a storm of emotions, including sadness, anger, shock, and even resentment.

This experience of grieving before death is called anticipatory grief, and it’s very common and totally natural. You don’t need to hide from these feelings. But understanding what you’re experiencing, and why, can help you manage these emotions and find a path forward to healing.

Grieving a Pet Loss that Hasn’t Happened Yet

When you know that a loss is inevitable, you brace yourself for it. But you can also be gripped by uncertainty. What if the outcome could still change? When will the loss occur? What will it be like after they’re gone? This combination of anxiety and grief is called anticipatory grief, and it can be just as painful, if not more so, as the grief that comes after a loss.

Changes in your pet’s health and behavior can also cause you to grieve for the way things used to be. Caring for an ailing pet is a lifestyle change that disrupts your routine. You may need to feed a special diet, administer medication, limit the duration of morning walks, or clean up after accidents inside the house. Your pet may be moody or less interested in playtime and cuddles. It might be hard to find a qualified pet sitter, making it hard to travel.

It’s completely normal to feel stress or even resentment during this time. Struggling with these changes to your lifestyle doesn’t mean you’ve stopped loving your pet, or that you’re a bad pet parent. It just means that you’re dealing with difficult circumstances, and you need some time and compassion to adjust to this new reality.

Tips for Preparing for the Death of a Pet

There really is no shortcut through grief, whether after a loss or in the period leading up to one. Your heart will heal on its own timeline, and trying to bury your emotions will only cause them to intensify and linger. However, there are some things you can do to make your life a bit easier during the anticipatory period as your pet ages or their condition advances:

1. Enjoy the quality time you have together.

Things may not be the way they used to be, but you can still have good times with your pet as they grow older. Maybe they aren’t as playful as they once were, but they’re happy to curl up next to you on the couch. This could be a great time to take pictures or let them try a special new treat, if your vet says it’s okay.

Resist the urge to distance yourself emotionally from them to avoid pain. Instead, embrace whatever time you have left. Taking the time to build small, happy memories in the last stretch of your pet’s life can help you remember the good times after they’re gone.

2. Take care of yourself.

You’re going through a stressful ordeal right now. Especially if you’re having to deal with complex care needs or struggling with the pressure of making a euthanasia decision. Your emotions are valid, and you deserve compassion and self-care.

Do things that alleviate stress or improve your mood when you can. Be gentle with yourself and get the support you need, whether that’s talking to a friend or reaching out to a grief counselor.

3. Plan for the future.

Part of anticipatory grief is feeling preoccupied with the next steps. You may be anxious about what happens next. The loss of control that comes from uncertain timelines can add to the stress of an impending pet loss.

One way to ease this discomfort is to focus on things that are within your sphere of control. You can work with your veterinarian to set clear guidelines for making a euthanasia decision. You can research your pet’s condition and familiarize yourself with the timeline and symptoms so that you’re prepared. And you can make end-of-life planning decisions ahead of time so you don’t have to rush at the time of goodbye.

Best Friends Pet Passings and Cremations provides pet cremation services and memorials in Albuquerque. We partner with local veterinarians to make your pet’s end-of-life transition simpler and more peaceful, whether you use an in-person clinic or schedule at-home euthanasia services.

If you’re facing the loss of a furry family member and need help planning for what happens next, we’re here for you. We can walk you through your options and will keep your preferences on file for up to six months so everything is ready when the time comes. Call 505-345-5615 to begin making arrangements.

Pet parent hugging her cat next to a window