When Your Pet Dies

Pets give us so much joy in their short lives. But, too soon, it's time to say good-bye. We asked experts for advice on how to cope.
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In a perfect world your pet -- like all your loved ones -- would live a long, rich life and then die peacefully in its sleep. "People hope that Fluffy is just going to close her eyes one night and float off with the angels," says Susan Phillips Cohen, director of counseling at the Animal Medical Center, in New York City. "Unfortunately, most of the time it doesn't go that way." In reality, your dog could get hit by a car or your cat could have a heart attack. Most likely of all, your pet will go into an age-related decline and you'll be faced with the difficult decision of whether to put it to sleep.

"The fact is that most pets only live about 10 to 15 years," says psychologist Stephanie LaFarge, PhD, senior director in animal health services for the ASPCA. You can't avoid the sadness of losing a beloved companion, but being prepared for it in advance will ensure a smoother and less-painful transition for you and your kids -- and, most of all, for your pet.

Time to Euthanize?

Whether to put an ailing animal to sleep is probably the hardest decision that any pet owner will have to make. "There's never an exact right time, unfortunately," says Dr. LaFarge. "You are always going to worry that it's too soon or too late." Consider the pros and cons carefully, she advises, but give yourself a break, since there is no perfect answer.

"Euthanasia takes a lot of courage," says veterinarian Kristen Nelson, author of Coated with Fur: A Vet's Life. To help you decide what's best for your pet, ask your vet how you can tell if the animal is suffering. Some signs of severe distress are as obvious as panting or as subtle as an elevated heart rate. In most cases, experts say, euthanasia is the most peaceful way for your pet to die. "You want to be able to look back and say, ?I did right by this animal in the end,'" says Nelson.

Continued on page 2:  Unexpected Death


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