The Stages of Grief and Pet Loss - Anticipatory Grief

Before we look at the stages of grief and pet loss following the loss of a pet, I would like to tell you about the stages of grief and pet loss you may experience before the actual death of a pet.

This form of grief is known as ‘anticipatory grief’ and occurs when we are told, usually by our veterinarian that our pet’s life is drawing to an end.

Sadly this could of course be at any stage in our pet’s life. Sometimes our pet suffers an accident or is diagnosed with an incurable disease or one which will eventually cause their quality of life to become so poor that we have to consider euthanasia.

Whilst illnesses can often be the result of age related conditions, both accidents and illnesses can occur at any age.

Baby - now at Rainbow Bridge

My cats Baby and Monkey both died at the age of four, despite me doing everything I could to save them and in Baby’s case I had to make the awful decision to have her euthanized following a period of unexpected and unexplained illness.

When experiencing anticipatory grief you may find that you go through all the stages of grief and pet loss even before the loss of a pet and then have to work through your grief again when they actually pass away.

Let me explain how anticipatory grief might feel by explaining how I felt when my cat Baby became ill.

At first I felt Denial, Shock and Numbness. I felt that she would get better despite the fact that the Veterinarian assured me she had an incurable brain disease.

I felt shocked because she had looked so well and had got better before. I felt like I should get a second or third opinion and give her all the time she needed to get better.

I thought to myself that she had been okay a week ago so maybe in a week she would be okay again.

Then I felt Anger. I felt like the Veterinarian should be able to do more. I felt they should have listened to me when she first became ill instead of accusing me of letting her ‘sleep rough’ and blaming that for her illness.

I felt anger because I hadn't been able to afford to have her insured and if I had I might have been able to have all sorts of expensive tests that might have shown us what she actually had instead of me always even now having to wonder.

I felt angry at the universe for making me ill with ME which meant in turn I didn't have any income and could no longer afford her pet insurance premiums or her expensive treatment. I felt angry at the poorly managed pet shopI had rescued her from and wondered if her treatment there had contributed to her life being cut short.

I found myself Bargaining with the universe and praying that everything would be okay. I bargained that if she got better I would get better and get her insured. I would help others more, I would rescue more cats and give more money to animal charities. I would be a better owner and take better care of her.

I found myself feeling Depressed that my lovely cat had to endure such a horrible illness and that there was nothing that could be done for her. I felt depressed that she was so young and seemed so happy and alive.

I felt depressed that having lost three older cats, I had especially got two kittens so I wouldn’t have to lose them again so early and now it was happening all over again.

Then after talking to my Veterinarian who explained that it was likely Baby had one of two diseases and both were incurable and would only get worse, I felt a kind of Acceptance. I felt like I understood everything better and that there was little alternative but to have her euthanized. I didn’t like it but I accepted it.

Whilst most people accept that they may suffer pet grief on the loss of a pet, fewer people realise that the stages of grief and pet loss can begin whilst your pet is still with you, and subsequently are offered even less support by others than when facing the actual death of a pet.

You may find few people understand that you are already suffering from the stages of grief and pet loss and expect you to be happy because your pet is still with you even if they are ill. They may feel that by expressing the natural reactions to grief and pet loss you are somehow 'giving up' on your pet too soon.

You may also find yourself experiencing aspects of anticipatory grief long before you have to think about the loss of a pet. Even if your pet is fit and healthy for example, you may find yourself ignoring or denying that they are getting and looking older.

If their joints are still or swollen due to advancing age you may find yourself blaming the weather or that longer than usual walk you took them on. The grey hairs that start to appear you will dismiss as a one off and besides everyone gets grey hairs, even sometimes when they’re young.

When their faces start to change and they begin to look older you’ll blame the light or say a photograph is just a really bad picture.

We all do this even if it’s only subconsciously. None of us want to admit that our pets aren’t as young and fit as they once were and many of us live completely in denial of our pets advancing years.

Perhaps we think if we pretend it isn’t happening, it just wont happen. But deep down we know it will, we just don’t want to face it.

I hope this website helps you to understand why you feel the way you do and makes you feel part of a united community of pet owners who all feel these feelings and experience anticipatory grief and the stages of grief and pet loss just as you do.

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