A few months ago it was my privilege to provide after-care for an 18-year-old male orange tabby. The tabby’s death hit his human mom very hard. The day after her cat’s death she couldn’t stand to be in the house. Even though her other cats were extra cuddly, the void left by the orange tabby, her “little man,” was profound. He had been the vocal one. The boss. A strong and constant presence.
I heard a similar story from the mom of a sweet male lab. She too reported that the day after his death was especially painful — much worse than the day he was euthanized. She kept looking for him, forgetting that he was gone. She said that it was like a physical part of her was missing, like a leg.
Earlier today, a couple (who recently lost a young dog due to a car accident) were in my office to pick up their little girl’s after-care package. Four days after the dog’s death and they’re still in shock. And the day after their dog’s tragic and unexpected death? Well…it was especially bad.
This is something I have heard over, and over again: The day after a pet’s death can be extremely difficult.
Pet parents who care for an elderly, sick, or disabled pet often develop a routine around the pet’s needs — increased number of potty breaks, medications, special eating times, etc. After the pet dies, it may take a while before the pet parent can get out of the habit of making the formerly required physical moves around their home. Out of habit they still go to fill the food and water bowls, call out to their pet, or walk around the corner and expect to see them in their bed. It’s a shock to suddenly realize that the routine is suddenly no longer necessary.
It is common for a pet parent to be sleep deprived prior to a pet’s death. When the pet parent “catches up” on sleep, and wakes up fully alert and aware, the loss of the pet is much more vivid.
As with the folks who lost their dog due to a car accident, sometimes a pet’s death is so unexpected that pet parents will go into a shock-like state. Their brains are literally “fried.” It may take 24 hours (or longer) before the magnitude of what has happened truly sets in. When the shock wears off, debilitating grief may take over.
In the home, there are reminders of the pet everywhere. An empty cage. Fur on the couch. Pet food in the fridge. Toys found in unexpected places. For some people these reminders are helpful and consoling. For others they can be like knife stabs in the heart, triggering extreme grief, over and over. And again, it’s the day after the pet’s death — the first full day without the pet — when these feelings are the strongest.
And then, of course, there’s the silence. The deafening silence. A constant reminder of the new void in the pet parent’s life. This can be especially bad for folks who work from home. When the pet is no longer at home, running around, chewing on a bone, sleeping at their feet, or stepping across their laptop for attention, pet parents have a hard time concentrating on anything other than their grief.
These are just a few of the many reasons why the day after a pet’s death can be an extremely difficult day for the grieving pet parent.