6 Ways Veterinarians Can Help Families Cope After Pet Loss
Perhaps no one understands how much the death of a beloved pet can impact a family quite like a veterinarian does. A pet’s death is hard for the vet, too, because you care for many families’ pets for many years—hopefully, a happy, healthy lifetime. You knew and loved the pet, too.
Over time, the pets that visit your office become part of your work family. Extending a compassionate gesture after a pet’s death is good business practice, but it’s also important to show the family that you care. Today, we’ve gathered a few kind gestures of remembrance you can extend after a family loses a pet.
1. Capture a Clay Paw Print
A clay paw print is a beautiful way to memorialize a beloved pet. Giving the family an impression of their pet’s paw print will be a gift they’ll never forget, just like their pet. We lost a puppy to cancer last year, and the clay paw print we received from our vet is so treasured.
If a pet is brought to you or passes in your office, take a clay paw print after the family has left. Then, deliver it along with ashes or remains they may return to pick up. Alternatively, you can hold onto it for the next time they come into your office. If you choose to mail the clay paw print impression, be sure you package it very carefully so it won’t be damaged or broken in transit.
2. Let the Family Know You Loved Their Pet, Too
Even though it may be difficult or emotional to do so, be sure to let the family know how much you loved their pet. This is a comforting reminder that their pet was loved not only in their home, but at your office, too. If the family has any fears or worries about what they might have done differently or better for their pet, remind them that their pet lived a good life.
Growing up, I had a family dog that all our vets absolutely loved. When we had to say goodbye, the techs and veterinarian cried with us. And when we picked up his ashes, his favorite tech came out to give us a hug. Even years later, I haven’t forgotten the love they showed to my dog, my family, and me during an incredibly sad time.
3. Send a Sympathy Card
When a pet from your practice passes, consider sending a sympathy card to the family. A card is a thoughtful way to let them know you care, and that you loved their pet. It’s a small token they can keep for years to come, if they wish.
Have your office staff sign the card—or, at the very least, the techs who worked most closely with the pet that died. Encourage them to leave a few remarks about what they loved about the pet, too.
4. Send a Sympathy Gift
If it’s within your budget, consider sending sympathy gifts to the pet owners in your practice who lose a family pet. This is especially important for long-term clients.
Pet sympathy gifts can be small tokens of remembrance, such as a piece of pet memorial jewelry or a sympathy bead. You might consider opting for a picture frame, such as our Always Remembered Pet Loss Frame. Or, you could gift the family with a soft, comforting Pawprints Left By You memorial blanket.
If the lost dog or cat had a small child in the family, consider giving the grieving child a stuffed toy or similar token to remember their pet by. Children become deeply attached to their pets, so it may be comforting to offer them a token of your sympathy, too.
Whatever gift you choose, your token of sympathy will be a keepsake the family can remember for years to come. Not only will it serve as a beautiful reminder of their departed pet, they’ll be reminded of how much you cared.
5. Know They May Have Questions
Grieving the death of a pet often comes with a unique set of concerns. After a pet’s loss, the family may come to you with questions about the pet’s death, the pet’s life, and what they might have done differently (if anything) to prevent the outcome.
A pet owner may grapple with shame over having a pet put to sleep. They may worry that a surviving pet might succumb to the same condition or fate as the pet they just lost. These worries can cause anxiety in the pet owner, who hopes to prevent another similar loss.
If the pet owner approaches you about their questions or their grief, give them practical tips to help their surviving pets live their best possible life. Remind the owner that the pet that passed on was well loved and cared for, just like the surviving pet. Show them patience as you answer their questions, reassuring them along the way.
6. Keep Grief Resources On HandIt’s normal for pet owners to experience the full scope of grief when they have lost a pet. You might want to consider keeping resources available for your pets’ families, so that you can refer them to actionable information that could help them move through the grief process.
It’s possible that you may want to have referral information your pets’ families can study in case they need to seek additional support, particularly if they’re experiencing depression or feelings of complicated grief. While it may not feel appropriate to offer the information to them outright, you might consider keeping pamphlets or information in a prominent, easy-to-access location in your office so families may pick up information that’s relevant to their needs.
The loss of a pet is heart-wrenching, both for the family and for you and your staff. Take time to decide how best to comfort your pet owners in their time of grief. There are so many ways to offer sympathy and condolences to the family, and they’ll remember your caring support for years to come.If you’re looking for a special gift for a family from your veterinary practice, take a look at our pet loss gifts here.