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Ask a Vet: Just like humans, pets grieve when people die
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A few weeks ago, I wrote an article that mentioned taking steps to care for your pets in case you die.

Some people die at a completely unexpected time, and it’s not possible to plan this way. Some have specific plans for who will care for the pet. Some even leave money to the animal.

I have wondered before what a millionaire terrier would do with his money. Turns out they’re pretty frugal.

Still, that’s the technical side of caring for them after you’re gone.

But after the article was published, I got an email from a reader making me realize I skipped a very important aspect of loss. How can we let our pets know we’re gone?

To be fair, some pets aren’t all that touchy-feely, and the loss may not be as personal. But what about our best friends, the pets heavily bonded to us?

When we spend our lives with animals, they become part of our routine. If you’ve lived with pets for 30 years and somehow suddenly you are without them, the house doesn’t feel right.

The same is true for the animal. The language gets bogged down in semantics, but let me skip the hard science and use everyday, emotional words. Your pets will miss you. They will grieve for you. They may not go through the realization that this means we’re all mortal. They may not worry their other humans may not live forever. But they will know you’re gone.

The email asked about allowing a beloved pet to see the deceased person. My gut instinct was yes. Not knowing is often worse than suffering a definitive loss.

But I wasn’t sure. So I contacted a certified veterinary behaviorist (not the TV kind, but the ones who really have to learn something).

Allowing the pet to see the human is recommended. Some level of depression is to be expected. And just like humans, unrelenting grief should be addressed by a professional. Medication may help.

They help our losses. We should help theirs.

Matthew Sisk is a practicing veterinarian from Habersham County. Have questions about your pet? He can be reached at

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