Pet Loss and the Elderly

Margaret Saiki

At this stage of life, the loss of a pet may presents special concerns. The human- pet bond between the older individual and pet companion is usually different and in many circumstances more intense and interdependent.

Many older individuals are more alone or possible house bound. Their pets help to relieve their loneliness, intensifying their bond.
Pets become more intensely important for they play a more significant role in the individuals life. They enable the elderly individual to feel productive, useful and needed as their pet depends on them for basic needs such as food, water, exercise and medical care. They have someone to talk to and feel love for.
If a pet had belonged to a deceased spouse, they represent the last link to that person. If there is incomplete resolution of the passing of this spouse, the loss of this pet may trigger intense unresolved grief.
Loss of an older family pet can also trigger feeling of their own mortality and failing health.
The older individuals have had more experience with personal loss. They may have lost a spouse, a friend, other pets, and sadly their children. They have also, in some sense, lost the social interaction of the job or career and the lost some standard of living because of retirement.

As Veterinarians we need to be aware of issues involving pet euthanasia in the elderly.

Seniors may not be as readily able to afford complicated diagnostic or treatment protocols.
Euthanasia may be motivated by other concerns such as the worry about who will take care of the pet in case of illness, death or a move to a senior facility which do not allow pets.
They are more likely than others to base their current decisions on outdated information or prior bad experiences involving the death of a pet.

Dr. Saiki, as member of the American Association of Human-Animal Bond Veterinarians, understands that pet loss in our senior population requires patience and understanding. She understand that there are feelings and circumstances unique to this age group of clients when it comes to putting down a love family companion.