Posts Tagged ‘grief’

Do Pets Mourn?

Friday, March 25th, 2011

Yes, of course they do!

I tend to anthropomorphize, I am highly (not excessively, highly!) emotional, I love, love, love pets and I spend most of my time at home and at work with them.

I realize that I am not unbiased.

So instead of just saying “yes,” I wanted to share this sort-of-a-scientific-case-but-more-of-an-intriguing-story…

Joy the Puppy has a built-in stress barometer

localized juvenile demodicosis that manifests as periocular alopecia.

Look!  The scientist in me is coming out!  Let me explain that super-nerdy sentence and then move on to how it supports the theory that pets do indeed mourn.  I know that this is a case study of one subject.  Still, I would believe it with no proof, so it is more scientific than my usual carrying on here, wouldn’t you say?

localized – in one or a few areas.  Generalized demodicosis would typically be more serious and warrant a more aggressive search of an underlying cause and more aggressive treatment.

juvenile – puppy disease.  Again, adult-onset would typically be more serious and warrant a more aggressive search of an underlying cause and more aggressive treatment.

demodicosis – a form of “mange” – Many mammals have a species-specific mite, demodex, which is present in small numbers even in healthy individuals.  Since I am an animal doctor, not a human doctor, I will not say “human” or “eyebrows” to you.  Dogs have a species-specific demodex mite called Demodex canis.  It can become a clinical problem if there is an immune system issue or stress, though the underlying cause is not always known.

microscopic view of Demodex canis

periocular – around the eyes

alopecia – loss of hair

When Joy was a pup, she had a mild case of localized juvenile demodicosis that manifested as periocular alopecia.  It came and went pretty quickly and quietly, with no discomfort to Joy.  I treated it with “benign neglect” and she did great.  She had no symptoms for over a year.

When Ebony Dog passed away last month, the disease came back with a vengeance.  Joy moped around the house.  That is, she had decreased energy levels and was much less active than usual.  She circled on the bed that she and Ebony had shared, finally flopping down every night with a deep sigh and her chin on the floor at the edge of the bed.  She would come to a complete stop during walks with Noodle the Poodle and look around as if confused.  For her whole life, walks had always been the three of them:  Joy, Ebony and Noodle.  Most telling of all, the area around both of Joy’s eyes went completely baldy-bald…um, I mean alopecic, again.

Here is Joy in all her shiny gorgeousness…

Here is Joy at the worst of her recent bout of demodicosis…

And here, I believe, is the reason for the stress that has caused this most recent flare-up…

She and Ebony were so close…

In fact, Joy wanted to be Ebony when she grew up…

Joy the Puppy is mourning the loss of her friend Ebony Dog.

I saw it with Wuzzy Rat when Fuzzy Rat passed away…

(She had no hair to let fall out as an outward sign of her mourning – ha!)  I have seen it with other personal pets.  I have seen it with clients’ pets.  This is the first time I have seen it with such clear physical manifestations.  Have you seen this with pets you have known?  The mourning, I mean?

My Prescribed Treatment for Joy: Routine cleaning with a gentle cleanser and topical medication, extra attention, extra love, extra walks and extra empathy.*  Her stress levels are going down, her immune system is becoming strong again, her demodicosis is going back into remission and her hair is growing back.  That is to say…her heart is healing.

*I miss her too Joy.  We’re going to be ok though Puppy, I promise.

See full size image

Goodbye Fuzzy and Wuzzy Rats…

Friday, December 17th, 2010

Our hairless rats passed away recently.  I have had (and have) pets as wonderful as these two, but none better.  Goodbye Fuzzy and Wuzzy Rats.  We love you, and we will miss you very much.

A Day in the Life of a Vet

Fuzzy (left) and Wuzzy (right), July 2010

My last story about Fuzzy and Wuzzy was just published on  The link to the story is below.  Maybe I will write a remembering or looking back sort of story later (or a photo story – that would definitely be the cutest choice…)  But in Real Life, this is the last chapter.  I am really not ok with that.

Being a Vet and Coping With Loss

Fuzzy Rat

Saturday, October 16th, 2010

Our Fuzzy Rat died today.  I guess I am not ready to say it outloud, so I will hold onto this post for a while.  She was a great little goofy rat.

Rest in Peace little girl.  I love you.

Fuzzy Rat

February 14, 2008 – October 14, 2010

I suspected she had something more serious than an ear infection or even idiopathic vestibular disease several weeks ago when I was unable to wean her off of anti-inflammatories (prednisone).  Most likely, she had a pituitary adenoma, which is a benign brain tumor, but in rats it can grow so much, it puts pressure on the brain and causes vestibular signs (wobbliness, like in Fuzzy) or other signs and eventually is incompatible with life.  Being neurotic and being me (which are of course overlapping, and in my opinion not such horrible things!) I searched for “records” and found a rat who had lived ten months with a probable pituitary adenoma.  I needed the hope then but I don’t need the heartache now.

The night before Fuzzy passed away, she was not eating well, but she was playing and nosing my hand to be pet.  I think she was happy right to the end.  I tried to talk with Wuzzy Rat about it, but she just wanted to know if I had peanut butter.

My twelve-year-old nephew put it best.  He hugged me and said “I’m sorry about Fuzzy.  She was a nice little rat.”

Pet Loss

Monday, September 27th, 2010

My newest article at deals with pet loss and grieving.  We have had eight healthy pets for almost two years now, so I decided it was well past time to write this one that has been wandering around in my head and heart for a very long time.

When I started writing it, my Fuzzy Rat became very sick, and I wrote the article while holding her on my lap and hand feeding her.  If you know me, you know that was a bit difficult.  Ha!  I was a wreck!  I feared at times that I was writing the article for myself, for here and now…

Dealing With Pet Loss:  On Loving Pets…and Losing Them

Fuzzy rallied and is doing wonderfully.  I suspect she had a severe inner ear infection.  She will be on medication for at least five more weeks, but should do great.

However, in the time it took me to write the article, I lost three dear patients, two of whom were family (the rats).  I dedicate this article to YOU and your wonderful pets and also to…

Kiki the Cockatiel♥

Miss Molly Rat♥

Molly, Rest in Peace

Miss Clarence♥


You were well loved by your wonderful families.  Your company was crucial and your absence is acutely felt.  You will be missed, friends.  I was blessed to have known you.

Observing a Four-Year-Old Process with a Maturity Far Beyond His Years

Sunday, August 8th, 2010

me:  He’s gone.

mom:  He’s gone, Sweetie.

But he’s right here.

mom:  That’s his body.  He’s in heaven with Jesus…and Grandpa.

So he’s in heaven and his body’s still here?

mom:  yes.

Does he not need his body in heaven?

mom:  no.

What’s he doing in heaven?

mom:  Maybe running…or playing with Grandpa.

me:  He can do stuff like that again because he doesn’t hurt anymore.


mom:  You are doing a really good job handling this.

Good enough for a hot rod?

me *whispering* Please say yes.

I Love You Obie

Monday, May 10th, 2010

It was almost ten years ago I accidently killed my own dog while anesthetizing him for a routine dental cleaning.  I have not lost a dog to anesthesia before or since.  I have lost two cats and a kitten to anesthetic deaths, all prior to Obie.  I have anesthetized thousands of patients with no complications.  Statistics don’t matter when your pet is 100% dead.

Obie was brought into the hospital I worked at in Littleton with his friend Herbie Dog.  Their owner had passed away and their caretaker did not know what to do with them.  We had Benji Dog at home.  Obie came with the name “Benji” so we renamed him Obie (O.B.) for “Other Benji.”  For ten months, it was really fun to have three goofy old Poodles to walk with and play with and just hang out with.  You will have to get Max the Cat’s side of the story from him.

Obie died first, suddenly and tragically.  I don’t remember how long our team performed CPR, I just remember we didn’t hold back with anything we had, and were exhausted and shocked when we finally quit.

Benji died also suddenly and tragically five months later, but with none of the horrible heart-clawing guilt to go with the sorrow.  And Herbie, Herbie was the best of all I suppose.  We had him euthanized at sixteen and a half years of age when he could no longer function due to the severity of his arthritis.  Less than two years after we adopted Benji, our first dog, and all three were gone.  My grieving for Benji and Herbie, if the strands can be seperated, which of course they can’t be completely, was sad and straight-forward and almost complete.  My grieving for Obie was jagged and painful, stilted and at times abandoned, an open wound that I did not know how to treat.

I have always struggled with depression, but the struggle has been multiplied since losing Obie.  Struggling is better than not struggling I suppose.  I was seven months pregnant with my first baby, Amanda, when Obie died.  I really wanted my Grandma Amanda to meet my daughter Amanda.  My Grandma Amanda died the same month as Obie did.  I warn clients that when two horrible things happen in a short span of time, the grief is not added, it is multiplied.  And I hover to make sure they are ok.  But I let them assume that I know because I am a veterinarian, not because I still cry when I try to revisit September 2000.

Obie was our blind dog.  I am not sure he even realized it, as he was very well adapted.  We called Obie our Swiffer Puppy, because he was soft and fuzzy and white and his fur collected everything.  He had two surgeries to attempt to restore his sight.  Neither restored his sight, but he came through both surgeries without a hitch, which I did not even think to thank God for at the time.  After each surgery, he wore an e-collar to assure he would not paw at his eyes while they healed.  Obie was the only pet I ever knew who LOVED his e-collar.  He would stand in the middle of the living room listening for Max the Cat or Herbie Dog, then run at them full speed, picking their hind end up in his e-collar and make them play “wheelbarrow” with him across the room.  Then Max would scowl, or Herbie would stand confused, and Obie would smile a big blank-eyed smile with his tongue hanging out.  He had the best smile, as beautiful as any Greyhound’s smile.  He was the happiest dog I have ever known.

When Obie died, Mom and Dad sent us a TCBY gift certificate and a card that I still have.  I realized recently that I have not been back to TCBY, my favorite yogurt place ever, since we used that gift certificate.  How could I have not realized that sooner?  It has been almost ten years.  That’s a weird thing not to notice.  Now that I have, I probably still won’t go back.

Stephanie gave me a very sweet card too and a bag of Hershey Hugs, and a real one.  I have also not eaten Hugs since I ate that entire bag in one day.  Also weird.  I love chocolate.I miss you Obie.  I love you.  I’m so sorry buddy.

I have told myself all these years that I have not written about Obie or discussed his death much because I don’t want people to think anesthesia isn’t safe.  It is.  I also probably do not want people to think leaving their pets in my care isn’t safe.  Who knows why I waited?  I didn’t even know I had frozen yogurt and chocolate issues until recently.

But also, I probably haven’t said much because I didn’t want to go through this.  What was I thinking writing this when I am alone?  It has been in my head so long, I guess I just figured it was a rainy, depressing day anyways, so why not?  This is horrible.  But maybe it will be better later.  Most days are.  Some are still pretty rough though.  Guess I just made this one of them.

What I Am Doing This Week: Remembering Grandma Norma Jean Everingham

Tuesday, February 16th, 2010

This week I am mourning the loss of Russ’ wonderful Grandma, Norma Jean Everingham.  She is one of my very favorite people ever.  I will catch up with you all soon.

Russ’ sister Jodi (another of my favorite people ever) and Grandma Norma

I Wish You Were Here

The only things you had in common with my own Grandma Amanda were that you were both beautiful and I always wanted to be where you were.

You walked me into your family as if it were my own.  And indeed it is.  You let me call you Grandma.  You always said, “I sure love you.”

And then, years later, old and full of life, you walked from this life to the next as if it were the most natural thing in the world.  And maybe it was.  From my perspective, it was not.  I am left holding the Valentine cards my children made for you, angry and sad you are gone.

Today I am not relieved you are no longer in pain.  Today I am not in awe at the perfect heaven you are now a part of, that you have been longing for.  I mean, I am.  Of course I am.  But today I miss you acutely.  I need you here Grandma.  Today I will mourn.  Later I will rejoice.  Later I will say, “Wow, how blessed I was to know this incredible, wise wonderful woman of God.”

Today I will spend with the people you and I love, drinking drinks (Is that ok?), eating pizza, remembering you and thinking of all of the things we loved best about you.  It is going to be a long night Grandma.  I wish you were here.

The Road Trip to Stromsburg Nebraska for Grandma Everingham’s Funeral

Russ said, “What are you thinking about?”

I said, “I was wondering if being in the presence of the Almighty was so incredible and overwhelming that one could only worship in amazement, or if people in heaven can still see us here, and the great cloud of witnesses of Hebrews 11 and 12 is a reference to our loved ones who have gone before us interceding for us and cheering us on.”

“Oh,” Russ said.

“What are you thinking about?” I said.

“Rum,” Russ said.

“Oh,” I said.  “Do you want to trade?”

Russ said, “Sure.”

So we did.

Some Numbers and Statistics

Thursday, March 1st, 2007

Age children should be before they own a reptile: 6.

Age children should be before they have primary care of a pet: 12.

Age children should be before the family owns a pet prone to aggression: 18.

Age I was married: 24.

Age I had my second child: 30.


Favorite dog name: Joey Cupcake.

Favorite cat name: Mr. Narwhal.

Favorite rabbit name: Junie B. Jones.

Suggestion for their new bunny’s name: Judy Moody.

Dogs or cats: both.

Being a vet or being a Mom: being a Mom.

Crabby owners or crabby pets: crabby pets.

Treating or preventing: preventing.

Hamsters or pit bulls: pit bulls.

Dogs I have disliked: 0.

Cats I have disliked: 0.

Number of years I have been a vet: 8.75.

Number of years I have been a mom: 7, including gestation.

Number of crabby owners I have had to deal with lately: 1.

Number of crabby pets: 10 maybe? But if you have read “Will Benji be there?” you understand why it was not their fault!

Primary guideline for scheduling appointments: No crabby owners, crabby pets are just fine.

Coworkers who stand by that with me because it makes work very fun: 5 of 5.

Coworkers on my list of favorite people: 5.

Percent of pets who come in for prevention-related reasons: 90.

Percent of pets who come in for treatment of disease: 10.

Hamsters who have bitten me: 3.

Percent of hamsters who have considered biting to thank me for their great care: 98.

Pit bulls who have bitten me, or even tried: 0.

How these statistics, excluding the hamster bites, make me feel: happy.

Average lifespan of a dog: 12 years.

Oldest dog I have known: 17.  Breed: Poodle.

Average number of years that are added to a dog’s life when fed properly: 2.

Average lifespan of an indoor cat: 13 years.

Average lifespan of an outdoor cat: 3 years.

Oldest cat I have known: 21.

Breed: Siamese.

Indoor or outdoor: Outdoor.

Average lifespan of a betta fish: 1 year.

Age of our betta: 3.

Secret of Fish’s youthful beauty: oxygen.

Most common cause of death in pocket pets and exotics: improper diet or housing.

Amount of Internet information on pet care that is accurate: 50%, I would guess. But I still maintain that it is a great place to start.

#1 cause of death in cats and dogs: euthanasia due to behavior issues.

#2: euthanasia due to overpopulation.

Most common signalment of a dog with cancer: senior patient who has had excellent care and grown old enough to develop cancer.

Most common issue owners who have pets with cancer deal with: guilt.

Stages of grief owners go through at the loss of a pet: 5.

Percent of dogs and cats over 2 with dental disease: 80.

Frequency of dental cleaning recommended for average adult pet: once a year.

Average lifespan of guinea pigs: 5.

Age of Piggy: 3.

Most common vitamin deficiency in guinea pigs: C.

Animals that do not make vitamin C: Primates and guinea pigs.

Amount of vitamin C in Piggy’s daily supplement: 25 mg.

Number of guinea pig diets with adequate vitamin C: 0.

Number of guinea pig liquid supplements with adequate vitamin C: 0.

Diseases Piggy has had: 2.

Diseases related to vitamin C deficiency: 0.

Most common vitamin deficiency in birds: A. Most common vitamin deficiency in reptiles: D.

More favorites…

Favorite rodents for children: rats and guinea pigs.

Favorite rats from children’s literature: Nicodemus and Templeton.

Favorite mice from children’s literature: Mrs. Frisby, Herman the Great and Ralph.

Number of favorite dog breeds I have: 23.

Number of least favorite dog breeds I have: 2.

Number of breeds I have mixed feelings about: 4.

Favorite canine from children’s literature: Carl.

Other favorites: Ann and Dan.

Number of favorite cat breeds: 1.

Number of least favorite cat breeds: 0.

Favorite feline from children’s literature: Socks.