The most difficult part of being a pig parent is when it is time to say goodbye. The loss subsequent to that is just as difficult and even more challenging. Whether your pig suffered a lingering illness or went suddenly is irrelevant to the final outcome, pain and grief you will experience. Maybe if we give some thought to this tragic process ahead of time and consider options, it may make this a little less stressful if you have a plan in place.

Burial Or Cremation? If you want to tuck your porcine pet in a blanket and lay him or her in a casket to be buried, your choices are to bury him at a pet cemetery (where they probably have caskets for you to choose from) or you can bury your loved one at your home (but check local and state laws first!!). You should check with the pet cemetery to see if their largest casket will accommodate your pet. If not, a custom built casket may be needed so you will want to find out the time factor involved of having one custom built. You may want a tombstone (if they are allowed at the cemetery). Locating a pet cemetery and checking them out ahead of time will be a blessing to you when the time comes.

If you choose to bury your pig at your home, consideration should be given about the future possibility of a residence change and how you would emotionally handle leaving your pet behind. Again, give thought to the size of the casket needed (if you choose to use one), and check local and state laws first.

If you decide on cremation, you have two choices. A “Communal Cremation” or a “Private Cremation”. A private cremation costs more because your pet is cremated alone with no other animals. In the communal cremation, a number of animals are cremated at the same time and when you get the ashes, you have no way of knowing what part of those ashes are your pet’s and what percentage are from other animals. The Communal Cremation is the least expensive method of disposition. Once you get the ashes you can place them in an urn and keep in your home or you may wish to scatter the ashes at a favorite spot (check local and state laws if not done on your own property). You may wish to put some of the ashes in an urn and scatter the rest. If you choose to place them in an urn, there are different sizes of urns for different sizes of pets. A 50 lb. potbellied pig will require an urn with measurements approximately 5″ X 6″ X 4″. This should be a general guideline only. You crematory facility will be able to assist you in many details such as this.

Transporting your pet for cremation or burial may not be possible either physically or emotionally. Check with the crematory or pet cemetery and see if they have a pick up service in your area and what the weight limit is. You may wish to phone some large animal veterinarians and find out if they would provide this service, however, keep in mind that the veterinarian may be tied up with other animal emergencies at your time of need. Your local animal shelters may also be able to advise you on your transportation needs. A close friend could also be a viable option for the transportation duty. Giving all of this thought and planning ahead will save you a lot of work and stress later.

Depending on your beliefs you might want to consider having a memorial service held in your pet’s memory. You could get guidance from your pastor or minister and perhaps have him or her assist.

These are personal choices that you will have to make sooner or later. It is much more convenient and less stressful if you make them sooner to relieve you of having to make these decisions at the time of your pet’s passing. Have the phone numbers ready and in a convenient location.

Regardless of your choices for the departed, serious consideration should be given regarding a necropsy (like autopsy in humans). We are entering into the geriatric generation of potbellied pigs and learning as we go. We have a lot to learn about our seniors and experience is going to be invaluable. The most potent vehicle we have to learn from is the necropsy. The price of this varies but some are as low as $50.00. A “cosmetic” necropsy is also available should you want to place your pet in a casket for burial. A midline incision is made and sewn back up. Depending on your pig’s medical condition, lab and pathology work may be indicated. Your vet can advise you on these issues as well as approximate costs. Once your pet has left you, there is nothing that can reverse that¼¼.the body is finished doing its job and it’s now time for us to do ours and find out what caused or contributed to the death. Once we have more of these answers we will be in a better position to extend and enhance the lives of pet pigs. This will take time and many necropsies. Please contact the Duchess Fund for guidance and veterinarian referral, if needed, as well as to submit your pet’s records and necropsy for the online database.

If you find that you just cannot bring yourself to have a necropsy done, don’t feel guilty¼¼.you will have enough to cope with. This is a personal choice and everyone deals with the loss of their pet a little differently and this is one of those differences. We have found from experience that most pet pig owners want to find out what went wrong (via necropsy) but there are some that just cannot do it for personal beliefs or other emotional issues.

There are many pet loss books and organizations. Check your local yellow pages and/or search the internet. A few websites are listed at the end of this article that you may find comforting and informing. Also you can obtain some one-on-one counseling through a pet loss organization if you are having a particularly difficult time coping with your loss and grief. Joining a group to talk this situation through and obtain understanding and support may prove more beneficial to you than you can imagine. Remember that you are not alone and each day will get a little easier. If you continue to have a really difficult time it may be wise to discuss your feelings with your physician to see if an anti-depressant drug would be helpful for a period of time (serotonin levels can drop during the grieving process).

The stages following your pets death are as follows:

The First State: Denial
Many pet owners respond with denial learning of a pet’s terminal illness or sudden death. This helps cope with the sharp emotional shock.

The Second Stage: Bargaining
Some people, when faced with impending death, may “bargain” offering some condition if their pet is spared.

The Third Stage: Anger
A classic anger response would be questioning the veterinarian with questions such as “What happened? I thought your treatment was the cure?” Or “You didn’t care about my pet”. These reactions may help relieve immediate frustrations (at the expense of someone else). Anger can also turn inward emerging as guilt resulting in “if only”….”If only I had taken her to the vet sooner.” “If only I had come home sooner” and so on.

The Fourth Stage: Grief
This is true sadness. The pet along with the guilt and anger is gone and the emptiness remains. Now is when support is really needed. This pain is very real and your loss is deep and heavy.

The Final Stage – Resolution
As time passes, the sadness and emptiness evolves into memories of the past. Often times part of the remedy is obtaining a new pet. Your dearly beloved is not being replaced but your new pet can fill a very deep void in your heart.

Veterinary teaching institutions, in studying the human-companion animal bond, are increasing their efforts to help pet owners cope with lingering grief. Some of the teaching institutions have social workers who are specially trained to counsel pet owners. Among the most well known programs are those at the following:

The Animal Medical Center, New York City, 212-838-8100, The University of Pennsylvania, School of Veterinary Medicine, 215-898-4529, University of California, School of Veterinary Medicine, 916-752-7418, University of Minnesota, College of Veterinary Medicine, 612-624-4747, Colorado State University, College of Veterinary Medicine, 303-221-4535, Washington State University, College of Veterinary Medicine, 509-335-1297, University of Florida, College of Veterinary Medicine 904-392-4700 X 4080.

Some helpful websites:

International Association of Pet Cemeteries

How Do You Mend A Broken Heart?

Reflections Pet Urns

Pet Loss Grief Support Website