The Rainbow Bridge - What to Do When Your Dog Dies

Losing your best friend can be one of the hardest times in life. You never know when your time here on earth is done, and time spent with your best friend never seems long enough. The Rainbow Bridge is a theme for poems about the pet's journey after death, and a perfect title for this article.

Preparing for the Loss of a Pet

Pet loss is a difficult process to go through. Humans live longer than our pets, so facing the loss of an animal friend that has taken hold of your heart and found a place in your home and family can be devastating.

The lifespan of a dog is about 20% of the average person. Most dogs live on average 10 to 13 years and with quality care can live a few extra happy years. In fact, studies show that by assessing dog's body condition, it's possible to extend your pet's lifespan.

However, accidents and illness can occur, taking your furry friend without any warning. Many fatal diseases are common among dogs. In the end, your pooch may have lived a full life and simply be near his final days, and you start thinking about what it's like to lose a trusty pal and loyal companion. The Rainbow Bridge poem and this article is exactly about that.

It’s painful to lose a friend, but the most important thing is how you face the end together. Being there for your best friend in love and support to bring peace is important, as your dog can sense your emotions and fears. If you are prepared and know what to look for, it can help when the time comes, and you can be more of a comfort to your pet.

ALSO READ: 7 Tips To Help You Deal With the Loss of A Pet

The Rainbow Bridge
What to Do When Your Dog Dies

The Rainbow Bridge Photo

The Rainbow Bridge

You can find some healing in your beliefs. The Rainbow Bridge is an idea based on several works of poetry that came about during the 1980s and 1990s and whose true authorship is unknown.

The Rainbow Bridge poems speak of a belief in a special place where our pets go to heal and be made whole again, where they can run, play and be free. It’s a place where they wait in joy and harmony with other pets until the day comes for you to meet up with them to cross the rainbow bridge to reach heaven’s gate together at your journeys’ end. This story can alleviate fears for small children, and the idea holds true for many adults.

Here's the Rainbow Bridge text that's worth reading:

Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge.

When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge. There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together. There is plenty of food, water and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable.

All the animals who had been ill and old are restored to health and vigor. Those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again, just as we remember them in our dreams of days and times gone by. The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing; they each miss someone very special to them, who had to be left behind.

They all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance. His bright eyes are intent. His eager body quivers. Suddenly he begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass, his legs carrying him faster and faster.

You have been spotted, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again. The happy kisses rain upon your face; your hands again caress the beloved head, and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart.

Then you cross Rainbow Bridge together…

What to Do When the End Is Near

The Rainbow Bridge and Dealing with Pet LossWhen you know the end is near based on the quality of life scale, your veterinarian will most likely recommend euthanasia to relieve your dying dog from any discomfort. You can choose to have your dog die at home. Veterinarians can offer at-home euthanasia, or you can opt for a natural death.

Talk with your veterinarian about local jurisdictions and what options you have for burying the dog, or cremating your dog, and what to do with the remains. Your veterinarian may tell you that it is fine for you to bury your dog in your backyard (depending on local laws). If not, you may find that there is a local pet cemetery or pet cremation service in your town.

Many choose to have their dogs cremated, and stored in a memorial urn. Others may choose to bury a dog with a special pet coffin. There are some states and jurisdictions that will allow your dog’s remains to be stored until you can be buried together.

Warning Signs the End is Near

Besides the old age, there are many reasons that can cause the loss of a dog. Accidents, such as car accidents, can occur suddenly and take your pet without warning. Those are rare, and in most cases, you have some warning signs if your pooch is going through a disease stage or old age; you know your dog may be coming near its time here.

You may have recently visited your veterinarian and found that your dog has a fatal condition and know that it is only a matter of weeks or months. In that case, your veterinarian can help you with a good care routine that you can follow that will minimize your dog’s discomfort and make the best of his last days with you.

Perhaps your dog has lived a full life, and you may have just noticed that your Fido has slowed down in its walking, has some trouble standing, but still enjoys life, and you are worried about the signs you should be watching for when the time is near. Your vet can give you some guidelines, but there are some basic signs to watch for:

1. Extreme Fatigue

Most dogs will show signs of fatigue when they become ill. However, when it comes time, your dog will feel an even more extreme form of fatigue. Your dog may seek out a comfortable corner or quiet area to lay down, or may not be able to move at all.

If your dog is showing signs of fatigue, you can help soothe by providing a comfortable bed and a quiet place that your dog can rest without being disturbed by other household members.

2. Vomiting

When your dog’s body begins to shut down, the digestive system can wreak havoc on your dog by causing upset stomach and vomiting. You may feel worried that your dog does not seem to be keeping down its meals.

It can be helpful for your dog to change its eating schedule to many very small portions a day instead of trying to eat all at once. Also, be sure to moisten and feed only canned food, as dry food may be too difficult at this time. This may be helpful for your dog in keeping down a portion of food each day.

3. Difficulty Moving

As your dog ages, you may have already noticed a gradual decline in your dog’s ability to move and get around. As death nears, you will notice that your dog may become very unsteady on its feet and may not be able to get up all the way at all. This could be due to pain or due to impaired brain functionality.

You can help your dog by carefully assessing its pain levels and, under your veterinarian’s guidance, administering NSAIDS or other prescribed medications that may alleviate pain.

4. Incontinence

When your dog is dying, it will show a progressive decline in all of its bodily functions, both physically and mentally. As this occurs, your dog will eventually begin to lose control and start to have accidents.

This is a time to comfort your dog. Have your dog lie on absorbent pads or wear diapers, but above all keeping the area clean and showing a calm and comforting demeanor will help your dog through this.

5. Shaking

Your dog may show signs of being cold, like shaking or twitching involuntarily. Your dog’s body temperature may have begun to drop, and is a sign that his body could be shutting down.

If your dog is comfortably resting, a light blanket will provide comfort, as well as your touch. Your dog is reassured by your presence, and the warmth and touch of the blanket will help soothe the shaking.

6. Lack of Interest

Many animals, including dogs, choose to draw into themselves or seek a place to be alone when it comes time to die. Your dog may even choose to ignore you when you call and start to ignore its favorite people, toys, and food.

Don’t take this to heart; your dog is simply finding its own peace as its body begins to shut down. Finding a warm and quiet place where your dog can rest comfortably, away from family stress, will make it easier for your dog, and you can monitor interactions and the progression of illness from there.

7. Mental Confusion

It is sad to watch an aging loved one begin to slip away from us. Mental confusion in your dog may be gradual as it ages or could come on suddenly, which could indicate signs of a stroke. Consult your veterinarian office immediately if you suspect signs of a stroke.

Mental confusion as a result of aging or shutting down near death can be difficult for your pet. Your dog may no longer recognize its surroundings or you as its owner.

You can help your pet by removing all distractions from its environment and allowing your dog a place of its own. You can still reassure your dog by keeping calm and lovingly attending to it, even though it may no longer recognize you.

8. Loss of Appetite

Your dog may have a complete loss of appetite. As your dog shows signs of dying, its digestive system will begin shutting down. It will become more difficult for your dog to keep anything in its stomach. Eventually, your dog will lose interest in all food and water, and will no longer be able to keep much down.

If this occurs, you can comfort your dog by breaking down meals into smaller digestible pureed bites throughout the day and by giving water with an eyedropper. Keeping your pet's mouth moist may keep it more comfortable, and you can also hold and talk to your dog at the same time.

READ IT: How to Bury a Dog Legally When Your Canine Companion Passes Away

Going Forward

Gone too soonYou may have the idea that you cannot live without your best friend, but going forward with a healing heart can be what is best not only for you, but you may have other family members or animals to think about. Some animals bond deeply, and even though you may feel a great loss yourself, your other animals are feeling it too. Hopefully, things like The Rainbow Bridge poem and other readings you can do will keep you stronger.

If your dog had a mate or pal, it can be especially difficult for them. It is important during this time to keep your spirits upbeat and to show additional attention to your other animals. During this time, you can contribute to a local shelter in your pet’s name or volunteer. You may, over time, find room in your heart to befriend another dog.

READ NEXT: Are Pet Caskets for Dogs Too Much? Do We Really Need Them?

The Rainbow Bridge

Diana currently lives and works in London, UK and she's been an animal lover and dog owner since she was a child. After graduating high school, she focused on getting her degree in English to become a writer with a focus on animals, pets and dogs.