Connecting with our Animal Companions when Serious Illness Occurs

 In Animal Communication, Healing

by Dr. Todd Metcalf, D.V.M., Harmony Holistic Veterinary Care

[Nancy’s note: Dr. Metcalf is my personal holistic veterinarian and has cared for many members of my animal family since 2007. I loved this sensitive and wise article and am delighted to have his permission to share it with you.]

pet loss and grief

Can’t it be upsetting when one of our animal companions is seriously ill?

Not only might we worry about their wellbeing, we also may face numerous choices about how to proceed with their care. Do we have blood work and/or x-rays done? What about surgery? Should we go the holistic route? And all the information on the Internet – what do we believe? And still another element is the feelings and thoughts we have around potentially losing our companion in the dying process.

Some personal insights

I would like to share some insights and processes that I have found helpful to myself and others in these areas. I share them in the spirit of suggestions, as I observe there are many ways to approach these issues and no one way is “right”. If what I share is helpful to you, fantastic. If it doesn’t fit or feel right, then surely some other approach will be better for you.
First, if we are having strong emotions and fears of losing our pet, it can be very difficult for us to make choices. This is certainly true for me. In addition to concerns for my own animals, these emotions can arise in me as a practitioner if I’ve been treating an animal for an extended period; become “attached” to the animal, and the animal has taken a downturn in physical health.

What I have found helpful is to first acknowledge my feelings about what is happening or about what I’m afraid will happen, and go ahead and accept and feel those feelings. For example, if an animal has a serious condition we may first feel fear or helplessness or sadness (or all of those feelings) about it being ill. Rather than resist the reality of the illness and of the emotions, we can accept the situation and the feelings, cry if we need to, and then arrive at a state of more clarity.

Similarly, if we are afraid that our animal may die from the condition, we can accept and feel the emotions that we would have to feel were they to die, and again arrive in a state of more peacefulness from which to make our choices.

Repeating the process

Sometimes we may need to repeat the process again and again, or at different points in the process of caring for an animal. Maybe we’ve accepted the possibility of losing our pet when we first notice a lump on their body, but after a biopsy we find out it is an aggressive cancer.

We may need, again, to accept those uncomfortable feelings, feel them, breathe, and allow them to run their course, before we can make any further decisions. Note that this does not mean that we want the animal to be ill, or want them to die. It is merely a process for clearing our hearts and minds so we can come from a loving connection with our animals and ourselves when we proceed with their care.

As challenging as this can be, and it really can be, believe me, I know, I have found it opens my heart up to compassion and connection with my animals and parts of my own awareness. It helps me make my next step from a sense of love and caring, rather than fear.

When we accept our challenging feelings we can restore our sense of positive connection with our animals. Sometimes we feel the deeper being we share. We may sense something we could learn from the animal or have an intuitive insight about the animal’s condition. Other times we simply have clarity of mind and heart and can proceed with treatment choices knowing we are doing the best we can even as the outcome of treatment is unknown. Note that this does not mean we know the outcome of the choice we make, but that the choice comes from Love and Caring.

As much as we want guaranteed outcomes… there are none. We can only take the journey, and the journey is part of the mystery of life.

Once we’ve accepted the current state of affairs of our animal friend, rather than resisting them, we can move forward with the next step. Perhaps we need to make an appointment with a veterinarian to ask some questions and gather more information. Maybe there are tests to be done.

Maybe we want to call a friend that might know something from their experience. Doors tend to open and insights tend to come. Again, we may not necessarily know the outcome of our choices, but we can make them from love and caring and let Love lead us along. Then, no matter whether our pet “lives”, or “dies” (moves into another type of life?) we can feel in our hearts that we’re doing the best we can, given the circumstances we have, in providing loving care for our animal companions.


Recently, we treated a dog named “Mocha” that had a severe neurological disorder. We treated Mocha for 9 months two times a week. He was severely uncoordinated, wobbling and gyrating and at times falling or crashing into things. He always maintained a happy countenance, and gazed lovingly at his human companion…until his physical condition deteriorated to where he couldn’t arise to eat or eliminate and he was lovingly euthanized.

When I accepted his deterioration and my feelings of grief I felt a soulful connectedness to Mocha, and I sensed the opportunity for growth that he had given me to do all I knew to do and learn more and more in trying to help him. I was stretched in researching, consulting with numerous experts, trying new ways to treat his condition.

I really, really wanted to help Mocha, and I did all I could in trying to find ways to reach that part of him that would make the changes that would help him. Through it all, Mocha remained a happy-camper, wagging his tail and sometimes falling over in excitement as he came for his treatments.

When I accepted his passing, as much as it hurt, a part of me smiled inside when we connected during his euthanasia. It was as if we (not just he, not just I) had given our best and now we were just connecting in Love. No more struggling. What a sweet and wonderful dog-being. How nourishing just to join in that love together. And of course, remembering Mocha just being happy and being OK with “what is” in his life, what an example he was to me!

Information on Hospice Care for Your Pet:
Spirits In Transition

More helpful articles on coping with pet loss:

Is Euthanasia the Right Choice?

Explaining Pet Loss to Children: Six Do’s and Don’ts

Loss and the Burden of Guilt

For information on grief support hotlines and support groups visit:

or call:

California Davis University
Grief Counseling
(530) 752-4200

Ohio State University
Grief Counseling
(614) 292-1823

Both hotlines are staffed by veterinary students specially trained in pet loss grief counseling.



Dr. Metalf has 25 years of experience in conventional veterinary medicine and surgery, and 15 years of experience in natural therapies. He is a member of the American Veterinary Medical Association, American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association, American Academy of Veterinary Acupuncturists Learn more about Dr. Metcalf’s practice in Prescott, AZ at Harmony Veterinary Care.


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