Anticipatory grief is a type of grief rather than a type of loss. It is an emotional reaction before the loss.
Grief reactions that might occur normally post death can all be expressed during this time. It will not necessarily decrease the emotional response at the actual time of death.
It can occur when a serious illness occurs, when the decision to euthanize is drawing near or when other overwhelming circumstances coexist. It can even begin when signs of first aging appear.
It is often an unconscious coping mechanism in anticipation of the loss and it may cause a shift in the relationship an owner has with their pet. Overwhelming sadness can take the front position in the relationship and it can rob the caregiver of quality time with their pet in their last few days.
Sometimes it can lead to anxiety driven decision making i.e. a decision to euthanize in the face of a good quality of life, like just after a terminal diagnosis that is not yet affecting the patient; a decision to not treat an illness unrelated to the terminal illness; prolonging the decision to let the pet go.
It can make us hyper vigilant to every nuance in our pet’s day.
And it can lead to thoughts and anxiety about how difficult life will be without our pet.
But it can also serve as an opportunity for important planning including family conversations, place-of-death decisions, and memorialization.