Coping With The Loss Of A Pet
If you have experienced the loss of a pet, you know that the bond between humans and animals can be extremely strong. In fact, science has confirmed this. That’s why the grief you may experience with the loss of a pet can be just as intense as what you feel when you lose a human you are close to.
To make matters worse, pet owners are often forced to decide if a pet’s deteriorating health calls for euthanizing the animal. This can add a layer of confusion to the many emotions we feel during this difficult time. For some, the grief will be transitory. For others, grief can be debilitating and long-lasting. Unfortunately, there are no quick fixes for making the pain you feel when you lose a pet go away. But there are things you can do to help cope with the grief you experience over the loss of a pet.
Grief and the Loss of a Pet
The grief you feel over the loss of a pet should never be minimized. Whether the animal was a favorite feline, a faithful dog or even a little turtle, pet loss can spark deep feelings of grief in the people who care for the cherished creature. Even young children experience grief after the death of a pet and may act out their sadness (for more see our page on Children and Pet Loss). It is important to remember that everyone experiences pet loss differently, so there’s no reason to expect specific behaviors from yourself or others.
6 Tips for Coping with the Loss of a Pet
1) Accept that what you are feeling is normal.
2) Allow yourself to grieve.
3) Reach out for help and comfort.
4) Create a ritual.
5) Memorialize your pet.
6) Give yourself a break.
It is common to experience fluctuations in the intensity of your grief for some time. For example, you may think that you are coping fairly well when an empty dog bowl or cat toy creates a rush of grief. This is normal — and you shouldn’t expect otherwise. Remember, what you are feeling is completely normal. One popular theory to explain how our emotions shift is The Five Stages of Grief. Being aware of these emotional shifts can help you accept that what you are feeling is completely normal. To learn more about the Five Stages of Grief click here.
You may never forget your furry friend, but over time you will be able to think about him or her without the deep anguish that comes with a recent loss. While everyone has a different approach to healing, there are some things you can do to help heal the pain of losing a pet.
TIPS FOR HEALING THE PAIN OF LOSING A PET
Give yourself time to grieve:
Don’t minimize your grief. Whether the pet was a favorite feline, a faithful dog, or even a little turtle, the loss of a pet can spark deep feelings of grief. Everyone experiences loss differently so there’s no reason to expect specific behaviors.
Turning to a family member, friend, clergy, or support group may give you an outlet for expressing your feelings. Sometimes just sharing your feelings with others who understand can help. If you want to reach out but aren’t sure where to turn, pet loss hotlines can help. Do not hesitate to contact a professional if your grief over the loss of a pet if you are overwhelmed. Your veterinarian may be able to provide a list of possible places to turn for help.
Create a ritual:
Today many people turn to pet funerals and memorial services as part of the grieving process. The activity of planning can be therapeutic for the entire family. While you may not want to hold a full-blown funeral ceremony, creating a ritual may help you say goodbye and offer comfort and closure. Your ritual can be as simple or as complex as you like.
Memorialize your pet:
Creating a lasting memorial of the time you and your pet spent together helps many people deal with their grief. Some of the most popular ways are to create a special photo album, find a special spot for your pet’s remains, or to have a special burial spot. The information below on Creating a Lasting Memorial offers some other ideas on how you can create a memorial to your pet. We also have a page dedicated to ways to memorialize your pet.
Give yourself a break:
There is no need to put yourself on a grief timetable. You should take care of yourself by eating right and getting enough rest. Taking care of your physical and emotional needs will help you heal more quickly. Pay attention to your own feelings of loss and be good to yourself.
Helping Children Process the Loss of a Pet
The loss of a pet can be extremely difficult for a child. This is particularly the case if the child has never known a time when the pet was not in his or her life. To make things even more difficult, how a child handles adversity is unique to each one. As a parent or caregiver, you will need to take the child’s personality and maturity into consideration. For more information on how to handle a child’s grief over the death of a pet, visit our Children and Pet Loss page.
Helping a Friend Grieve the Loss of a Pet
The death of a pet affects everyone differently. For many people, a pet is just as important as a human loved one. Feelings of grief — whether for a parrot or a poodle — should be respected. The most important thing you can do is listen.
SAY THIS, NOT THAT! WHEN SOMEONE YOU KNOW LOSES A PET
When helping someone grieve the loss of a pet it’s best to:
- Give your friend time to recover from their loss. Don’t expect them to resume a normal routine right away.
- Avoid comparing your experiences with pet loss or sharing current stories about your pets.
- Expect tears as a part of grief. Comfort a friend and don’t minimize the pain.
- Listen! Don’t try to change the subject or distract your friend from memories of their pet.
- Check in with a regular phone call to boost his or her spirits.
- Send a card or other acknowledgment.
- Ask your friend how he or she would like you to help.