Our pets mean so much in our lives – friends, companions – that often we are unprepared for the extent of our grief when we lose them.
It is important to recognize what our pet has meant to us – not only has their love been unconditional, they have given us the opportunity to love them back. Pets tolerate our bad days, our less than sunny moods, and do not waver in the depth of their love. In losing a pet, it is normal to feel as deeply as we would at the loss of a dear friend or loved one.
There are no hard and fast rules about what you feel or how you should react to the loss of a pet; we all experience loss differently. Besides feelings of sadness, you may also experience some or all of the following emotions:
Shock and denial: You may go through a period of numbness or disbelief, perhaps a feeling of being disconnected from everything and everyone, particularly if your pet’s death was sudden or unexpected.
Guilt: You may feel that you should have done more, or should have been able to prevent your pet’s death in some way, especially when circumstances were accidental – a moment of carelessness or a hazard overlooked. “If only …” are powerful words, and it may be easy to experience feelings of guilt, although you were almost certainly doing the best you could at the time.
Anger and blame: It’s natural to look for someone or something to blame when things go wrong. Working through strong emotions like anger in a safe and constructive way is an important part of the healing process.
Depression: Grief is rarely experienced in a ‘straight line’; it can be like the ocean waves that ebb and flow. If you find after some time has passed that you are still experiencing feelings of overwhelming sadness, you may find it helpful to seek out a pet bereavement support group.
Understand that you will have good days and bad days, but as with any bereavement, time will work in the process of healing.
Take a break from your usual routine, especially as it relates to activities shared with your pet, as it helps acknowledge the depth of your loss.
Make the healing process a priority, even if it means putting your needs above those of other people for a while.
Treat yourself with the same compassion and love you would a friend.
Try not to focus on well-meaning comments such as ‘you can always get another one’ or ‘it’s only a pet’.
Children and Pet Loss
Children react to the loss of a pet in many different ways; the loss of a pets’ unconditional love and acceptance can be difficult, particularly if they are struggling with other areas in their lives. If it is the child’s first experience with death, they may find it hard to understand and have many questions.
Though in the midst of your grief, it is important to give children (and teenagers) the opportunity and time to share their feelings – and to respond to their questions honestly, offering as much detail as appropriate.
You may find that some children, especially those not overly involved with a family pet, may appear to be more curious than upset. Teenagers, wanting to be recognized as ‘grown up’, may struggle to share or show any emotion when it comes to the loss of a pet, but may still need reassurance and understanding from adults around them.
Pets and Pet Loss
If you have another pet in your home, it may be experiencing a period of grief for the companion lost. It is not uncommon for the surviving pet to appear subdued or roam the house and familiar places as though searching for the deceased pet. Take the time to establish a new routine with your pet – and perhaps consider at some point extending your love to new pet in need of a caring home.
Whether your pet has died from natural causes or has been euthanized, you will need to make a decision regarding burial or cremation. This can be a difficult choice, and we are happy to provide whatever support may be helpful to you in evaluating what is the best decision for you and your family. Regardless of the choice you determine, it is important to allow yourself the opportunity to commemorate your pet – celebrating the special bond of love and friendship you shared.