The feelings around pet loss are often a surprise. You know you love your animal but when you lose them – the emotion is often more intense than expected. Often there are other factors involved. Sometimes you have to make the decision to euthanize your pet. As a responsible, caring pet owner this decision can weigh on your shoulders. You might question if it was the right time and feel guilty. Sometimes a pet gets lost, a bird flies away or a cat gets out. Maybe a part of you feel like it is your fault – why did I leave the cage door open or why did I leave that person watching my animal. Sometimes a pet just unexpectedly is hurt or unexpectedly dies. Sometimes your pet has had a long, full life by your side. Whatever the situation losing a pet affects you.
Some Tips for Dealing with Pet Loss
- Remember it is a big deal and it is OK to be sad and grieve.
- There is no time line on grief. You don’t have to get over it. People may grieve for days, weeks, months or even years. Grief can come and go.
- Talk about it. Tell stories about your animal. Connect with others who have lost a pet.
- Take care of yourself – even pamper yourself a bit.
- Make a memorial. You can create a collage or write a poem or anything that will help you with the memory of your animal.
- Put out a framed picture of your pet.
- Write in a journal.
- If you have other pets keep to their routine. You might see that they are sad too so give them plenty of comfort and care.
- If you have kids, involve them in the process. Sometimes this is their first experience with death. Let them talk about it. Validate their feelings. Reassure them. Answer their questions. Help them grieve but don’t try to force them to feel the way you think they should feel. Remember that everyone feels grief differently.
When May Therapy Be Helpful After A Pet Loss
- If you find that your grief is getting in the way of your day to day life and significant time has passed. (The next week is not significant time.) Remember that grief comes and go. You may have moments of sadness years later but unless it is interfering with your life it is probably not too much of a problem.
- Anticipatory grief. You are preparing for the loss of an animal. Maybe you are in the process about making a decision about euthanasia or your animal is sick and you know they will be dying soon.
- If there were any extending circumstances. Did you have to euthanize your animal. Is their guilt or worry surrounding this.
- This loss has brought to surface other feelings or situations you would like to process or figure out.
- Just having the support of someone who will not criticize or judge your grief.
If Someone You Know Has Recently Lost A Pet
One of the most difficult parts of losing a pet is that it often seems like a person doesn’t get the same support and validation as when some other loss occurs. If a person close to you has a pet that dies give the person the opportunity to talk about their pet. Send them a card or an email offering condolences and thoughts. Just the recognition of the loss and the importance the pet had in their life can go a long way to healing.
“People search their entire lives for unconditional love, and we find it in our pets. It is often the most perfect relationship that we have. Unlike so many ‘human’ relationships, our relationships with our pets are free of all the complications and emotional baggage that so often accompany the human-human bond. No wonder saying goodbye is so hard to do.” ~Jeanine Wordley, DVM, LCSW