It’s a time that all pet parents dread but that we must ultimately face when sharing our lives with our four-legged companions: the loss of a pet. Whether you’ve raised your pet since babyhood or brought them into your family as adults, losing a constant, loving, non-judgmental presence in your life is devastating. Our pets are not “just pets;” they are part of our families, and losing them causes intense emotional pain and grief. While the grieving process is different for everyone, here are some healthy ways for coping with the loss of a pet that can comfort you and help you accept their absence.

Older white cat lies on bed.

The grieving process after losing a pet

Most people share an intense bond of love with their pets; after all, our pets bring us happiness and structure and help us weather difficulties in our lives. Studies show that pet companionship creates neural pathways in our brains that promote a parent-baby bond, reducing depression and loneliness. It’s no wonder, then, that the loss of such an important figure in our lives can cause such pain and sorrow.

Grieving, in general, is an individual experience; no one encounters and accepts grief according to a set of common standards. For some people, the grief of losing a pet is cyclical and encompasses some of the stages of grief recognized by science: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Guilt is also a strong emotion that can be found within each stage of grief, especially if you decided to euthanize your pet. Recognizing the following factors can help you accept both the loss of your pet and your method of grieving for that loss:

  • Grieving happens on its schedule. There is no way to hurry or force your way through the grieving process. It occurs gradually on its own; some people may experience grief that lasts years, while others may begin to feel better within weeks or months. 
  • You are not weak for showing emotions. It is an entirely normal reaction to experience a range of emotions during this loss, including but not limited to sadness, loneliness, and anguish. There is no reason to feel ashamed for expressing your feelings over the loss of a beloved animal friend.
  • Don’t internalize your feelings. Holding in pain or refusing to acknowledge its existence will make working through the grief much more painful and lengthy. To heal, you need to face that grief and deal with it, no matter how impossible it may seem at the time of the loss.

Recognizing these aspects of grief is an essential first step in the healing process. There are many ways to cope with your loss that can positively affect the way you heal, accept the loss, and move forward with your life.

Older husky lies under the table.

Ways to cope with the grief of losing a pet

Pet parents often find that a few different and healthy approaches to cope with the grief of losing a loved pet can help you reflect and cherish the tie you had with them while acknowledging the pain of that loss. Here are some ways to cope with the grief of losing your pet:

  • Acknowledge your feelings unashamedly. Your grief belongs to you, and no one, including yourself, should tell you when to “move on” or “get over it.” Take the time you need to grieve for your furry friend and permit yourself to feel the pain of your loss as well as the joy of your memories when you are ready.
  • Scrapbooking and journaling. Writing often helps us sort through our most complex feelings at difficult times in our lives. It is a cathartic process that allows us to state how we truly feel at that moment concretely. Consider an album or scrapbooking project to help you remember the good times with your pet while grieving their loss.
  • Practice self-care. As hard as it may be, you need to take care of yourself during this time of grief. Practice good physical and emotional habits such as exercising, eating a healthy diet, and spending time with people who love and care about you. 
  • Keep life as routine as possible for your other pets. Pets are keenly aware of the loss of another pet in the home, and they can experience sorrows and pick up on your grief. Stay as close to your routine as possible, and increase playtime and snuggle time with your pets. These actions will not only reassure your pets, but they will also improve your mood.
  • Volunteer at a local shelter or rescue. Giving back to other animals in need within your community is an excellent way to honor your pet and help other pets in need find their forever homes. Helping other dogs or cats may help you begin to work through your grief.
  • Find community and professional support. Many people experience the loss of a pet, and sometimes it makes a difference to connect with individuals who understand how you feel. Look for a loca in-person meeting, hotline number, or online pet loss support groups if this approach appeals to you. If you are experiencing persistent grief that interferes with your daily life and ability to function, contact a mental health professional.

A dog statue memorial

Memorializing your pet

By far, the most common way people address their grief over pet loss is by memorializing their pet. This process not only gives you some element of closure, but you can design the memorialization in a way that best fits your pet’s personality and lifestyle. Here are some ways to remember a pet:

  • Create a memory spot. Design a small garden space outdoors, perhaps near your pet’s favorite area in the yard. Consider placing a memorial stone or engraved marker there or a statue or stone cast of your pet.
  • Plant a tree. Establish a living memorial to your pet in your yard or a nearby park. If you don’t have space to do so, some companies will plant a tree for you in other areas such as a state or national park.
  • Order a memorial decal. Design and order a memorial decal that includes your pet’s birth and death dates. You may also want to include a meaningful phrase or quote. That way, your “moving memorial” will always be there to remind you of your friend.
  • Wear memorial jewelry. Many pet parents have their pets cremated then use some of the ashes to create memorial jewelry, urns, or paintings, amongst other creative ideas.
  • Donate to a cure or pets in need. If your pet passed away due to a disease or illness, you could donate in memory of them to a cause dedicated to finding a cure. You may also want to contribute to a specific breed rescue or local shelter in honor of your pet.

Regardless of how you choose to grieve your pet, do not feel embarrassed or ashamed of how you feel. Our pets are incredibly important pillars in our lives, and losing our best companions is a heartbreaking experience. Listen to your heart, and find ways to celebrate your pet’s life to lessen the grief you feel at their loss.

Contact Pet Insurance Review for a free pet insurance quote, and give your pet the best care during their time with you.

 

References:

  1. Robinson, A. (2020). ‘Dogs have a magic effect’: how pets can improve our mental health. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/society/2020/mar/17/dogs-have-a-magic-effect-the-power-of-pets-on-our-mental-health
  2. North Shore Animal League. (2021). Stages of Grief - Losing a Pet. Retrieved from https://www.animalleague.org/blog/tips/life-with-pets/stages-of-grief/
  3. Stiefel, S. (2021). Euthanasia: The Decision, The Guilt, The Gift. Retrieved from https://chattanoogaholisticvet.com/euthanasia-the-decision-the-guilt-the-gift/
  4. Connor, B. (2021). Personal and Health Impact, Coping, and Self-Care When Your Beloved Pet Dies. Retrieved from https://doctorconnor.com/grieving-the-loss-of-a-pet/
  5. University of Florida Small Animal Hospital. (2021). Reactions of Other Pets in the Home. Retrieved from https://smallanimal.vethospital.ufl.edu/resources/pet-loss-support/reactions-of-other-pets-in-the-home/
  6. Brancato. G. (2021). Pet Loss Grief Support Hotlines, Helplines and Groups. Retrieved from https://www.rainbowsbridge.com/grief_support_center/Pet_Loss_Resources/petloss_hot_lines.htm
  7. LaFarge, S. (2017). The Grief Counselor Helping People Mourn Their Pets. Retrieved from https://www.thecut.com/2017/11/the-grief-counselor-helping-people-mourn-their-pets.html
  8. Kay, F. (2019). 15 Ideas of What To Do With My Pet’s Ashes. Retrieved from https://www.evrmemories.com/15-ideas-of-what-to-do-with-my-pets-ashes