Losing a pet can be just as painful – or even more painful – than losing a human being.
The grief and loss of a pet may feel devastating, overwhelming, and isolating. In the beginning, the low and very painful periods are likely to be longer and more profound, then gradually become shorter and less powerful as time passes. Feelings such as immense guilt, sadness, anger, disbelief, exhaustion, or forgetfulness are normal and common.
Many of us have deep love for our companion animals. The bond with cherished pets gives us companionship and pleasure. Companion animals can help us rise above life obstacles and give us a sense of meaning and purpose. Pets offer routine to our schedules and play a role in keeping us social, active, and healthy. As a result, it is commonplace and normal to feel plagued by painful grief and loss when our companion animals die.
Your Response is Unique to You
Your response to the loss of your pet will not be the same as someone else’s. The intensity of your grief will vary depending on your age, your lifestyle, your culture, your personality, the age of your pet, and the factors surrounding their death. Often the more significant your pet was to you, the more intense the emotional pain you will feel.
Sometimes people who are important to you in your life may not always understand your grief. These people may say “it was just a dog” or “just a cat.” This is because the loss of a companion animal is grief that is disenfranchised – meaning that some people do not validate or accept the death as an important loss.
Regrettably, the loss of a companion animal is an inescapable part of having one. However, there are specific helpful strategies to help cope with the painful feelings and thoughts.
How to Cope
- Allow yourself to feel, regardless of what people tell you or what you tell yourself. Let yourself feel whatever you feel, without embarrassment or worry about other peoples’ opinions. It is normal to feel guilty and question decisions you made surrounding their death. It is okay to be angry and cry. Your grief is yours alone, and no one else can tell you when it is time to move on or be done with grieving because of a specific timeline.
- Journal your thoughts and feelings. A journal can help you move through your grief in a few special ways. Writing can be a place for you to document things you do not want to forget about your pet. You can write letters to them as often as you want. Journaling can help you sustain the memory of and connection with your beloved pet.
- Design rituals and create a legacy. Hold a memorial service, collect a jar of rocks from each place you and your pet visited, plant a tree in memory of your pet, get a tattoo of their pawprints, or compile a scrapbook. Honour their legacy by talking about happy or painful memories of your companion animal with people you trust.
- Find like-minded people. As soon as you feel comfortable, look for a pet loss support group, join an online forum, or communicate with friends or family who also have grieved a companion animal. Pet loss can be isolating, and it is important to find people who are in your corner. Usually someone who is also grieving a pet is more likely to understand your experience. Those who value the enormity of your loss may be better able to support your grief. Unfortunately, you may also grieve the loss of acceptance in friends who do not support your grief timeline. Sometimes your best support for your grief may need to come from outside your usual group of friends and family members.
These suggestions may help you cope with the pain associated with pet loss. Painful feelings and thoughts are normal and natural responses to your pet’s death. Grief has no timeline. Like the experiences of moving through the grief of our friends and loved ones, the death of your companion animal will take time to weave into your life.
If you believe that you still are having difficulty coping after trying these strategies, it is possible that you could benefit from support. Reach out for help here.