Losing a pet is difficult for the whole family and it turns out to be a greater blow than anyone expects.
Although most people struggle with grief for a few months, it can last for a year or longer. While much is written about grieving the loss of another human being, much less is known about grieving the loss of your dog. Some people find it helpful to organize a memorial service and other people find support in turning their dog’s ashes into diamonds.
In a way, your pet is a member of your family, so you may go through a range of emotions when that happens. To make things at least a bit easier for yourself, learn how to cope with pet loss.
Feel whatever you need to feel
Don’t dictate yourself who you should feel about the death of your pet. Likewise, don’t allow anybody else to tell you when it’s time to stop grieving and move on.
Allow yourself to feel any type of emotion that overwhelms you. Your grief is yours to go through, so don’t rush it. Also, if you experience moments of laughter and joy, that’s ok, too.
For many children, losing a pet may be the first encounter with death. Your child could then feel angry or depressed or even show anger towards you or the vet for letting their pet die. They may even blame themselves or feel frightened about losing somebody else they love.
Instead of telling your child that their pet has run off, show them that’s ok to feel sad by exposing your own grief. Otherwise, they will just feel betrayed while expecting the pet to come back. It is better to help them express their emotions and deal with them.
Seniors can take it as a huge blow. Many of them live alone and could feel they have lost a sense of purpose together with their pet. It could also trigger sad memories about other loved ones they have lost and remind them of their own mortality. It is complicated for them to get a new pet because the pet could outlive them while it can also be difficult to buy and train a new pet.
This is why it’s very important that, if you’re a senior, you immediately start coping with your grief after you lose your pet. You also need to work on your sense of purpose so as not to get lost in the meaninglessness. Spend more time with your friends and family more.
Accept the feeling of guilt
You may feel guilty about your pet’s death at some point, and it is completely normal. Many owners feel guilty about that even though they loved their pets and they would do anything to save them. However, no matter what the cause of death was, they may feel bad about it because they feel responsible for their pets. Let that feeling passes through and keep telling yourself there was nothing more that you could do – because there really wasn’t.
Create a legacy
You can do something to remember your pet companion. You can make a scrapbook or a photo album with pictures of your fun times together. You can even plant a tree. Whatever the way you think is appropriate, it will create a legacy that will celebrate your pet’s life and help you deal with loss.
Maybe a funeral could help you and your family cope with the loss of your pet. It could represent a clear closure and help you face the fact that your pet is gone but also give you a way to express your feelings and say a proper goodbye.
Don’t let anyone tell you it is inappropriate – feel free to hold a funeral if you feel it is the right thing to do. You can even get sympathy flowers to strengthen the symbolism of saying goodbye. The important thing here is to let everybody process what happened.
Talk to others who lost their pets
Besides pet loss hotlines, you can visit online message boards or even pet loss support groups. It is much easier to talk to somebody who understands your pain and grief – even if that somebody is not a member of your family. That sort of connection of the same loss can help you understand what you are feeling and heal faster.
Volunteer at an animal shelter
Sometimes giving love and care to animals in the shelter can give you a lot of joy and comfort. When you feel ready, you can pay a visit to the animal shelter.
It’s ok if you can’t even bear to see other dogs or pets – you are the one who should decide when it is not too much for you to bear. Looking at other pets could hurt but after a while, helping these lonely animals can fill your heart with positive feelings.
Your other pets
In case you have another pet or pets that were left behind, pay attention to their feelings, too. They could start refusing to eat and drink or even become lethargic. It is a normal reaction if they were close to the pet that died. Even your changed mental and emotional state could affect them. Be there for them and seek a vet’s attention if that behavior prolongs.
When to get another pet
This should not be a rushed decision – you mustn’t look for a replacement for the pet you lost. Every animal is unique, as well as their personalities, so it wouldn’t be fair for getting a pet that would serve as a copy.
Give yourself time to grieve and when you feel ready to give your love to another pet, start thinking about it. You will know when your heart is open for a new pet in your life.
Losing a pet is a heart-aching process – take as long as you need. Find comfort in knowing that your pet was loved and cared for.