Given the intense bond most of us share with our animals, it’s natural to feel devastated and overwhelmed by feelings of grief and sadness when a pet dies. While some people may not understand the depth of feeling you had for your pet, you should never feel guilty or ashamed about grieving for an animal friend. Pets are beloved and cherished members of the family and when they die you feel a devastating loss.
Grieving for the loss of a pet may be difficult as the pet loss is not understood by everyone. Friends and family may ask “What’s the big deal? It’s just a pet!” Some people assume that pet loss shouldn’t hurt as much as human loss or that it is somehow inappropriate to grieve for an animal. They may not understand because they don’t have a pet of their own or because they are unable to appreciate the companionship, special bond and love that a pet can provide. Don’t argue with others about whether your grief is appropriate or not.
Like grief for humans, grief for animal companions can only be dealt with over time, but there are healthy ways to cope with the pain. Here are some suggestions:
Don’t let anyone tell you how to feel, and don’t tell yourself how to feel either. Your grief is your own, and no one else can tell you when it’s time to “move on” or “get over it.”
Reach out to others who have lost pets. If your own friends, family members, therapist or clergy do not work well with the grief of pet loss, find someone who does. Check out online message boards, pet loss hotlines and pet loss support groups. Seek out others who have lost pets; those who can appreciate the magnitude of your loss and may be able to suggest ways of getting through the grieving process and provide on-going support and advice.
Rituals can help healing. A funeral can help you and your family members openly express your feelings. Ignore people who think it’s inappropriate to hold a funeral for a pet, and do what feels right for you.
Create a legacy. Preparing a memorial, planting a tree in memory of your pet, compiling a photo album or scrapbook and sharing the memories you enjoyed with your pet, can create a legacy to celebrate the life of your animal companion.
Look after yourself. The stress of losing a pet can quickly deplete your energy and emotional reserves. Looking after your physical and emotional needs will help you get through this difficult time. Eat a healthy diet, get plenty of sleep and exercise regularly to help improve your mood.
If you have other pets, try to maintain your normal routine. Surviving pets can also experience loss when a pet dies or they may become distressed by your grief. Maintaining their daily routines or even increasing exercise and play times will not only benefit the surviving pets but may also help you heal.