People have all sorts of relationships with their pets.
For some, (myself included) their pet is not “just a pet” – their pet is a beloved member of their family.
Like family or friends, pets provide companionship, acceptance, emotional support, fun and unconditional love. When a person you love dies, it is natural to have feelings of sorrow, loss and loneliness, and to expect that family and friends will provide comfort and support. So it’s not surprising to learn that people who have a strong emotional attachment to their pet, may have similar feelings after the loss of their beloved pet.
People who don’t share that same emotional bond with their own pet, may not understand your feelings of pain or loss. They may assume that the loss of an animal shouldn’t hurt as much as the loss of a human, or that grieving for a pet may not be appropriate. Try not to let others dictate how you feel. Sadness, loneliness, depression and even guilt are all natural reactions to loss, including the loss of a pet.
There is no right or wrong way to grieve, some people grieve openly, others like to grieve in private. If you feel like crying, cry; if you feel like being alone, spend some time alone; if you need a hug, ask for a hug. Do what you need to do to get through this rough time.
Everyone Grieves Differently
Grieving is a personal and highly individual experience. How you grieve depends of a number of factors including your personality and coping style, your relationship with your pet, past experiences, and the circumstances surrounding the loss. There is no right or wrong way to grieve; some may cry and want to talk, while others prefer to be alone or to keep busy.
The grieving process takes time, it can’t be forced or hurried and there is no “normal” timeframe. Some people start to feel better in a few weeks or months; for others, the grieving process may last years. Feeling sad, numb, guilty or fearful are common reactions to the loss of a pet, and do not mean you are weak.
Conversely, not displaying these symptoms does not mean you loved your pet any less than someone who openly expresses their grief.
Tips for Coping with the Loss of Your Pet
- Don’t deny your pain, or your feelings of anger and guilt – Only by acknowledging your feelings, can you begin to work through them. Bottling up your feelings doesn’t make them go away. So express them! Allow yourself to cry, be angry or talk it out as much as you need. It’s okay to laugh, to have moments of happiness, and to let go when you are ready. Thinking about your pet can be painful, but try to reminisce on the good times. This will help you to understand how much your pet meant to you.
- Reach out for help – Find someone you feel comfortable talking to, about the loss of your pet. If you don’t have family or friends who understand, or you feel you need extra support, try contacting a grief counsellor or explore the internet for pet loss support groups and pet loss hotlines.
- Look after yourself – The stress of losing a pet can take a huge emotional and physical toll on you. Grief can burn a lot of energy and be very draining. It is important to make sure you are eating, getting plenty of sleep and exercising regularly, to release endorphins and help boost your mood. Take some time off work, a day at home grieving and reminiscing or just resting, can make all the difference.
- Create a memorial for your pet – Having a funeral can help you and your family express your feelings and come to terms with the loss. Planting a tree in memory of your pet, or making a scrapbook or photo album can help you to remember what your pet meant to you and to celebrate the time you had together.
- Avoid irreversible decisions – Don’t do anything you may regret later, like giving away your pet’s favourite toy, or get new pet 0 until you have had time to properly grieve and consider all your options.
- Count your blessings – When you lose a loved one, it is easy to get swept up in negative emotions, dwelling on the death and questioning why. Try to remind yourself of the positives in your life, such as family, friends, remaining pets, or an upcoming event. You may be hurting but it is good to remember there is a world outside of your hurt, that your pet would want you to enjoy.
- Give your other pets extra TLC – Surviving pets can experience grief after the loss of a furry friend, or can become distressed by your grief. Depending on the closeness between them, surviving pets may whimper, refuse to eat or drink and suffer lethargy. Try to maintain a normal routine or even increase exercise and play times. This will not only benefit the surviving pet/s but may also help to improve your own outlook.
Moving On After the Loss of Your Pet
After losing a pet, it can be tempting to rush out and fill the hole left in your heart by getting another furry companion. There are many reasons why sharing your life with another pet can be beneficial. However, in most cases it is best to mourn the loss of your old pet first, and to wait to get a new pet only when you are emotionally ready. If you are still grieving, you may grow to resent your new pet for trying to take the place of your old one. Before taking on a new animal, ensure you have sufficiently worked through your grief and are confident you are ready to move forward and build a new relationship, rather than look backwards at your loss.
Author: M1 Psychology