Coping with the Loss of Your Pet

The loss of a precious pet can be very painful. Pets are a special part of our families and a source of unconditional love.

When they die we tend to experience feelings much like those when we lose a human family member or friend. Understanding the grieving process and also knowing that it is both acceptable and often necessary to grieve for you pet will help you to process your feelings of loss and adapt to life without your pet

It is important to give yourself permission to grieve the loss of your pet. Grief is a process that is experienced differently by each person and at an individual pace. If you find your self "stuck" in any one phase, it may be helpful to seek counseling or the support of others who have experiecned the loss of a pet.

The grieving process may typically include the following stages:

  • Shock & Denial

    A phase where your pet's death does not seem real to you.

  • Anger & Guilt
  • You may lash out at family, God or the veterinarian, blaming others or yourself for your pet's death.

  • Bargaining
  • You may try to make a deal with God, the veterinarian or the universe in hopes of bringing your pet back.

  • Depression
  • As a reaction to the life change created by the loss, you may feel sad, hopeless, confused, guilty, drainted and helpless. All of these feelings are normal; however, if depression lingers, it may be helpful to seek professional help.

  • Acceptance & Resolution
  • This occurs once the loss is integrated into your life. It does not mean forgetting about your pet.

Guilt and uncertainty are two of the most common emotions that people experience after the death of their pet. You may find yourself thinking continously about what you could have, should have or would have done to prevent or postpost your pet's death.

Some suggestions for coping with guilt include:

  • Be truthful with yourself about why you feel angry and/or guilty
  • Write a letter to your pet expressing feelings you may be struggling with.
  • Do a reality check. Most people assume that if they had done something differently, that maybe the outcome woudl have been better. It's just as likely, however, that if you had done things any differently, the outcome would have been just the same.
  • Remember that all living things die. There is not always an answer to why bad things happen and you do not have to find someone or something to blame. Realize that sometimes you are powerless and that you cannot control everything that may happen to your loved ones. What you can control is how you choose to respond to the events that happen in your life.
  • Talk with others. Share your precious memories. Seek support from family, friends, and caring people.

Finally, the day will come when the thoughts of your beloved pet will only bring you smiles.

How do I tell my children?

Children grieve very differently than adults. A child's perception of death varies as a function of age, level of maturity, and personal experience. Understanding the level of emotional and cognitive development that your child possesses will be better enable you to explain what it means when pet dies and leaves home for whatever reason.

Using statements such "put to sleep" or "passed on" have very different meanings for children and can be confusing for them. To help your child understand the permanence of death and the frief involved with the loss, keep the following suggestion in mind:

  • Always be honest with your child.
  • Encourage your child to talk about his/her feelings.
  • Allow yourself to be honest with your own feelings.
  • Alert your child's teacher and/or daycare provider as to the recent family sadness.
  • Read a book with your child that addresses pet loss.
  • Allow your child to grieve with the family. Show them, by example, that it is approparite to be sad and cry.
  • Emphasize the fact that nobody is to blame for the death/loss of your pet. Children tend to think in concrete terms and often wonder if they are somehow responsible.
  • If possible, give children an opportunity to say goodbye. This will allow for a sense of closure.

Books for Children

Do animals grieve?

It is clear by their actions that they do respond to the absense of their companions. You may see changes in their eating and sleeping habits, they might appear depressed, or may constantly search for their missing friend. Many will need time and extra attention from loving onwers to adjust to their new life. Try to keep their eating, sleeping and exercise schedule as regular as possible to help provide them as sense of stability during this difficult time. While we may not know the depth of their grief, we can help them get through the experience as they also help us.

Support Resources

Visit our list of pet loss support groups to help you and/or your family with the grieving process.

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