How to Deal with the Loss of a Pet

It may come as a surprise to new pet owners that the grief they experience at the passing of their pet matches that for a friend or relative.

The experience is intensified if you and your pet (usually a dog or a cat) have shared a history of nurturing or companionship where there would otherwise have been none.

Unfortunately, the loss of your pet may be a cause for guilt as much as grief if you had to have them put to sleep or couldn’t afford a necessary surgical procedure. The guilt can add to your burden and cause a guilt-grief cycle that becomes more difficult to recover from.

Don’t buy another pet to fill the void. Try to fill your time with meaningful activity, such as helping out at a pet welfare center or help a friend walk their dog at a time that helps them function better. You may even want a complete break from animals, and that’s perfectly okay: there’s no need to feel guilty about it. A class in something like painting or writing might help you connect with others and stay positive. Periods of grief can be isolating.

Don’t try to defend your feelings of sadness or loneliness to others who may not understand how strong a bond exists between owners and their pets. Instead, look for others who have had similar experiences and feelings. If you don’t have support in your immediate environs, there are plenty of pet forums online where you may find a bereavement sections.

Don’t think that seeking professional help is irrational for the loss of a pet. You are experiencing the same sense of grief as you would at the loss of any human loved one.

If you had to have your pet put to sleep, create a keepsake photo or have them cremated and keep their ashes in a special urn.

If you have children present, allow them to see your grief, but manage your emotions so that they don’t copy your response to a death in later life. A weeping and wailing mourner is fine in an Italian mob movie, but not an appropriate response for a stranger’s ceremony. Your children learn how to behave from you, so teach them that it’s okay to grieve and feel sadness at the loss of a close companion, but that it’s not something they should feel bad about.

It’s important to make the distinction between your life and the times you shared with your pet. Don’t think that your life is not the same. Most pets will never outlive their owners and it’s important to understand this and learn to love your life as a separate entity to the time you spent with your animal companion.