How do you grieve the loss of a pet?
After all, pets are part of our family. The relationship you have with your pet is different from your human relationships, to be sure. But it’s just as real.
That’s because we love our pets. We go to pet-friendly grocery stores, shopping centers, and parks. Buy beds, clothes, and gourmet foods for the little rascals. We acknowledge them every single day they’re alive, so we should do no less when they pass away.
In this article, we’re going to talk about grief and pet loss. What you need to know about pet loss, what the “stages of grief” look like, and how to cope.
Grief After Pet Loss: 5 Things You Should Know
The pain and heartache we feel when one of our fur babies die are gut-wrenching. It is every bit as deep and real as when we lose a person that we love.
Here are some important and helpful things to know about this grief.
1. The grief you feel over the loss of your pet is real.
People need to take pet loss seriously. It is devastating, much like losing a human that you dearly loved. You will feel the same emotions of “normal” grief. But you may find it harder for some people to be empathetic towards you.
2. You can feel an absence of support.
You may find that it isn’t easy to get support for your grief over your pet. Some people don’t “get it.” You will hear people say things like, “It’s just a dog,” “Just go get another cat,” or “Big deal, it’s just an animal.”
Being a pet lover, you know there is so much more to your beloved companion. The fact that others don’t seem to understand can make it feel even worse.
There’s a name for this type of “hidden” mourning – disenfranchised grief.
3. You can – and probably should – memorialize your pet.
There are many ways to memorialize your pet. If you have him/her cremated, allocate a place of honor for the urn. Place photos around. Make a collage of your favorite pictures of your sweet baby.
If you decide to bury your beloved pet, place a heartfelt marker at the grave. You can perform a google search to find pet cemeteries in your area where your pet can be buried with dignity.
4. Don’t rush out to purchase or adopt right away.
Grief counselors advise not to purchase or adopt another pet right away. Give yourself time to grieve your loved pet. It’s hard to start another bond when you are still grieving.
The time will come, and you will recognize it. That is when your heart has healed enough to welcome a new fur baby into your life.
Please don’t expect your new pet to “replace” your deceased one. They are as different from one another as can be. They have their own personalities and quirks… just like us!
5. Your life has been disrupted.
All of your daily routines have been disrupted. All of the patterns you practiced with your little darling are over. No more walks, feedings, or unconditional love.
Try to find other things to fill your time. Make new routines. Continue the healthy walks on which you used to take your dog. Spend time in that dog park he loved so much. After all, who would understand more than all the moms and dads that have their babies out for a walk? Talk to other pet owners. They WILL understand your heartache.
The Stages of Grief After Losing a Pet
The stages of grief you will likely experience after pet loss are the same as losing a beloved person.
- Denial/Shock. Be patient with yourself. It may take a few days for the loss to register.
- Anger. Anger may be turned inward (I should have taken better care of Mr. Snuggles) or outward (That car came out of nowhere! Stupid driver! Why wasn’t he watching?)
- Denial. This is thinking that you are “fine.” Maybe even thinking a new pet is the band-aid you need. Give yourself time to heal.
- Guilt. Don’t blame yourself. Don’t dwell on the “What ifs.” It does not do any good and will not bring any comfort to your grieving heart.
- Depression. Feelings of depression will come and go. Allow yourself to feel it; this is how you will work through the depression. According to experts, this is the time to open up and let your true feelings come to the surface. Process the death of your pet and start the healing procedure.
- Resolution/Acceptance – The acceptance of your pet’s death may take six months or longer. Concluding your grief doesn’t mean you don’t love your pet. It just means that you have allowed yourself to heal and move on. Now could be the perfect time for that new little fur bundle.
There are different models for the steps or stages of grief. Some have five stages, other models have more. Learn more about these stages and how they may affect you here.
Coping with the Loss of a Pet
The pain of losing your beloved pet can be overwhelming. Though other people may not understand the depth of your emotions, allow yourself to feel them.
Healing from your loss is important, and it is why you work through your grief. There is no right or wrong in dealing with grief. But it is important to work through it.
Here are a few helpful tips to help you cope.
- For children. The loss of a pet might be your child’s first experience with death. Explain to your children in words they will understand. Be honest but compassionate.
- Be open about your loss. Let others support you through this difficult time. Being with other pet parents or talking to them may help you come to terms with your loss.
- Have a funeral or memorial service to honor your pet. Honoring the memory of your pet can add closure. Again, let your children be involved; it will help them deal with their grief.
- Find a pet support group. People that have lost a pet can truly empathize with you at this difficult time.
- Volunteer at a pet shelter. Giving of your time to animals in need can make you feel whole again.
- Talk to a grief therapist. There are grief counselors/therapists that specialize in the loss of pets.
- Treasure the memories. Above all, keep in mind the beautiful life you have given to your sweet fur baby. No one could have given them the love and devotion that you have. They left this world knowing that you loved them. And trust me… they loved you too.
Grieving the Loss of a Pet After Euthanasia
Guilt is often the main emotion felt when you decide to euthanize your pet. Feeling guilt is normal. Rest assured that there isn’t an honorable veterinarian that would allow euthanasia if it wasn’t the viable choice.
You may feel like the bond of trust was broken between the two of you. Trust that you and the vet made the correct choice. Find comfort knowing that your pet’s suffering has ended.
Coping with Sudden Pet Loss
Pets instinctually hide illness. It’s survival of the fittest in their world. We discover they are sick too late and often blame ourselves for not noticing it sooner. We can only do our best with what our pets allow us to see.
There are also times when our pet may die in an accident. A car striking them, choking on a toy, or some other tragic mishap.
Coping with the sudden loss is stressful and sometimes filled with guilt.
- Allow yourself to grieve. After all, you have suffered a great loss. Grief is necessary for you to heal.
- Talk with your friends and family about your loss. Any animal lover will understand what you are going through and offer support.
- If you feel the need, seek help from a professional. If you don’t want to seek professional help, there are numerous books on pet loss.
- Honor the death of your pet. Funerals are not just for the loss of human life. One of the best things I have heard of is to plant a tree in your pet’s honor. You can do it yourself, have it planted in the National Forest as part of a restoration project, or even use your pet’s cremated ashes in planting the tree to create a “living memorial.” Watch it grow and flourish under your care and remember your cherished pet!
My Pet Died, and I Can’t Stop Crying.
Grief and tears go hand in hand. It is an emotional outlet to cry, and it is healthy. Please don’t hold your grief in; allow yourself to let it go. Don’t let people tell you, “it’s just an animal.” When you love something so deeply and unconditionally, it is so much a part of you. So much more than “just” an animal.
When we lose a pet, we have also lost a companion. Our pets love us regardless of our shortcomings and imperfections. You may feel like you will never be loved like this again.
The grief you feel is real, and you need to let it run its course. The tears will slow down and cease with time. But for now, allow yourself to work through the sorrow.
Pet Loss Support
There are ways to get support to help you cope with the loss of your pet.
- Chat rooms & social media groups. Meet other people going through bereavement due to the death of a pet.
- Pet loss support groups. Google where to find a support group that meets in your area. You can also ask your vet.
- Pet loss grief counseling. Find a grief counselor that specializes in pet loss. They are out there.
- Close friends. Talk to friends or family members that are willing to listen and not judge your feelings.
- Routines. Counselors have suggested that keeping your pet’s schedule of walks is good therapy.
Pet loss is considered disenfranchised grief. This means that society may not recognize the type of grief you are going through. This can lead to depression and loneliness.
It is important to find validation. When you find a support system, your feelings will be acknowledged, and you will be able to better work through your grief.
Remember to take care of yourself in your time of grief. Daily exercise, healthy eating, and sleeping habits will help you to recover.
Pet Loss Quotes
To close, here are ten meaningful and heartwarming quotes about losing a beloved pet.
You have left paw prints on our hearts that will last a lifetime.
Best friends are not forgotten.
Nobody can fully understand the meaning of love unless he’s owned a dog. A dog can show you more honest affection with a flick of his tail than a man can gather through a lifetime of handshakes.
– Gene Hill
No one can truly understand the bond we form with the pets we love until they experience the loss of one.
Pets bring us an abiding joy that lives on in our hearts forever.
Sometimes the smallest things take up the most room in your heart.
Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.
– Anatole France
I loved you your whole life; I’ll miss you the rest of mine.
I guess you don’t really own a pet; you rent them, and you have to be thankful that you had a long lease.
– Joe Garagiola
No longer by my side, but forever in my heart.
See more pet loss quotes, poems, and epitaphs here.