Coping with Pet Loss

There is no pain like the loss of a pet, except perhaps a child.  Coping with that grief is difficult at best...because you tend to hear "it was only a pet, pull yourself together".  But losing anyone you love is going to be difficult.

Why does it hurt so much?

Intense grief over the loss of a pet is normal and natural.   It's not silly or semental to grieve.  They are your family.  Sometimes substitute children.  It's NORMAL....Living with your pet has been your routine, and a significant part of your life.  They were comforting and companions...expect to be devistated by losing them. People who are not pet owners may not understand your pain. 

What Can I Expect to Feel?

Everyone experiences grief differently.  While someone may immediately want another pet, someone else may need to heal without a pet for awhile.  We are all different.  Grieving is an emotional roller coaster...you tend to go from numb to crushed.  That's normal. Other feelings you may have are:

  • Guilt may occur if you feel responsible for your pet's death-the "if only" syndrome. Stop beating yourself up...you loved your pet and did the best you could at the time.  No death is perfect. Your dog knows this and forgives you because he loved you...now forgive yourself.
  • Denial makes it difficult to accept that your pet is really gone. Every one feels sad when you find a few hairs, or put away your pet's bowls.  Denial is that stage where you're sure you heard someone scratching at the door or felt a nudge on your leg.  You want to believe in an after life and that your pet is still close by.  Don't worry, whatever you believe - he is - in your heart.
  • Anger may be directed at the illness that killed your pet, the veterinarian, or someone else.  It may be justified, but unless you want to live in emotional turmoil forever, you need to forgive and get beyond the anger.
  • Depression is life sucking.  It robs you of energy and destroys your joy.  It's normal to feel depressed, but you must think about your pet and how they would want you to feel. Most pets are very tuned to their owners and dislike when they are sad or crying...know your pet wants you to be happy.  Perhaps save another pet.  How beautiul is that?

What can I do about my feelings?

Never deny your feelings...they are what they are.  Someone you love dearly is gone so of course you are sad, angry, guilty, depressed...that's NORMAL. Accept your feelings and feel your loss.  Know it will never be the same...but that's ok.  Your dog would want you to love another dog - dogs are generous that way.  Express your grief - cry, scream, talk it out.  Do whatever helps you most.  Remember all the good times you had with your dog.  Write poetry, make a memorial, and fill those times when you were with your pet most.  That will help you heal.   It is normal to play the 'what if' game with yourself when you must euthanize a pet and difficult to know 'when'.  But always remember you did it out of love, and to stop suffering, there is no better reason.  You did the best you can, don't beat yourself up about it.  Your dog lived a wonderful life with you and had an owner that loved him so much she put her own feelings aside to do what was best for her beloved dog. When you have a disabled pet, often this decision will be yours to make - most animals do not slowly fade away because they are fighters.  But everyone gets tired of fighting and they do too. In that situation, the best thing you can do is follow their lead.

Who can I talk to?

Anyone that loves animals will understand.  There are many links to pet loss support groups on this website.  Churches and hospitals do grief counseling.  Get the support you need. Even Facebook friends can be understanding and helpful these days. 

What about the remains?

When a pet dies, there are several ways you can handle the remains.  Your vet can take care of it for you, or you can choose to have a private burial or cremation.  Pet cemetaries are one option, or burying your pet at home is another. If you have sufficient property for it. It is economical and enables you to have your own funeral ceremony at little cost. However, some city regulations usually prohibit pet burials, and this is not a good choice for renters or people who move frequently.  In that case, I would suggest having the pet cremated so that you can take the remains with you.  There are several nice boxes they can be kept in, or you may want to spread the ashes in a place you both enjoyed.

What do I tell the children?

It depends on the age of the child. Young children really have no understanding of death and loss so will likely tend to believe the pet is "away" and will be coming back.  How you handle this childish perception is very important.  Be honest, but explain in words they can understand.  If you say the pet was "put to sleep," make sure your children understand the difference between death and ordinary sleep. Never say the pet "went away," or your child may wonder what he or she did to make it leave, and wait in anguish for its return. Make it clear that the pet will not come back, but that it is happy and free of pain.

Never assume a child is too young or too old to grieve. Never criticize a child for tears, or tell them to "be strong" or not to feel sad. Be honest about your own sorrow; don't try to hide it, or children may feel required to hide their grief as well.  Everyone in the family will need to work through their grief at their own pace.

Do my other pets grieve?

Of course pets grieve.  Often they are confused like children about where the other pet went.  If it's possible for them to see the body, sometimes that can help them with their grief - but don't force it.  Often just a casual glance is all they need.  You may need to give your surviving pets a lot of extra attention and love to help them through this period. Remember that, if you are going to introduce a new pet, your surviving pets may not accept the newcomer right away.  A new friendship will grow in time. Meanwhile, the love of your other pets can be wonderfully healing for your own grief.

Another pet right away?

It depends.  Sometimes a new puppy can help, but sometimes there is excess bagage from the grief of the first pet and that wouldn't be fair to the new pet.  Make sure if you do get a new pet, you aren't expecting it to be just like the one that died.  Generally, the answer is no. Most people need time to work through grief and loss before bringing home a new pet. Children in particular may feel that loving a new pet is "disloyal" to the previous pet.

 Don't expect your new pet to be "just like" the one you lost, but allow it to develop its own personality. Avoid comparing the new pet to the old one. A new pet should be acquired because you are ready to move forward and build a new relationship-rather than looking backward and mourning your loss.  Take your time and find just the right pet you can build a new relationship with.  If you'd like to learn more about grief, or just explore your feelings and get it out...some of these websites can help:

  Toll-free help can be yours by calling: 1-888-ISU-PLSH (1-888-478-7574)
This is a Pet Loss Support Hotline hosted by the Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine.

or the Grief Recovery Hotline:
1-800-445-4808
Monday-Friday 9am-5pm Pacific Time

MEMORIAL & PET LOSS PRODUCTS

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