Dealing With The Loss of a Pet
For many people a pet is not “just a dog” or “just a cat.” Pets are beloved members of the family and, when they die, you can feel a significant and even traumatic loss. The level of grief depends on factors such as your age and personality, the age of your pet, and the circumstances of their death. Generally, the more significant the loss, the more intense the grief you’ll feel.
The loss of a beloved pet is a very hard and emotional time for pet owners, and can be upsetting to come to terms with. All cases are different and all people will grieve differently. Some people find grief comes in stages, where they experience different feelings such as denial, anger, guilt, depression, and eventually acceptance and resolution. Others find that grief is more cyclical, coming in waves, or a series of highs and lows. The lows are likely to be deeper and longer at the beginning and then gradually become shorter and less intense as time goes by. Still, even years after a loss; a sight, a sound, or a special anniversary can spark memories that trigger a strong sense of grief. It is important to remember that this is a completely natural process and you should not bottle up your emotions or feel ashamed for feeling them.
One aspect that can make grieving for the loss of a pet so difficult is that pet loss is not appreciated by everyone. Friends and family may ask “Why are you so upset? It’s just a pet!” Some people assume that pet loss shouldn’t hurt as much as human loss, or that it is somehow inappropriate to grieve for an animal. They may not understand because they don’t have a pet of their own, or because they are unable to appreciate the companionship and love that a pet can provide.
It is important to remember that not everyone may understand your grief, but that doesn’t mean that it is wrong to grieve for your pet, they once were a big part of your life.
It is always good to seek out others who have lost pets; those who can appreciate the magnitude of your loss, and may be able to suggest ways of getting through the grieving process as they have gone through it already. There are forums on the internet, or you can always ring up your veterinary practice and ask if they know somewhere you can chat and get help from others in your situation.
There are other ways of coping with a traumatic loss; here are a few tips from some people who have experienced the loss of a pet that have proven helpful:
- If you have other pets, try to maintain your normal routine. Other family pets can also experience loss when a pet dies, or they may become distressed by your sorrow. Maintaining their daily routines, or even increasing exercise and play times, will not only benefit the surviving pets but may also help to elevate your outlook too. Try to do things that you would usually do and try to keep yourself busy, this will decrease the time you are sat there thinking of your loss; which can lead to more severe depression and sadness.
- Don’t let anyone tell you how to feel, and don’t tell yourself how to feel either. Your grief is your own, and no one else can tell you when it’s time to move on. Let yourself feel whatever you feel without embarrassment or judgment. It’s okay to be angry, to cry or not to cry. It’s also okay to laugh, to find moments of joy and remember the good times you shared with your pet; this can actually creative a positive mind set and help you let go and cherish the memories you hold.
- Rituals can help healing. A funeral can help you and your family members openly express your feelings. Ignore people who think it’s inappropriate to hold a funeral for a pet, and do what feels right for you.
- Create a legacy. Preparing a memorial, planting a tree in memory of your pet, compiling a photo album or scrapbook, or otherwise sharing the memories you enjoyed with your pet, can create a legacy to celebrate the life of your animal companion and bring to life the happy memories you shared with your pet. It may take time for some people before this feels appropriate to do.
However you deal with the loss of a loved family pet, remember that emotions are a natural way of expressing grief and sadness and these emotions will allow you to remember your pet in the best way possible and try to move on.
Student Veterinary Nurse