How To Cope With Losing A Pet
Losing a pet is one of the most devastating things you can go through. If you’ve ever been through the loss of a pet, you know how much it hurts. And you also know that you go through all of the stages of grieving, just as you would if you were to lose a meaningful person in your life. Oftentimes, what can make the grieving process much harder is an overall lack of empathy from others. The phrase “cheer up” or “it was just a pet” coming from well-meaning people in your life invalidates your feelings and can make you feel like maybe there’s something wrong with you.
There is nothing wrong with you. I have gone through the pain of losing a beloved pet twice in the past 4 years. Even though I know they had happy lives with me and are no longer suffering, I will always feel the loss and miss them terribly.
If you aren’t sure how to manage your grief, or you are afraid that you are over-reacting, there are some things I have learned through experience that I hope can help you.
Coping With The Loss of A Pet
Allow yourself time to grieve- One of the most important things you can do for yourself is to allow yourself to feel sad. Your feelings and your grief are valid. Our pets are such a huge part of our lives. They are companions, family, and best friends rolled into one. They are there every single day offering us unconditional love. For some people, their pets have been their port in a storm when they’ve gone through a bad time in life. Losing your pet isn’t something you can just get over. Do not feel like you need to push yourself to feel happy. We all grieve in different ways and on totally different timelines.
Find a friend- Talking to someone who has been through a similar experience can help. Ideally your friends and family will be there for you. If you feel your immediate friends and family are less than supportive, look for a support group. There are internet groups, like rainbowbridge.com, that offer grief support, with forums and chat rooms so you can connect with other grieving pet owners. If you prefer talking to another person, there are hotlines you can call to work through your grief with another person:
ASPCA Pet Loss Hotline, 877-474-3310
Tufts University Pet Loss Support Hotline, 508-839-7966
Create a memorial- A memorial doesn’t need to be large to be significant. You can make a simple shadow box to display your pet’s footprint and tags. You can bury their ashes, and mark the spot with a special plant. A memorial can even be as unassuming as a framed photo of your pet on a day that was special to you. When the pain is not so fresh, finding a way to memorialize your pet can help ease the ache their loss has left.
Find supportive reading material- There are many wonderful books about the grief of losing a pet. Sometimes reading one of these can help you cope with your own loss since you will feel seen and understood. Some of these books are meant for children but can be just as comforting to adults. The books Dog Heaven and Cat Heaven by Cynthia Rylant are beautiful stories that are a loving and comforting tribute to lost pets. Losing My Best Friend by Jeannie Wycherley is full of tips to help prepare for loss in the case of illness and advice on how to cope with bereavement.
Let go of the guilt- It’s normal to feel guilt after the death of a pet. If you had to make the decision to euthanize, you will question your decision. If your pet died suddenly, you may wonder if you could have done more. First, accept that these feelings are normal. Every pet owner agonizes over the question of whether or not they did everything right. Next, repeat to yourself that you did everything right in the moment. You knew you didn’t want your pet to be in pain anymore, or they showed no sign that there was anything wrong and just never woke up. You are not to blame. Death is a sad reality of life that we have only the illusion of control over.
Move on in your own time- One day you will wake up and instead of intense pain, you will only feel a twinge. For some of us, it may feel like we’ve moved on one day, and the next day a picture of a puppy we see on a magazine cover makes us break down in tears. Neither way is wrong. It’s just a difference in the way we process our grief. No matter how quickly or slowly you move on, or if your grief comes all at once, or hits in waves, all ways are valid.
Recognize when grief may be something more serious- It is normal to grieve. However, if at any time you feel like you can’t go on, or if your grief is all-consuming, you may have a more serious problem such as depression. If you have trouble eating or sleeping, if your personal or professional life is being seriously affected, please do not hesitate to reach out for help from your doctor.
Being in the pet care business, we have had many wonderful clients who have suffered the loss of their beloved pets. We get attached to all the animals we care for and truly think of our clients as extended family. If you are one of our clients and have lost your pet, please know that we are grieving with you. If you are a member of our Pawsome family or even if you have just come across this blog post, you are not alone. We understand your loss, and our hearts are with you.
To memorialize the pets we have worked with that have passed, and out of love for their families, we have dedicated a page to the pets we have worked with that have crossed over the Rainbow Bridge.