Pet Loss and Grief
Pet Loss and Grief
Having a beloved pet in your life is a gift. They have a unique way of
slowing us down, taking us on walks, and generally teaching us life
lessons. They see us through difficult times and benefit our mental and
physical health. The bonds that form between pets and their owners can
be exceptionally strong.
After a beloved animal has died, the depth of your grief may surprise
you. Yet it's only natural to feel sorrow at the passing of this
Children can be deeply affected by the loss of a pet. Often this is a
child's first experience with the concept of death, and should be taken
seriously. Parents need to be patient and understanding. Reinforce
love, and reassure grieving children that their feelings are normal.
Some of your friends and acquaintances will understand your own
feelings of sorrow. Perhaps they are pet owners, too. If they're willing to
listen, tell them about your pet - the good times, the bad times, and
the way it ended. Talking about your loss will help you feel better.
Helpful hints for consoling a friend who has lost a pet:
Simply say, "I'm sorry to hear of your loss."
Don't say, "You can always get another pet."
Make time to listen.
Send a pet sympathy card.
Share memories you have of the pet.
Make a donation in the pet's name to an animal hospital, pet rescue or local SPCA.
Varied feelings can follow the loss of any loved one, including a pet. Initially, you may be in shock and unable to accept the loss. You may blame yourself or wrestle with feelings of guilt or anger.
There is no standard route for working through grief. The stages represent phases of the healing process. How you personally proceed through them, however, will depend on many factors. These include your personality and upbringing, the type of relationship you had with your pet, your resources and personal situation at the time of the loss, and your cultural and religious beliefs.
When a person is hurt, one natural response is to look for someone or something to blame. Sometimes pet owners blame the deaths of the pets on veterinarians, animal shelters, the person who was involved in a fatal accident or injury, the illness, or even their pet. Constructive anger may help resolve the situation that caused your pet's death, giving you a feeling of accomplishment. However, focusing anger on a target of blame is often primarily a distraction from dealing with the pain of loss. Acknowledging our pain is an essential part of the grieving process. Anger may temporarily ease the pain only to prolong a difficult situation.
Many caretakers assume responsibility for everything in their animals'
lives, including diet, exercise, grooming, vet visits, and so on. When
something goes wrong, whether the owners have had anything to do with
it or not, they are likely to feel responsible and perhaps, guilty. If
you must euthanize a sick or injured pet, this can cause a tremendous
amount of guilt.
Guilt drags people deeper into pain, and causes them to focus on their
supposed failings rather than on the reality of their loss. Guilt has few benefits. It is useful only if it prompts you to correct an error.
Denial is a coping mechanism by which we avoid the reality of a difficult situation. In regard to pet loss, this mechanism is a way of avoiding the anguish that comes with the realization that death is inevitable. Denial can surface when you resist the idea of getting a new pet. Bringing a new pet home is the ultimate admission that your old pet is gone. Denial can bring temporary relief, allowing you to manage powerful emotions initially too painful to bear all at once.
The loss of a pet should be viewed not just as an independent event, but in the context of one's life at the time. Depression following the passing of any loved one can range from a sense of "feeling low" to what can amount to a state of emotional paralysis.
For example, if your life is in turmoil, your relationship with a pet may
be your most stable and beloved asset. If depression due to a pet's
death is interfering with your daily life, you may need to seek
counseling, join a pet loss support group, or seek medical advice. Gradually,
in your own time, you'll make peace and accept the loss.
10 TIPS FOR COPING WITH PET LOSS
- Be patient.
- Don't deny your pain or feelings of anger and guilt.
- Talk to family and friends who love pets. They'll understand some
of what you're experiencing.
- Seek out a pet loss counselor or support group.
- Allow yourself time to work through grief and loss before attempting
to build a relationship with a new pet.
- Provide extra attention and love to your surviving pets through this
period. Loss is hard for them, too. Cats grieve dogs, and dogs
- Be honest with your children regarding the death of a pet.
- Hold a memorial service. Consider choosing a pet cemetery, planting
a tree, or reciting a poem in your pet's honor.
- Even if you never read it aloud, write a letter, poem, or eulogy to your pet.
- Create a photo album. It can help you to recall happy times with your pet
Grief Recovery Hotline
M-F, 9-5pm Pacific Time
The Iams Pet Loss Support Center and Hotline
Pet Friends, Inc.
The Rainbow Passage-Pet Loss and Bereavement Center
The University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine
930 East Lancaster Avenue
Exton, Pa 19341
(610) 363-6175 (800) 343-2186