One of the hardest things we experience as pet lovers is the loss of a beloved animal companion. Whether that’s from the death of a pet, a missing pet, or a pet that had to be rehomed- it’s still a loss and the grieving process is warranted. Sometimes the pain is unbearable and we find ourselves bursting into tears at random moments of the day. Maybe it’s a picture of your pet, or noticing their bed or toy, that reopens these wounds. These environmental cues can trigger the emotional pain, but for some people having that pet bed in the corner is comforting and healing. There is no right or wrong way to process grief. Grief is a unique, individual experience and a journey that unifies us all. 

Pet loss can be classified as disenfranchised grief, meaning, society does not generally consider pet loss as something to be taken too seriously. We’ve all heard comments such as,“he was just a dog” or “you’ll get over it soon” or “you can get another cat”. But we know that is not the case. Pet loss can often be as intense, or more intense, than the loss of a human, because our relationships with animals are simple and pure. For many of us, pets are part of our family, our best friends, our trusted confidantes, who provide us constant love and joy. It’s not easy to come to terms with the loss, and it makes sense that our emotions can be intense. After all, we form strong attachments with our pets through the critical human-animal bond. 

Complications of Grief

Feelings of guilt or anger, loss of routine, and lack of self care can further complicate our grief and make it harder to process the loss. 

Difficult feelings complicate our grief.  World by Tail, Inc. recommends processing challenging feelings of guilt by making two columns on a sheet. On one side, list anything that brings  up feelings of anger or guilt. On the other side, list all the positive things you did for your pet and the fun things you did together; try your best to focus on the positive.

Loss of routine:  Pets provide structure and organization to our day (from daily walks to evening cuddle time). When these routines and habits are disrupted it can leave us feeling aimless. Try to bring some structure back into your life. You can take a daily walk, call a friend when you’re feeling down, or even find a neighbor or friend who needs help getting their dog out for a walk. These could be “healing” choices that we make for ourselves. Even if you just got out of bed this morning and brushed your teeth, that is a healing choice! 

Self-care: Start with the basics. Ensure you are getting plenty of sleep, drinking enough water, and eating healthy foods. It’s ok to feel the hurt and to grieve, but don’t forget to offer yourself compassion and grace through this painful time. 

If you are experiencing  grief from the loss of a beloved pet, please know you are not alone. Acknowledging your grief and sharing your pet’s story begins the healing process. It’s a brave step to ask for help and can be one of the healing choices you make. Consider reaching out to trusted friends and family members, a therapist, advocate, or spiritual entity, or higher power. Share the story of your pet and your feelings of grief. According to research, social support is the one of the greatest protective factors against declining mental health. Pet support groups are wonderful places to gather with like-minded people who are currently experiencing the loss of a pet, and can be a very empowering and cathartic experience. Roice-Hurst Humane Society offers pet loss groups every other month. Upcoming dates and times can be found on our website: https://rhhumanesociety.org/calendar/

Grief can be complicated by underlying mental health challenges. If you believe you need to seek professional help, please reach out to a licensed mental health provider. Ignoring or blocking out negative thoughts and feelings can exacerbate feelings of grief and lead to other mental health conditions. If you are struggling with finding a provider, please contact the help information line, 211. Furthermore, if you are having thoughts of suicide or self harm, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.

Ideas to Memorialize/Honor your Pet. 

  1. Consider making a linking object such as a necklace out of a dog tag, or a planter with your pet’s collar, like this one from Pinterest. https://www.pinterest.com/pin/522065781803173464/
  2. Write a letter to yourself from your pet’s perspective reminiscing of the good memories. 
  3. Tune into your creative side and make a scrapbook or slideshow, or write a song or poem. 
  4. Some people dedicate a place in their own home to display pictures, ashes, or other pet belongings. If that is too painful, you can consider storing away your pet’s items until you feel ready to look at them again. 
  5. Plant a tree or purchase a memorial plaque in your pet’s honor –

https://rhhumanesociety.org/memorial-trees/

https://rhhumanesociety.org/memorial-wall/

What you can do if someone you know is experiencing the Loss of a Pet.

  1. Lend an ear. While these things are often said with good intentions, it can be hurtful to say things like, “he was just a cat”, or “you’ll get over it in no time”. Just let that person know you are there for them and listen to what they have to say. 
  2. Offer to go with your friend to pick up a pet’s ashes, or help with any kind of burial or memorial service. 
  3. Do a small act of kindness such as sending a sympathy card, or bringing that person their favorite dessert or meal. Please know the person experiencing grief may not be up for social activities, but it can be extremely comforting for them to know someone holds them in their thoughts. 

Pet Loss Resources

Association of Pet Loss and Bereavement- Educational resources on how to cope with grief. This site offers chat rooms with trained pet bereavement volunteer counselors. https://www.aplb.org/ 

Books

The Loss of a Pet: A Guide to Coping with the Grieving Process When a Pet Dies (Fourth Edition) by Wallace Sife, Ph.D. 

When Your Pet Dies: A Guide to Mourning, Remembering and Healing Paperback by Alan D Wolfelt PhD

Children and Pet Loss: A Guide for Helping by Marty Tousley

“Grief never ends… But it changes. It’s a passage, not a place to stay. Grief is not a sign of weakness, nor a lack of faith… It is the price of love.”
— Unknown

References: 

Sife, W. (1998). The loss of a pet. Howell Book House. 

The Pet Loss Podcast

https://www.veterinarywisdom.com/about-us