Coping with the loss of a pet
Every pet owner knows that your furry pal is truly a member of your family. They depend on you to survive and the love and affection they have given to you over the years cannot be measured. So, it is certainly no surprise that the death of a pet can be heartbreaking. Everyone manages grief differently; some can move past a death much quicker than others but it is important no matter who you are to recognize the loss of a pet and take the time to emotionally heal. The same five stages of grief that apply to the loss of a human can be used here to help us understand the grieving process.
- Denial – It is hard to believe that your pet is gone, and you can have feelings of shock and disbelief. This is our bodies way of helping us and letting in only as much sorrow as we can handle at once.
- Anger – Once the initial denial subsides, anger at the situation, yourself, your other family members or even your pet may arise. Being angry is an indication of the intense love you felt for your dog that has passed.
- Bargaining – This stage can bring up feelings of guilt and have you looking back at what you could have done differently to prevent your pet’s death. But, it is important that you should not blame yourself.
- Depression – After looking backwards and bargaining you will focus on the sadness of the present. Others may try to tell you to “snap out if it” and “cheer up” but it is helpful to be patient and know that it is normal to be upset over the loss of a loved one.
- Acceptance – This does not mean that that you are OK with what has happened. It just means that you are accepting the reality that your dog has died. You will begin to feel more at peace, learn to live with their loss, and adjust to life without them.
Helping the other members of your household
Many of us with pets also have other family members in the house as well. While other adults may be able to cope with the stages of grief on their own, it is important to make sure any children in our lives have someone to turn to. For many kids the loss of a family pet may be the first time they have ever experienced death. Toddlers and very young children may not be able to comprehend that their friend is gone forever and may ask repeatedly about them. Children a little older may get angry at the situation or can worry about who else may die in their lives. The first thing to do is make sure your child knows they can talk to you any time they feel the need and share with them that you are experiencing the same emotions they are.
If you have other pets, the death of their companion can certainly affect them as well. They may not eat as much, become less active, or spend an excessive amount of time near their passed friends bed. It is important to show them love and affection even if it is painful for you. It can help to find new activities, places to walk, or a new toy for them to develop positive associations unrelated to the dog that has died.
Commemorate your deceased pet
The formal act of memorializing a loved one who has passed can be very therapeutic. Immediately after they have died you can hold a memorial service for them with close friends or family. If you were able to keep their remains, depending on where you live, you can find a burial spot for them in your yard or at a pet cemetery. Another great way to keep their memory alive can be to create a scrap book of your time together or frame and hang your favorite picture of them at home.
Moving past the death of a beloved pet can certainly be hard. One thing that people tend to do, either for their own sake or for their children’s, is to get a new dog right away. While new animals are always fun, we suggest you take the time to make sure that you have coped with the loss before diving into the adventure of a new doggy.
If you are having more trouble with the loss than you can handle, we suggest looking into some of the following options for support. For children that may be having excessive issues with the loss of a pet we suggest you talk first to their pediatrician or school’s psychologist for the best recommendations on mental health support.
ASPCA grief counseling phone hotline:
(877) 474-3310; This is a direct line to ASPCA’s psychologist and grief counselor, Dr. Stephanie LaFarge, PhD.
P.A.L. (People Animals Love) Grief support hotline:
Text or leave a message at 202-966-2171.
A professional counselor will contact you, usually within hours. It’s free.
VCA Pet loss support group:
Lap of Love Pet Loss Support: