If you are a pet owner, you will have to mourn your companion one day. This is a hard truth to accept, no matter how or why you have to say goodbye to your pet.
As pet ownership increases in the US and across the globe, so does the need to talk about how we cope with the death of a pet. After all, these domesticated animals have become part of your family, and you will undergo a process of grief and mourning that may be even more intense than when a human loved one passes away.
Fortunately, there are many options and resources available to help you cope with your pet’s death. Whether you wish to undergo this process on your own or want to accept help, there will be an option that is right for you.
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First of all, it is important to recognize that you are mourning. Give yourself the time you need. You have to adjust to a new life without your beloved companion. Even if the animal only lived with you for a short time, accepting the loss might take weeks, months, or even years. There is no correct time frame.
Each person has their own pace when dealing with grief, as well as their own methods. You could write about your experiences, find songs to sing that express your feeling, or simply remember the times when your pet was part of your day.
If you have residual questions about how the pet died, talk about it with your vet. They will be able to clarify the situation for you and this closure will help you move forward.
Be honest about your feelings
Denying or hiding your feelings of grief, mourning and sadness will not make them go away. Honesty is essential here, at least with yourself if you aren’t comfortable sharing your pain yet.
Please keep in mind that no one gets to tell you how you are supposed to feel. Avoid others who try to downplay the loss by saying “It was just a pet”.
If you have children, be open about your emotions and let them see you grieve. If the child’s pain is greater, maybe because they had a closer relationship to the pet, respect and validate their feelings.
Explain death in a way children can understand. If you had to put the animal down, be honest and explain it to take away any residual guilt. Sadness, however, is normal: Talk to children about grief and mourning and, where possible, let kids be part of the rituals surrounding death.
After losing a pet, it might be helpful to celebrate the memories you have of them. You could create a scrapbook or photo album of your late pet. Holding a funeral, either in a pet cemetery, at home, or in the form of a natural burial are all options to consider.
If you’d like to keep them in your life even after death, you can preserve your late pet as taxidermy, gemstones like diamonds, or even donate an engraved brick stone to a local “path of honor”.
Of course, these options come at a price. If you prefer raising money for a good cause, how about a memorial fundraiser in your pet’s name? You can donate the proceeds to a charity of your choice and remember your darling through positive action.
Like any loss, mourning a pet takes a lot of energy and inner work. It is important you destress, take breaks, and look after yourself.
Be sure to ask friends for assistance or support if you need it. If you find you are really struggling, consider taking time off work if feasible – this is more common than you think. About 35% of pet owners take time off work after losing a pet. Some companies even grant employees paid leave to grieve their pets – there truly is nothing wrong with staying home.
Finally, it can be helpful to talk to others about what you’re going through.
If you have the resources and the access, contact a therapist or a certified grief counselor. Psychics are available, too, though be careful since there is little scientific evidence to support claims of animal mediums. It might help, though.
Some people prefer talking to peers rather than a professional. This is where support groups can be an incredible resource. You can find pet loss support groups through local veterinarian schools or self-help directories in your area.
Some schools also have hotlines that offer free support and certain hospices and hospitals offer grief counseling. Churches and spiritual communities might also be a great point of contact.
If you prefer virtual communication, there are a number of forums and chat options available online where you can reach out to those going through the same experience.
Thanks to social media, it has never been easier to find others who are undergoing or who already completed the process of mourning a pet. Key phrases to search for include “pet loss support group” or “pet bereavement”. On Instagram and elsewhere, you can post via the hashtag #petlosssupport.
While the death of a pet will leave a hole in your life, you might still have other animals to care for. Provide stability and support to help them through, since their mate’s death will affect them, too. Maintaining your routines will help you as well.
If you have more than one remaining pet, let them sort out new hierarchies amongst themselves.
After a pet dies, a common solution is to simply take in a new companion right away. Please ignore this impulse! Dealing with the loss of a pet by immediately adopting a new one will only postpone the mourning period and cause issues in the future.
As to when the right time for a new companion has come, the answer varies from person to person. You will know when you and your family are ready.
If you are a senior or someone whose identity depended on being a pet owner, it might be especially hard not to rush into replacing your companion. In this case, take special care of yourself, reach out for assistance, and be open and honest about what you are going through.
In the lists below, you will find even more resources and services to help you cope with the death of your beloved pet.
Rest assured that your grief is normal and that it will get better!
Pet Loss Support and Services
- Argus Institute – Support for individuals and family
- Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement (APLB) – Chat room support with trained volunteers, also anticipatory bereavement
- Grief support via the Veterinary Social Work Program at the University of Pennsylvania – Services via email, phone as well as social media accounts
- Grief Support Center – Rainbowbridge
- Grief Support Chat Room – Rainbowbridge
- Hoofbeats in Heaven – Horse loss support
- Petloss.com – Articles, Monday Candle Ceremony
- The Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement – Pet loss support hotlines (US)
- Pet Loss Support Page (UK) – Various resources
- Pet bereavement and loss support service – Chat via BlueCross.org (UK)
- In-Home Euthanasia Service (US, UK and Canada) – Directory of in-home pet euthanasia services
- Articles and Guides – Ever Life Memorials
- Children and pet loss – APLB
- Coping with losing a pet – helpguide.org
- Coping with the death of your pet – humanesociety.org
- Coping with the loss of a pet – AVMA.org
- Euthanasia Planning Information – American Veterinarian Medical Association
- Euthanasia – Euthanasia: The Process and The Particulars – Dr. Jeff Weber, DVM
- Grief support – Athomeontherange.net
- Pet Loss Guide – “Who Else Wants To Move Forward Through The Grief of Pet Loss… Rather Than Sitting And Crying Helplessly?” by John Bash
- Pet Statistics – Petpedia
- Pets as Members of the Family – More‐than‐human families: Pets, people, and practices in multispecies households – Leslie Irvine and Laurent Cilia
- Signs Your Are Ready to Adopt a New Pet – Rainbowbridge
- And I Love You Still… A Thoughtful Guide and Remembrance Journal for Healing the Loss of a Pet by Julianne Corbin, Ph.D.
- Losing My Best Friend: Thoughtful support for those affected by dog bereavement or pet loss by Jeannie Wycherley