The bonds we forge with our pets are powerful. Their love for us is unfaltering, and they have a way of making us feel better even on our worst days — which makes the loss of a pet that much more difficult.
Read on to learn more about the power of pet relationships as well as for steps on how you can cope with such a devastating loss, if and when it happens.
Our pet relationships are among the most powerful in our entire lives. They offer:
- significant emotional support
- mental health benefits
- unwavering companionship
- love for our children and other family members
The grief from losing a beloved pet can be overwhelming. It’s also an extremely delicate situation for any children you might have in your family. Consider the following steps after your pet makes their transition:
- Explain your pet’s loss to young children in a way they’ll understand. Death is unfortunately a natural part of life, so it’s important to be honest with your child. It may be tempting to protect your child’s feelings by telling them their pet simply went away, but this will create more heartache, guilt, and confusion in the long run. Be honest but gentle with your child’s feelings and let them know how much your pet’s loss is hurting you right now, too.
- Allow you and your family to grieve. The loss of a pet can be a traumatic time. There’s no reason why you and your family should be expected to “move on.” Give your family as much time as they need to grieve and reach out for additional help if needed.
- Make room for expressing your emotions. There’s no doubt that losing a pet will make you sad. Despair, guilt, and other emotions may also arise as your new reality of life without your pet starts to sink in. Rather than trying to be strong and dismiss your emotions, allow yourself to express them. Keeping a journal during this critical time can also help.
- Create a service or other ceremony to honor your pet. Whether it’s a funeral or other ceremony, honoring your pet’s memory can offer you and your family a sense of closure. Involve your children if possible, allowing them to say a few words or creating a memorial.
- Maintain your other pets’ schedules. If you have any other pets, they might grieve over the loss of their companion, too. You might notice sluggishness, decreased appetite, or a loss of interest in their normal activities. It’s important to maintain your pets’ feeding schedules and offer them extra love.
- Reach out for support. Connecting with friends and relatives can make a significant impact on your emotional well-being following the loss of your pet. Don’t be afraid to reach out — simply having them listen can make you feel better as you work through your feelings.
- Consider finding a pet support group. Ask your veterinarian or local shelter about pet support groups in your area. Such get-togethers offer an opportunity to be in the company of others who can truly empathize with your loss.
- Talk to a therapist. A talk therapist or psychotherapist can help you work through your feelings and find ways to cope with the loss of your pet. Having this type of support is especially helpful in cases of depression. Some psychotherapists also specialize in working with teens, while play therapists may help younger children work through their emotions.
Recovering from the loss of your pet is also dependent on additional steps that go beyond the initial grief process. Consider the following steps that can help you cope as more time goes by:
- Create a memory book of your pet. You’re likely to have numerous photos of your pet on your phone, social media pages, or computer. But having a tangible memory book or photo album can be more comforting than digitized items. Plus, the very act of putting the book together can help you embrace the memories with your beloved pet and become an act of healthy closure.
- Help other pets. Volunteering at a local shelter or giving back to an animal charity can make you feel good and provide a sense of purpose, especially if you do so in the name of your pet. Animal organizations are always looking for help, including dog walking, cat cuddling, crate cleanings, administrative work, and more. Even if you can’t dedicate your time, you can collect items instead.
- Practice ongoing self-care. It’s important to continue the self-care methods you practiced after the initial loss of your pet over the long-term. In turn, you’ll be happier and healthier. Make sure to exercise and eat a healthy diet. Put aside a little bit of time each day for quiet de-stressing activities, such as meditating or reading a book.
- Don’t be afraid to seek professional help. Grief counselors are trained to help you cope with major losses in your life and pets are no exception. Look for a psychotherapist who’s experienced in pet losses — they can help you create an action plan for coping in the long-term.
How to know when it’s time to get a new pet
At first, it may seem like a good idea to erase grief and other negative emotions by getting a new pet to replace the one you lost. However, it’s generally not recommended that you get a new pet immediately after a devastating loss because you haven’t given yourself, your family, and any other pets you still have the proper time and space to fully grieve.
For some, this can take months. Others might need a few years to grieve. Remember that there’s no set timeline for getting over your pet’s death — you may never fully get over it and that’s normal. You’ll eventually know when the time is right to bring a new pet into your home. It’s a big decision that shouldn’t be rushed.
Losing a pet can be just as heartbreaking as losing a human friend or family member. The companionship and loyalty of your pet is special and unmatched, so it’s understandable to experience difficulty coping with your loss. As with other losses though, living without your pet will get easier over time. The important thing is to take care of yourself and let the grieving process run its course while also honoring your pet’s special love.