Coping with the loss of a beloved pet
Regardless of whether your pet is a dog, cat, ferret, bird, hamster, horse, snake, or any other living creature, it seems certain that you will outlive your pet. We would like to have them in our homes and our lives forever, but we know that eventually we will have to say good-bye. Some people don't keep pets for exactly this reason; it's too difficult to love them, knowing that our love won't keep them alive. Their deaths and those good-byes are simply too painful. With your pet's death, you may feel lost and alone. Your home feels empty and much too quiet. Your routine is disrupted. Something is missing that can never be replaced.
However, pet owners would rather experience the grief of their deaths than not have all the joy that they give us over the years. Grieving for a pet is natural if the pet shared your life, your house, and even a spot on your bed. Comments from others like, "It's only a dog," "You can always buy another cat," or "Now you don't have to clean up after it anymore" are not only rude and insensitive, but they also prolong your grief because it seems like no one understands how hard it can be to lose an animal that you loved so much.
Pet loss inevitably occurs in the following manners:
- Your pet lived a healthy, happy life and reached the end of her life span, as do all creatures great and small.
- Your pet developed an illness that proved to be fatal despite the best veterinary care that you provided.
- Your pet suffered a severe injury that resulted in his death.
- You made the very difficult decision to humanely euthanize your seriously ill or injured pet when she was suffering and no improvement was expected.
- Similar to SIDS in infants, your pet's death was caused by "fading puppy" or "fading kitten" syndrome. You're grieving for the loss of your pet before you even got to know him.
What's the best way to cope with your feelings?
There are many helpful ways of coping with pet loss. After the death of his beloved Dachshund, Dr. Wallace Sife, a clinical psychologist, established the Association of Pet Loss and Bereavement, a non-profit, on-line organization that provides free grief counseling for anyone grieving for a beloved companion animal. Formed in 1999, the site has helped more than 23,000 people around the world cope with pet loss. Dr. Sife trained a team of grief counselors who moderate three chat rooms; each is designed to meet specific needs, but all are empathetic and caring. The counselors help prepare people for the impending death of their pet and provide support and empathy for those who are coping with pet loss.
Another way to cope with pet loss is a technique often used in psychotherapy called "positive reframing." Instead of focusing only on your pet's death and your grief, try focusing instead on the times of joy and fun that you and your pet shared. Celebrate your pet's life instead of only grieving for his death. Rather than suppressing memories of happy times with your pet because they're painful, go ahead and experience the bittersweet memories that you will cherish for a lifetime. Go ahead and look at her pictures when she was just a little ball of fluff; tears never hurt, but they are often cathartic.
Everyone experiences grief differently
Keep in mind that each person experiences grief differently. Below are some suggestions that may help you cope with your pet loss:
- To achieve closure, consider burying your pet in a special pet cemetery or on your own property if you can legally do so in your town. This often helps pet owners resolve their grief by knowing that their companion has a final resting place that you can visit if you wish over the years.
- If you elect to have your pet cremated, take the ashes home with you for burial in a lovely urn or wooden box. If you prefer, keep the cremains in a special place in your home or somewhere on your property.
- Grief counselors recommend that you not purchase another pet until you have fully resolved grieving for your lost pet. Some people do this on impulse because their lives seem so lonely without their pet. However, you will most likely expect your new pet to take the place of your lost pet; this is not fair to the animal, who has a "personality" all his own. She deserves to be loved and appreciated for herself, not as a substitute.
- Talk with empathetic friends and family members who understand your grief for your companion pet. Allow them to console and support you during this painful time in your life.
- Don't keep your grieving a secret; while you don't need to be hysterical, talk about your sadness and how much you loved and miss your pet. Repressed feelings always cause trouble later on.
- Never feel ashamed, silly or embarrassed by grieving for your pet. You don't need anyone's opinion, approval or permission to mourn the death of a living creature that you loved.
- Comfort yourself by knowing that you gave your pet a wonderful life and a peaceful death. You loved your pet, and were loved by him in return. You were so lucky to have found each other! Thank her for her unconditional love and for sharing your world.
Wait until the time is right before you get a new pet
One day, when the time is right, you may wish to once again share your life with wagging tails, cheerful chirps, the gentle nudge of an equine nose at feeding time or contented purring. If you listen to your heart, you will know when it's time.
Further sources of information
You may find our other articles in the Pet loss section helpful too.
For biodegradable and more traditional cremation urns, including pet urns, we recommend Richard Lamb New Traditions Funerals.
Visit our Amazon store to find books to help you cope with pet loss.