Based on the intense bond many people share with their pets, the loss of a pet can be particularly devastating. For pet owners, these animals are considered an integral part of the family sharing in many of life’s milestones. It is natural to feel a void when a pet dies. Though some people may not understand the level of grief that you experience, never feel guilty or ashamed for the feelings that you have for your pet. Just like any grief, it is a process to cope with loss, which is usually determined based on your personality, coping skills, and what the pet meant to you.

Some characteristics of grief are the same for humans or pets

  1. Everyone grieves differently. For many it is a series of high and low emotions. Some find certain characteristics or stages that are present. The emotions tend to be deeper and last longer at the beginning. Healing is a gradual process.
  2. It is normal to feel sad when you consider the loss of a pet. The loss may also trigger feelings of loneliness, insecurity and fear. These feelings do not indicate weakness or the signs of instability.
  3. Ignoring the pain will usually make it eventually worsen. For real healing, it is necessary to face the grief and develop specific ways to cope with it. Ignoring it will make the feelings bottle up inside and eventually explode in an inappropriate manner or time.

Coping with the loss of a pet

Sorrow and grief are natural responses to a death. Though recovery is going to take time, there are several positive ways to help you cope with the sadness and pain.

  1. Do not allow anyone to dictate how you will feel. People who will tell you it’s time to “move on” or “get over it” do not understand pet loss. Allow yourself the right of having your feelings without embarrassment.
  2. Rituals can assist the healing process. A formal funeral or an informal memorial with close family can provide the structure from which to express your feelings. Many funeral homes in cities have a designated area for pet funerals.
  3. Create some type of lasting memorial to your pet. Compile a photo album or scrapbook, plant a tree in the pet’s memory, or build a Facebook page to celebrate the life of your pet.

Helping a child understand the loss of a pet

The loss of a pet may be a child’s first experience with death. While the parents will be the primary source for support, others can offer encouragement and support. Preschool and elementary aged children will need the most sensitive counsel. Any discussion with the child should be age appropriate and should be consistent with what other adult caregivers are providing. Here are some things to remember:

  1. Do not be afraid to show your emotions and grief about the loss of the pet. Your example will allow them the freedom to express their respect and grief for the pet.
  2. Help the child understand that they did not do anything to cause the death. It is not a punishment. Assure them that death is a part of the life cycle.
  3. Help the child do things that will help them remember the pet. Pictures, scrapbooks or talking about the pet with others is a good way to find comfort and strength.
  4. Until the child is about 4 or 5 years old, their view of the world is very literal. Explain the death in very basic terms. The pet’s body wasn’t working right and the doctors could not fix it. Help them understand that “dead” means that the body has stopped working.
  5. Expect the child to ask the same questions over and over again. They often have a difficult time processing hard concepts. Patiently repeat what death means and that the pet will not be coming back.

How to respond to those who make fun of the grief for a pet

Some people will respond to you grieving the loss of your pet with disbelief. They will not understand – perhaps because they do not have a pet of their own, or because their circumstances are so different than yours. Some people just do not connect with animals in a way that provides love and companionship. Here are a few ways that you can respond to their critical spirit.

  1. Do not allow yourself to get into an argument about whether grieving a pet is appropriate. This kind of debate or conflict is not beneficial and will simply drain you of your resources and strength.
  2. Understand that your strongest support will come from your close family members and those within your intimate circle of friends. Spend time with them in a variety of settings to bolster your support group.
  3. Talk to others who have lost pets. See if they can offer you suggestions for assisting you as you walk through the grieving process.