Having just lost our family dog of 15 years I recognized the fact that I didn’t know much about the loss of a family pet. Although pet grief can be similar to grief of a loved one of human kind, I felt this grief was somewhat different.
Grieving the loss of a pet is hard work. Grief is an emotionally and physically exhausting experience. The only way to heal the pain is to move through it, and that takes time. Each of us experience grief in different ways. There is no right way to grieve and no timeline for when grief is complete.
The emotions we feel during times of grief can be painful and are influenced by the strength of the bond with our pets, the role our pet plays in our life, and the circumstances surrounding our pet’s death. Feeling guilty results from feeling responsible for our pet’s condition. Guilt is a common feeling even when there was nothing we could have done to prevent the situation.
You might feel guilty when you find out your pet has a terminal disease or injury because you believe you should have noticed your pet’s symptoms earlier. Some of us may feel guilt if we take finances or other personal circumstances into consideration when making treatment decisions. Still others may feel guilt about decisions they made that may have contributed to the pet’s condition. No matter what the circumstances, guilt has a way of keeping you stuck in the grief process. So, it’s important to work through it and let it go.
Here are some strategies for coping with the loss of your pet:
- Give yourself permission to grieve. Feel your sadness, moving towards it is the only way to lessen the pain.
- Realize that it is normal to grieve deeply. Losing a pet is a significant loss. You will feel debilitated for a while.
- Cut yourself some slack. Be kind to yourself, it is normal not to perform at your best.
- Pick a meaningful way to memorialize your pet. Scrapbook, plant a tree, write a poem, or donate money. Volunteer!!
- Take time for you. Simple pleasures like a bath, afternoon naps, favorite food, long walks.
- Surround yourself with supportive family and friends. Let others help you. Limit your time around others that seem less understanding.
- Seek out professional help and/or a support group. It can be helpful to talk to others who have gone through a similar situation.
- Expect the first year to be the hardest. Getting through all the “firsts” without our pet is tough!
- Allow yourself to backslide. Grief is a roller coaster. This is normal so be kind to yourself.
The death of our beloved pets represents a very deep and significant loss. Saying goodbye is one of the hardest things we will have to go through. Below are some resources that may help in your grief process.
Pet Loss Support:
- Wings–Pet Loss Helpline and Support Group. (630)325-1600.
- The Companion Animal Related Emotions Pet Loss Helpline. A confidential telephone service offered through the University of College of Veterinary Medicine. (877) 394-CARE (2273). http://vetmed.illinois .edu/CARE/.
- Veterinary Specialty Centers Grief Support Program. (847)459-7535 x300. Email at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Dog Heaven by Cynthia Rylant.
- When a Pet Dies by Fred Rogers
- Coping with Sorrow on the Loss of Your Pet by Moria Allen.
- I will See You In Heaven by Jack Wintz
- Goodbye Friend by Gary Kowalski
- Going Home: Finding Peace When Pets Die by Jon Katz
Lisa Gray MSW, LCSW
Lisa M. Gray