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Losing a companion animal
Many people form bonds with pets or other animals that are as important and fulfilling as any other relationship in life. This also means that when a pet dies, the grief you experience can be immense and overwhelming. Pets and animals bring a lot of joy to our lives and being unconditionally loved by another living creature is a rewarding experience. Not only that, but caring for your pet, such as meal times, regular exercise, and affection, can give your days structure. It can be difficult to restructure your days when your pet is gone.
Unfortunately, some people might not understand the grief you’re experiencing at the passing of a pet. They might assume you won’t feel too much grief/pain/sadness or, if you do, it will pass very quickly. There may also be times when friends or family, who have been supportive in the past, have an expectation that you should “get over” the death of your pet after a set period of time. The way other people perceive your grief is not always patient or empathetic. You might feel hurt, angry, resentful or withdrawn by their dismissal but remember: there are also people out there who do understand how painful it can be.
Everyone’s experience of grief for a pet is different and there are no right or wrong ways to grieve. If you would like extra support during this time, you can join our Pet Bereavement Online Forum or call our helpline to speak with one of our Helpline volunteers.
Guilt after losing a pet
When a pet passes away, it can leave you wondering if you made the right decisions regarding their life and care. It’s normal to feel guilty and go over your time with your pet and the circumstances of their death, particularly if your pet died suddenly.
Bear in mind that making difficult medical decisions can be an act of compassion. Life is full of complex decisions and it’s not possible to know if you’ve got it right or wrong. All you can know is your pet had the best life possible in the circumstances dealt. Your pet was lucky to have a friend to care for and advocate for them.
You are not alone in your loss
Pet bereavement is often a silent emotional sorrow that can be met with a lack of understanding and sympathy from those around you. You may experience a range of emotions which are difficult to understand and even more difficult to express. Give yourself permission to grieve and recognise that everyone grieves differently.
Studies show that being around loved ones after losing a pet can help bereaved people heal sooner. Unfortunately, you might find some people don’t consider losing a pet to be a legitimate reason to grieve or provide the emotional support you need. Having your grief dismissed can create an additional layer of distress.
At Griefline we understand your need to talk about your loss. Our trained and professional volunteers can sit with your sorrow and loss and help you find ways to manage and move forward when you are ready. You can learn more about the different symptoms of grief here.
Coping with loss at different stages of life
Losing a pet is often a child’s first experience of death and mortality. It can be a lot to handle for both kids and parents. Remember your child’s emotions may be as complicated as your own. As well as sadness, they may feel confusion about what has happened or anger if their pet was humanely euthanised. They could feel guilty or responsible and focus on times when they weren’t kind to their pet. And at the end of the day, they might feel lonely without the companionship of their pet.
Try to be honest with your child about what happened. Using a euphemism or telling a lie (like that your pet ran away) can increase your child’s distress and confusion about losing their pet.
Losing a pet can be devastating no matter what age you are but it can be especially painful for an older person. Pets provide us unconditional love and for older people, who may have suffered from the loss of partners or friends over the years, the relationship formed with a companion animal can be an important and fulfilling one. A devoted pet can create a sense of purpose which can be lacking for those who’re reconfiguring their identity after retirement or big life changes.
Taking care of an animal also creates a daily schedule that can give our days a rhythm. Regular meal times, exercise, and medical care are things we do for our pets that also makes our daily lives better. It can be difficult to find your rhythm again after losing a pet and especially so for older people, who may have less support to cope with the loss.
Caring for your remaining pets
Studies show that pets can and do mourn the loss of a fellow. If you have other pets, they will need some time to adjust to the loss of their companion. They may become listless or clingy, play less, and have a decreased appetite. Some pets may change their behaviour completely, adjusting to the new dynamic.
Tips for coping with your pet’s grief are similar to coping with your own: spend time with your pet, shower them with affection, and try to get them out and about more.
Tips to cope
In the meantime, here are some tips to help you in your time of grief:
- Remember it’s natural to feel the loss of a loved one, animal or human, who played an important part in your life, so allow yourself to be sad and experience the grief.
- Find a way to pay homage or honour your pet’s role in your life. This can be by planting a tree, a plaque in a pet cemetery, or a photo or piece of jewellery that holds some significance. Your vet may have other ideas on how to celebrate your pet.
- Stay healthy, exercise, sleep and look after yourself.
- Connect with those who understand your loss. Many communities have pet bereavement support groups so check with your local council.
- Understand the symptoms of grief and loss so you can recognise what you are going through and seek support when needed.
- Remember, everyone’s grief has its own rhythm so be prepared for good days and bad days.