7 Ways to Grieve the Loss of a Pet
Our pet relationships can be some of the strongest bonds we form. Pets offer unconditional love and have a special way of cheering us up on sad days, and this can make the loss of one so devastating and just as challenging as the loss of a human loved one.
Pet owners can often feel isolated during their grief as there generally isn’t universal empathy toward pet loss as there can be for human loss. Only those who love animals and view them as family members can fully understand how a pet can provide emotional support, companionship, purpose, and love—and therefore, fully understand the depth of this type of grief. This is why coping with pet bereavement can be challenging.
Here are seven steps after your pet’s passing that can help you process your grief experience in healthy ways.
1. Memorialize the memory of your pet with a service or ceremony
Whether it’s a funeral or other ceremony, honoring your pet’s memory with a special event can offer you and your family a sense of closure. Reflect upon your life shared with your beloved pet and allow loved ones to say a few words or create a memorial. You could make a shadow box of special items, have an imprint of their paw on a garden stone, create a memory scrapbook, or plant a tree in your pet’s memory. You may also choose to spend time in a place that holds fond memories of you and your pet. Remembering the fun and love you shared together in these ways can help you to embrace your life with them and eventually move on from your grief.
2. Practice self-care every day
The stress of losing a pet can be hard on the body. You might forget to eat, get little sleep, or stop exercising but caring for your physical and emotional needs can help you get through this difficult time. Make the effort each day to eat a healthy diet, get enough sleep, and exercise regularly to boost your mood. Connecting with friends and family can significantly improve your emotional state. Simply having them listen can help you work through your feelings of loss. Exercising with others can also help you connect with other people and avoid isolation. It’s also important to take time each day for calming activities, such as meditating, listening to music, or reading a book.
3. Seek out a pet support group
Your veterinarian or local shelter could refer you to pet support groups in your area, whether online or in-person. These groups allow you to be in the company of others who can deeply understand the magnitude of your loss. In seeking out others who have lost pets, you might also find new ways of coping during the grieving process.
4. Seek professional help
Grief is grief, whether for a human loss or a pet loss so don’t be afraid to seek professional help. Talking with a therapist can help you work through your sad feelings over the loss of your pet. Grief counselors are trained to help you navigate life challenges and can help you create an action plan for coping. Many specialize in pet grief, so reach out to your family doctor, family members, or friends for recommendations.
5. Keep daily routines with your other pets
Both humans and animals can thrive on routine. Your living pets may also be experiencing the loss and absence of your pet and you may find they act out in different ways. They can lose their appetite or show a loss of interest in everyday activities just as you can, too. Try to maintain walking routines and feeding schedules as this enables your other animals to feel comfort through familiarity and structure. Offering your other pets extra love and attention can help elevate their mood, as well as your own.
6. Consider helping other pets by volunteering or giving to charity
Many animal organizations could use your time to assist with cat care, dog walking, facility cleanings, or administrative work. If you don’t feel comfortable yet doing this, you could donate needed items to the facility or donate to an animal charity of your choice in the name of your pet. Volunteering at a local shelter or giving back to an animal charity can boost your mood and provide a sense of purpose
7. Getting another pet after your loss
Sharing your life with an animal for companionship is a wonderful thing but is also a very personal decision to make after losing a pet. It’s wise to give yourself, your family, and any other pets the proper time to grieve before you are emotionally ready to open your heart and home to a new animal. As you navigate your loss, you’ll know when it feels right to bring another pet into your house.
Losing a pet can be just as heartbreaking as losing a human loved one. Time truly can heal and living without your pet will grow easier with each passing day. The important thing during this grieving process is to continue to care for yourself while also honoring your pet’s memory.