Losing a beloved pet can be a devastating loss that can rival losing a human family member, and everyone deals with the loss of a pet in different ways. Some people may not understand how difficult this time can be for you, but you should never feel ashamed or guilty for grieving the loss of a pet. However, you should look for healthy ways to overcome pet grief and start the healing process.
Why Do We Feel the Loss of a Pet so Deeply?
For many people, a pet isn’t ‘just a pet’ but a cherished family member. They can add comfort to a routine, daily structure, and companionship. Knowing this, it makes sense that losing your pet can cause grief. Everyone feels this sense of loss on a different level, and everyone copes in different ways. However, it rings true that the more significant your pet was in your life, the deeper sense of loss you’ll feel.
No matter the circumstances of your pet’s passing, the journey of grief is an intensely personal one. If you own a pet, you’ll eventually experience this loss, and you’ll go through several grieving stages before you’re ready to start coping.
The Six Stages of Grief After Losing a Pet
Stage One: Shock
The first emotion most people experience when their pet passes is shock. It’s important that you take time to remind yourself to be kind to both your family members and to yourself. It may take several days or several weeks to sink in, so be patient with everyone.
Stage Two: Anger
Once the shock of the loss of your pet wears off, it usually turns to anger. You may believe that it’s unfair that your pet died while others lived, and you may want to lash out. You may also turn your anger inward and blame yourself. While this is natural, you want to be very careful about who you vent this anger to or at. The level of anger you’re experiencing isn’t normal, and you don’t want to say something you regret later.
Stage Three: Denial
You may want to sweep your emotions under the rug and pretend that you’re not sad or angry. You may also want to run out and buy a new pet. However, the trouble comes when you think that this new pet can replace your old pet. Ideally, you want to give yourself time to grieve your pet before starting over with a new one.
Stage Four: Guilt
The guilt usually sets in after the denial phase fades away. If your pet died from an illness, you might feel guilty and question if you did enough to prolong their life. You may find yourself constantly saying ‘what if?’ What if you could have cared more? What if you could have caught their illness sooner? Don’t blame yourself, and talk to someone if you have to.
Stage Five: Depression
The loss of a pet leaves a hole in your life, and it’s natural that you’ll go through a depression stage in your grieving process. You may feel like you’ll never get out of this hole, and this phase tends to seem endless. However, this is also the perfect stage to talk to someone about the loss of your pet. You can even look for a grief counselor who specializes in dealing with the grief of losing your pet.
Stage Six: Resolution
Once you’ve let yourself feel the loss of your pet, and you’ve taken the time to honor their memory, you will start on the final stage in your journey of grief. You’ll have allowed yourself to heal and process that your pet is gone. This can take from six months to a year, and you just have to give yourself time.
Seven Tips for Coping with Losing a Pet
Although everyone experiences the six stages of losing a pet, they all deal with the loss of their pet in different ways. It’s important that you choose healthy coping mechanisms for overcoming pet grief.
1. Grieve on Your Time.
Don’t let anyone tell you how to feel or try to hurry along your grief journey. It is yours alone, and no one has the right to tell you how you feel. Cry, scream, rant, or express yourself in healthy ways.
2. Find a Pet Loss Community.
There are Facebook groups, forums, communities, and websites dedicated to helping pet owners overcome pet grief. If you’re not getting the sympathy you need from your family, look online.
3. Honor Your Pet.
Funerals and memorials are excellent ways to get closure and honor your pet’s legacy. Celebrate their life and talk about them. Anything you can do to make yourself feel better during this time is a good thing.
4. Take Care of Yourself .
Don’t forget to care for yourself. Make sure you look after your emotional and physical needs while you’re grieving. Make sure you have a good sleep schedule, eat a healthy diet, and exercise.
5. Consider Professional Help.
For anyone who’s struggling to get through the stages of grief, professional help may be a good idea. A grief counselor will help to validate your feelings and help you through the different stages.
6. Maintain Your Routine.
If you have other pets, try to keep your routine as normal as possible for you and them. It might be a good idea to increase their play time or attention you give to them because they’ll experience a loss too.
7. Talk About Your Pet.
Sometimes, talking about your pet will make you feel better. Talk to your family or friends about your pet and remember the good times.
Helping Children and Seniors Deal With the Loss of a Pet
Seniors may take the loss of a pet especially hard, and there are a few simple things you can do to help you through this difficult time. Reach out to friends or family members and talk about your pet, consider volunteering to get out of the house and have something to focus on, or start a light exercise routine to maintain your vitality.
Children may also take losing a pet hard or not completely understand what happened to them. It’s important that you let your child express their feelings over this loss in a healthy way and encourage them to talk to you. Also, ensure that they know that they’re not responsible for your pet’s death as children tend to turn blame inwards.
Going through the loss of a pet can be a difficult and trying time for the entire family, and it’s important that you let everyone process their feelings on their own time in a healthy manner. This guide will give you a good idea of what to expect and ways to help throughout the grieving process.
Olivia Harper is the co-founder of the blog Daily Dog Stuff. She is a reserved and passionate pet parent who loves to spend time with her Sibe, who keeps her active and social. See more of her guides and tips by visiting her blog and following their page @dailydogstuff.
If you don’t follow the steps of grieving, don’t worry about it. You may skip a step or go through them in a different order. Let yourself grieve the way that is most natural for you. But do allow yourself to grieve.