How to Handle the Loss of a Pet

How to Handle the Loss of a Pet

A leash and an empty dog bowl.A leash and an empty dog bowl.
A leash and an empty dog bowl.A leash and an empty dog bowl.

Pets become an important part of our lives, and losing one can be devastating. Every loss is different and how a person responds is unique to their personality. Here are ways people respond to the loss of a pet and tips on how to better deal with a loss.

How People Deal with the Loss of a Pet

For some owners, the pet is considered their child or family member, and they grieve deeply. Other owners have the mindset that “it was just a dog.”

Below are some common emotional reactions to the loss of a pet:

  • It’s hard being strong. Some individuals get their first pet as young adults, start a family, and find themselves losing a pet with their children. As they work through their own grief, they have to be strong for their family. Often, there is concurrent guilt as they reflect on how the pet was their primary companion for many years, then became a lower priority as their family expanded.
  • Guilt. Some owners focus on guilt upon the loss of a pet. This guilt can originate from thoughts that they were too busy and that they neglected their pet’s signs of illness until it was too far gone. Also, it can be related to limited financial resources, which kept them from providing life-saving medical care.
  • Memorializing. Many pet lovers place some of their grief and emotional energy into creating a memorial or tribute to their beloved friend. This can be in the form of a funeral, a photo album, or artistic creations, such as a painting. Some find special urns for ashes and place these pet memorials in a special place in their homes.
  • Saving the ashes. Many pet parents find comfort in having their pets cremated and saving the ashes to be later buried with them, or mixed with their own ashes. This allows the grieving pet parent to be together with their companion animal forever.
  • Feeling lost. Some experience a feeling of confusion and a desire to be alone, often accompanied by an avoidance of social activities and family functions.
  • Custom jewelry. Another way owners take comfort in this difficult time is to have jewelry made from their pet’s ashes. Owners can be quick to show their special pieces of jewelry for their lost pets, and find comfort in knowing their pet is with them all the time as an accessory.

Many of these emotional responses can be categorized into the stages of grief that include anger, denial, depression, acceptance and bargaining. Learn more about these stages by going to Pet Loss Support: Helping You Cope After Your Dog’s Death.

As you deal with the loss of a pet, it is important to know the following:

  1. You are not alone. Other pet lovers have lost companions and may feel the same way as you.
  2. It is normal to be incredibly sad and feel devastated. These emotions demonstrate how much you loved and cared about your pet. Take care of yourself. Your veterinarian may have suggestions for local pet loss grief support groups. If you’re seeking phone numbers for a pet loss support hotlines, go to Pet Loss Support: Helping You Cope After Your Dog’s Death.
  3. When the time is right, it is okay to move on and get another pet. Your lost pet can never be replaced, but it is okay to love again and many lonely animals need the love and compassion that only you can offer.
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