How to Cope After the Death of a Pet

Three Methods:Experiencing the Stages of GriefLeaning on Others for SupportPaying Tribute to Your Pet

For pet owners, the loss of a pet is more than just the loss of an animal, it’s also the loss of a friend and companion. It can be difficult to cope after the death of a cat, dog, or any other pet you owned and cared for.[1] You will likely experience the stages of grief and need to lean on the support of family and friends to help you move forward. You may also want to pay tribute to the memory of your pet as a way to process your emotions and honor your dearly departed pet.

Method 1
Experiencing the Stages of Grief

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    Be aware that everyone experiences grief in different ways. Grief is an intense process and often happens gradually. Everyone processes grief differently and there no “normal” timeframe from grieving so you may feel better after several weeks, months, or even after a year. Be patient and allow yourself to experience grief for your pet, as this is an important way to process the death of your pet.[2][3]
    • Though you may try to ignore the pain, this will likely only make it worse. Rather than bottle up your feelings and emotions, it can be more useful to allow yourself to go through the stages of grief and heal over time. You may experience several of the stages of grief or only a few of them, but whatever your grieving process is, it’s important that you let it occur and do not keep your emotions hidden or suppress your feelings of sadness and loneliness.
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    Try to avoid feeling guilty for the death of your pet. One of the initial stages of grief is feeling guilt and responsibility for the death of your pet. Try to avoid asking “what ifs” and thinking about “if only”. This will only make you feel worse and make it more difficult to move past your grief.[4]
    • Take the time to remind yourself that you are not responsible for the death of your pet and that the death of your pet was out of your control. If you believe in a higher power, you may pray on your pet’s death and talk to the higher power as a way to work through your feelings of guilt.
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    Confront your feelings of denial. Another initial stage of grief is denial, where you may feel like your pet is still alive. You may have difficulty coming home to not find your pet waiting for you or not having to put out dinner every night, like you usually do, for your pet. Rather than tell yourself your pet might still be alive somewhere, it’s important that you are upfront and honest about the reality of the situation. Denial of your pet’s death will make it more difficult for you to move past your pet’s death and cope.[5]
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    Release your anger in healthy ways. A key emotion in the grieving process is anger, which can be directed at the driver of the car that killed your pet, the illness that killed her, or the vet who “failed” to save your pet’s life. Though your anger may feel justified, holding on to it can lead to feelings of resentment and rage, which will only make you feel worse in the long run. Anger can also distract you from resolving your feelings of grief and cause you to hold onto your grief, rather than release it and start to heal.[6]
    • Releasing your anger in a healthy way may mean leaning on the support of your family and friends, or focusing on self-care, where you do activities that make you feel good like hiking outdoors, doing a creative project, or socializing with good friends. Think of activities that can help you to release your anger in a way that feels useful and healthy, rather than destructive and painful.
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    Let yourself feel sad but fight off depression. A natural symptom of grief is feelings of depression, which can leave you feeling powerless to cope with your emotions. While it is healthy and important that you let yourself feel sad about the death of your pet, feeling depressed can cause you to feel worn out, lonely, and isolated.[7]
    • Fight off feelings of depression by leaning on friends and family, occupying your time with activities you enjoy doing, and spending time creating a tribute for your pet. Focus on trying to work through your feelings of sadness so they do not develop into feelings of depression.

Method 2
Leaning on Others for Support

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    Share your feelings and emotions with family and friends. Rather than keep your grief to yourself, do not be afraid to share your feelings with close family and friends. If a friend offers to stop by for a visit, say “yes”, even if you do not feel like talking to someone. Simply sitting with a sympathetic friend and talking about trivial things can make you feel less lonely and isolated. Reach out to your family and try to see them more often, as they can offer comfort and kind thoughts that can help you remember your pet fondly and process your grief.[8]
    • Keep in mind some people may not understand how deep your loss is over your pet. They may ask, “What’s the big deal? It’s just a pet!” Family or friends may not be able to understand how the loss of an animal can compare to the loss of a person, and they may not be as sympathetic as you may expect. Try not to take this personally, as they may not have a pet of their own and so cannot understand your connection with your deceased pet.
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    Reach out to friends who have also lost pets. Seek out family and friends who will be sympathetic to your grief and understand how it feels to lose a pet. Spend time together talking about your pets and sharing memories of your pets. You should find mutual understanding and connection with other pet owners who have also experienced loss and grief.[9]
    • You can also reach out to others who may understand pet loss through online pet loss support groups and online message boards. Support from other pet owners can be key to helping you process your grief.
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    Practice self-care through socializing and staying busy. Self-care is very important when you are feeling low and can help you feel better physically and mentally. Look after your emotional needs by socializing with others and doing activities with others you enjoy to stay busy and not dwell on your grief. This could be exploring a new hobby like painting, drawing, or running by joining a class or group. Or you could join a fitness group to ensure you exercise regularly to boost your mood and fight off feelings of depression.[10]
    • You can also practice self-care on your own by doing a solo activity you enjoy, pampering yourself with a massage or a long bath, and taking time alone to read or do something calming and relaxing. Try not to spend too much time alone as you cope with the loss of your pet, as this can lead to isolation and loneliness. Maintain a balance of time with others and time with yourself to ensure you are taking care of your physical and emotional needs during this hard time.
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    Talk to a grief therapist, if needed. Sometimes, grief can be overwhelming and you may find you are still feeling depressed and upset even after you talk to family and friends. If your grief is causing you to feel powerless and unable to function, you may want to ask your doctor for a referral to a grief therapist. You can also ask family and friends for a referral to a grief therapist they may have gone to themselves, with positive results.

Method 3
Paying Tribute to Your Pet

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    Arrange a funeral or a memorial service for your pet. The ritual of a funeral or a memorial service can be a healthy way to grieve and process your emotions. This could be a small service honoring your pet’s life or a more elaborate affair. Though some people may consider it inappropriate to have a funeral for a pet, you should do what feels good to you as a pet owner and take the necessary steps to release your grief.[11]
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    Create a physical reminder of your pet. This could be planting a tree in memory of your pet, creating a photo album of your pet, or commissioning a physical gravestone for your pet. Having a physical legacy of your pet can help you to celebrate your pet and move on in your grief.[12]
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    Donate to an animal charity in memory of your pet. You may want to pay tribute to your animal companion by donating your money or time to an animal charity in his name. This will allow you to give back to the community and help other pet owners to take care of their pets. It also creates a tribute to your pet that focuses on caring for others and supporting others, a positive legacy you can feel proud of.[13]
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    Take care of any other pets in your household. Though it may be difficult to focus on the needs of your other pets after the death of a pet, you should try to devote yourself to providing good care to any other animals in your home. Your other pets will likely also be mourning the loss of a fellow pet, especially if they all lived together in close quarters. Focusing on the needs of your other pets can help you to move forward and cope with your loss. It can also be a way to honor your deceased pet by ensuring all your other pets receive love and care.[14]
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    Consider getting a new pet. Another way to cope and pay tribute to your pet is to perhaps get a new pet. Rather than see the new pet as a replacement for your deceased pet, think of the new pet as a new chapter in pet ownership. A new pet will allow you to love and care for an animal and to move forward from the death of a pet.
    • Some pet owners may feel they cannot get a new pet because it would be disloyal to their deceased pet. It may take time after the death of your pet to consider getting a new pet, but a new pet may be a healthy way to move through your feelings of grief and feel better about coming home to a pet filled house again.

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Categories: Pet Loss