Having a beloved pet die is traumatic and painful, and the most natural thing in the world is to have intense feelings of grief and sadness. Our pets give us unconditional love, are always there to patiently listen to us when we need to talk, and are often our best friend.
Even though psychologists have long maintained the grief that pet owners experience after the death of their pet is comparable to the grief suffered after the death of a family member, society doesn’t offer a grieving pet owner much sympathy or compassion. Consequently, pet owners often feel isolated in their grief, and are without the support they so desperately need.
When a person dies, friends and relatives show their support by attending the funeral or memorial service. Even in weeks following the funeral, people usually continue to provide comfort to the bereaved person in a number of different ways. Usually when a pet dies there is no funeral, no memorial service; often friends and family members don’t understand the depth of the loss that is felt.
Stages of Grief
The emotions that you may experience after the death of a pet often go through various stages, such as denial, anger, depression, and finally, acceptance. Don’t be surprised at the overwhelming grief that you feel; when you love profoundly, you will mourn profoundly. The intensity and length of the grieving process depends on many factors, but a lack of support prolongs your feelings of anguish. You may want to seek the help of a counselor or a pet loss support group, which are often sponsored by local Humane Societies and/or veterinarians. As time passes, your pain will subside as you focus more on the good times and wonderful memories of your pet, and not on the death. Even though the grief and pain may be intense right now, don’t rule out someday having another pet. A new pet could never replace your dearly loved companion, but will fulfill your need to nurture and care for a pet -- once again providing you with that treasured unconditional love.
Helping Children Cope with the Death of a Pet
Although children tend to grieve for shorter periods of time, they can be as initially devastated as an adult can by the death of a pet, if not more so. Although each will react differently, some things can prove helpful to a child:
Can Other Family Pets Grieve?
Animals can become very attached to each other when they coexist in the same household, and can display intense symptoms of stress when they are separated. They may become depressed, nervous, or restless, or they may begin having disturbances in their sleeping and eating patterns. They may also wander around, seeking their companion, or they may become more needy and desire undivided attention from you. If your pet displays any of these symptoms, the following guide may be helpful:
Helping the Healing Process
As time passes, healing will occur, but there are several things you can do for yourself in the meantime:
Grief is more than likely the most difficult emotion a person can experience, especially when someone is mourning the death of their precious pet. However, more and more resources are becoming available to help us recognize that feelings of grief are completely natural, and above all, that we are not alone.