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Losing a loved one – when it’s your pet


Unfortunately, the same doesn’t always hold true if the one who died was your beloved pet. Many people consider the grieving process inappropriate for someone who has lost “just a pet.” Nothing could be further from the truth.

I remember crying so hard when I had to have my dog put to sleep two years ago, that I had such a pain in my chest that it truly felt that my heart was breaking.  I was an uncontrollable mess for at least an hour after I’d had the deed done.  I could still cry at times just thinking about him now.  Some people will never understand having those feelings about an animal – but I guess that’s their loss.  I remember being a lot more controlled when I lost my mother, the pain was no different but I felt an obligation to be strong for my other family members.  I’m not sure that it helped my grieving process, but circumstances were different.

There is no getting away from the fact that people love their pets and consider them members of their family. We celebrate our pets’ birthdays, confide in them, and carry pictures of them on our phones. So when a pet dies, it’s not unusual to feel overwhelmed by the intensity of sorrow.

Animals provide companionship, acceptance, emotional support, and unconditional love during the time they share with you. Understanding and accepting this bond between humans and animals takes you to the first step towards coping with pet loss: knowing that it is okay to grieve when your pet dies and ignoring the sideways glances from others who just don’t get it.

The grief process is as individual as the person, lasting days for one person or years for another. The process is just the same as if you were grieving for a human loved one – denial, anger, guilt and then true sadness or grief. Acceptance occurs when you accept the reality of your loss and remember your pet with decreasing sadness.

For children, the loss of a pet may be their first experience with death. The child may blame himself, his parents, or the vet for not saving the pet. And he may feel guilty, depressed, and frightened that others he loves may be taken from him.
Pretending that the pet ran away could cause your child to expect the pet’s return and feel betrayed after discovering the truth. Showing your own grief may reassure your child that sadness is ok and help him work through his own feelings.

Coping with the loss of a pet can be particularly hard for older people. Those who live alone may feel a loss of purpose and an immense emptiness. The pet’s death may also trigger painful memories of other losses and remind people of their own mortality. What’s more, the decision to get another pet is complicated by the possibility that the pet may outlive the owner, and hinges on the person’s physical and financial ability to care for a new pet.

If you have other pets in the house, they may whimper, refuse to eat or drink, and suffer lethargy, especially if they had a close bond with the deceased pet. Even if they were not the best of friends, the changing circumstances and your emotional state may distress them. Give surviving pets lots of TLC, and try to maintain a normal routine. It’s good for them and for you.

Rushing into getting a new pet isn’t fair to you or your new pet. Each animal has his own unique personality and a new animal cannot replace the one you lost. You’ll know when the time is right to adopt a new pet after giving yourself time to grieve, carefully considering the responsibilities of pet ownership, and paying close attention to your feelings. It took me three months to finally decide to rehome two new dogs from a local rescue centre and that was after I had given all of my old dogs’ beds, toys, bowls and leads away – I’ve kept his collar though!

When you’re ready, you will make the right choice for you and your new pet. Memories of your previous pets will always be with you to comfort you as you move through life. And nothing beats the unconditional greeting of a wagging tail or the sound of purring as you walk through your front door – people who don’t have pets just don’t get that moment.


In loving memory of Mitch and Shaquille – two fabulous, loyal, loving creatures that we were lucky enough to have in our lives.


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