How to cope with the loss of your pet
Our pets are often a part of our family and as a result, their death can be quite distressing and an emotionally tough situation to deal with. Unfortunately, our pets age faster and don’t live as long as humans, which means many pet owners will face many deaths of family pets over the period of their lives – and it not something that necessarily gets easier each time.
Grief from the loss of a pet is normal. Many owners will develop of strong emotional bond with their animal which is one of the great aspects of owning a pet, but makes their loss that much tougher. For many people their animal friend has been their most significant other in their lives for many years. This is particularly common with children, as they may not have experienced such a loss previously and may find it hard to cope with. Talk to your children about their feelings and encourage them to remember your pet in a way that highlights all the great times they spent with them and the joy they brought to their lives.
At times grief from the loss of a pet can feel isolating, sometimes others (especially non-pet owners) don’t understand the depth of love and affection you have for your companion and don’t appreciate the level of grief you might feel at their loss. However, rest assured that many people will be going through the same grief and it is normal.
It is normal, to feel sad, empty, isolated and experience emotional pain. Many animal companions bring unconditional love, comfort, tolerance, respect, joy and meaning to our lives. The empty space left where once there was a rowdy bark and big lick, or a soft meow or the touch of a furry tail, or the loud happy chirpy greeting when the cage is uncovered can be hard to endure. Grief is a natural process that takes time – it is necessary for emotional healing, and never formally finishes
Grieving needs to go through four tasks in order to recover and resume activities normally. These include:
- Accept the reality of the death.
- Fully experience the pain of grief.
- Adjust to the new environment without the deceased.
- Reinvest emotional energy back into normal life activities.
A pet owner describes her feelings after losing her dog:
“It’s been 11 long, gut-wrenching, tear-jerking, heart-breaking days since I said goodbye to my sweet boy. I’m not OK. He wasn’t just a dog to me! He was my baby boy, my confidante, my protector, my goof ball… my reason to smile when I didn’t want to. I don’t know when I’m going to be OK again. Everyone, including my husband, thinks I should just be OK. I can’t! I miss him! I put on my happy face and go to work and do normal things, but at the end of the day I have to come home and he’s not here. I know we made the right decision to help him cross the bridge, but it still hurts. His pain is over… for that I’m so grateful. Mine began when he left us.”
Your veterinarian understands how hard the death of a family pet can be and can help you get through this time. Euthanasia opens new dimensions to the subject of loss and grief. It is often a difficult decision to make, but is one made in the best interest of your pet. Anticipation of euthanising a pet or coming to terms with a terminal illness or prognosis can result in a level of grief not dissimilar to losing your pet. This is something you can discuss with your veterinarian for advice and guidance on how to cope through the process. When dealing with your pets remains after their passing, veterinarians will also be able to discuss and arrange various options such as pet cremation,
Sometimes dealing with grief can be too hard to deal with alone. Seeking counselling with a therapist who understands pet loss and people’s feelings of grief and loss helps many pet owners through this hard time. Counsellors can provide a secure and compassionate environment in which you have the opportunity to share and express your emotions and what this loss means to you.
Search for a pet loss counsellor in your area, or contact Beyond Blue or Lifeline available 24 hours a day if you cannot find a specialised counsellor.
Grief is different for everyone and there is no one way to grieve. People and circumstances vary enormously and so does the passage of grief. Although it can be a very tough process to go through, the benefits and emotional enrichment owning a pet provides us, allows many people to own and enjoy multiple pets throughout our lives.