Losing a pet can be equivalent to losing a close friend. The loss of a pet, after sharing your home with them for a significant amount of time, can be a profoundly sad and emotional time. To you, your pet was not “just a dog” or “just a cat”, but a companion and friend. We are still dealing with the death of our 14-year-old Jack Russell Terrier, Skip. We adopted Skip when our son was in first grade – our son will be 20 this year. Needless to say, we loved Skip, annoying habits and all.
Normal Feelings of the Grieving Process
We can go through many emotions when dealing with a pet’s death. All of the following can be normal when coping with your loss:
The grieving process is a very individual experience. You may encounter all of the above feelings or just some. It is important to give yourself the time needed to move through all of your stages of grief.
Guilt can be a particularly difficult reaction to have when your pet dies, especially if euthanasia is involved. We often feel bad for not being able to do more for our pet, even if this is the most humane option. Even when euthanasia is not necessary, we tend to be overly critical of our caring for our pet – we beat ourselves up over not spending more time with our furry friend, or that we occasionally became annoyed when our pet misbehaved. In times such as this, try to remember the love and quality of life you gave to your furbaby. One day you will remember your times together with less sadness and guilt, and more with fondness and even laughter.
Managing Your Grief
Here are some possible ways that may help you to deal with your bereavement:
- your feelings are your own – don’t let anyone tell you how you should feel
- hold a memorial service or funeral for your pet that includes your family members
- creating a memorial for your pet – a photo book, memory box, etc.
- seek solace and consolation from others who have experienced the loss of a pet
- continue daily routines with surviving pets – they grieve as well and can sense your distress – this will benefit them as well as you
- be sure to care for your own well-being – eat right, get enough sleep, and exercise
- seek professional help if needed
Should you get another pet?
The decision to get another pet is also a very personal one. Knowing when, if at all, to open your heart and home to another loving companion will take time. Take the time you need to mourn your beloved pet before adopting another furry friend. You will know when you are ready. A new pet can never replace your old companion, however, we are fortunate that our hearts have unlimited capacity on how many we can love. There are some that feel they can never suffer the loss of a cherished pet again. It is a fact of life that humans more often outlive their pets. For myself, I know that I will always have a dog sharing my home. I believe it is better to have experienced the unique friendship, companionship, and love than to never have had that blessing in my life.
Death and loss, unfortunately, are elements of life. The sorrow we feel with the loss of a pet is often difficult. This experience, like any in life, can be lessons in appreciating our time here on earth and making the most of the adventure. Being able to share it with a furry friend by our side is a privilege.