Coping with Loss: Coping with the loss of a pet
Coping with the loss of a pet can be extremely difficult. When someone you love dies – be it a
parent, spouse, sibling, neighbour, friend or whomever – you go through a grieving process. The
relationship with the person does not change the loss. So, it stands to reason that the loss of a
beloved pet, no matter what type, will cause grief and sadness too – just like the loss of a human
loved one would.
Whenever we lose something or someone that we love, we naturally feel hurt and loss. It’s
human nature and losing a pet is no exception to this. In fact, some people have closer bonds
with their pets than they do with other humans. There are numerous examples where people
have refused to go into homeless shelters because they could not take their pet. They would
rather choose to brave the weather by sleeping outside because of the love they feel for their
pet. Many people share a special bond with their pet so it’s completely normal to grieve their
loss. Not only is it logical, it simply must happen in order for you to process your feelings.
Let’s look at some ways of coping with the loss of a pet that can help the healing process.
Ways of Coping with the Loss of a Pet
The first step in coping with the loss of a pet is to simply acknowledge that you loved them. It
may be hard for some people to say this and express those feelings of trust and connection to
an animal. But the emotions are real and must be acknowledged when grief is felt. The hurt and
loss are a sign that this pet was something or someone that you loved, so own that.
Another way of coping with the loss of a pet is to know that this feeling of sadness is ok. It is a
normal and natural part of the grieving process. You loved something and now it is gone so let
the grief happen. Don’t attempt to fight it because it was ‘just’ a pet. You need to hurt and be
sad in order for this to eventually heal so allow yourself the space to do that. It’s ok to do this
for a pet, and honestly, it would be a lot more troubling if you did not grieve the loss of
something you loved.
Your job is to grieve right now, so let the memories come. You may have happy, funny, or sad
memories of the times you shared with your companion, so let yourself experience them. In
fact, it can help to share them with people that you trust. Processing emotions often involves
retelling stories and remembering the things you experienced together with your pet so allow
yourself to do this. It is a way of healing.
When coping with the loss of a pet, it can be helpful to create a memorial of some kind. People
will do many different things with their pet’s remains. It may be helpful for you to create a
special spot for them – this way you can go to it once in a while and visit them. It might be a
favourite place where they can be buried or a special container to put their ashes in if you have
them cremated. Some people decorate a container with their pictures as a personal memorial
to the friend they lost.
Lastly, it’s important to lean into the grief and let it happen, but also know when to give
yourself a break. Sometimes you have to actually make yourself stop thinking about something
and choose to focus on another task, just so you can have a break from the strength of the
emotions you are feeling. This is ok. Everyone needs a break and when overwhelmed with such
strong negative emotions like sadness and loss, you need to know when to let yourself rest.
Choose a task that you can lose yourself in, like a movie, gardening, yoga, reading, art, or
something that just takes your mind away for a little while. Then go back into the grief when
you are ready. This is a process and does not have to be done in any particular time period.
Coping with the Loss of a Pet – Help is Available
One last point to remember when coping with the loss of a pet. Help is always available if you
want it. While grief does not have a time period or a grading scale, you should know that if at
any point you feel like this is too much to handle, or it has been going on longer than a few
months, you should consider seeking help. Grief can be a complicated process and a person can
sometimes get stuck in it. They may need some help to free themselves. If this feels familiar
then don’t be afraid to seek the help you need, whenever you feel that you need it.
Pets are loved ones, just like any other member of the family. Losing them is no different than
losing a parent, grandparent, sibling, or anyone else that you love. Remember this so you can
give yourself permission to grieve the loss you’ve experienced. Give yourself time to heal but
take breaks from grieving when you need to, so it does not overwhelm you. Finally, seek help if
you feel you need to. So often in counselling, people only come in when things have gotten so
overwhelming that their lives are unmanageable.
Don’t wait for that to happen – your pet would not want that for you.