A Long Road: Coping With Pet Loss
Nothing can ever prepare you for the loss of a pet, no matter how expected. From making hard decisions about end of life care, to coping with loss, to dealing with grief in the days, weeks, and months to come, the loss of a pet is no small thing.
Many pet owners don’t realize the scope of the loss they will feel when losing their faithful four legged friends. The loss of a pet can be just as difficult as the loss of a human family member or friend. And it can be very healing to grieve for as long as you need, and to memorialize your pet in some way.
Here are some considerations for coping with pet loss.
Feel Your Pain
It’s important to allow yourself time to feel the pain of losing your pet, and to grieve fully. This is different for each person, but take the time you need. According to the Argus Institute for Families and Veterinary Medicine at Colorado State University, trying to circumvent feelings of grief can actually prolong the grief process.
Coping With Pet Loss
Talk about it – Find people you can talk to about your pet. This can be a friend, family member, or counselor. There are also hotlines at many veterinary schools for grief support. The important thing is that the person listening offers no judgement and is willing to listen to all your thoughts.
Address feelings of guilt – If you’ve made the decision for euthanasia, you may be harboring feelings of guilt. It’s important to recognize and name these feelings. As veterinary professionals, we see euthanasia as a gift we can give animals to spare them from the end stages of the dying process, which are often painful and full of suffering.
Celebrate your pet’s life – A ceremony for your pet doesn’t have to involve caterers and formality. You can share stories, remembrances, and pictures with family and friends who knew your pet and who support you in coping with pet loss.
Help children with remembrance – If you have children, help them process their grief, too. Let them freely express their feelings for as long as they need to, without rushing or telling them to “get over it”. Children can benefit from a physical way to remember their pet, such as drawing a picture, lighting a candle for their pet, or releasing a balloon into the sky for their pet.
Put any worries to rest – If you have lingering questions about how your pet died, make an appointment with your veterinarian to discuss. Having your concerns resolved can help you move forward without any questions or doubts.
Take your time – Grief is processed in many different ways, and so give yourself the time you need for coping with pet loss. Whatever memories of your pet are still present in your home – their bed, their toys, or their muddy footprints – don’t feel rushed to put things away or “get over it” any faster than you can.
Memorialize your pet – There are many ways to memorialize your pet. Whether through lighting a candle, writing a memory, planting a tree, or making a donation in their name, sometimes taking action can help us feel better.
No matter how you are coping with pet loss, remember that grief is an active process and that you don’t have to ignore or try to avoid it. If you would like more resources, or have questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out to your friends at New Haven Pet Hospital.