It's OK to Grieve When a Pet Dies
The loss of a pet should never be minimized. Whether the pet was a favorite feline, a faithful dog or even a little turtle, pet loss can spark deep feelings of grief in the people who care for the cherished creature. Even young children experience grief when a pet has died and may act out their sadness. Furthermore, everyone experiences pet loss differently, so there’s no reason to expect specific behaviors from yourself or others.
You may have heard of the five stages of grief: denial; anger; guilt; depression; and acceptance. Being aware of these emotional shifts can help you manage your emotions. You may feel that you are coping fairly well when an empty dog bowl or cat toy creates a rush of grief. This is normal — and you shouldn’t expect otherwise.
Coping with the Death of a Pet
There are many things you can do to help heal the pain of losing a pet. Although everyone may have a different approach to healing here are some ideas that may be helpful:
- Share your feelings with others who understand.
- Plan a pet funeral or memorial service.
- Pay attention to your own feelings of loss and be good to yourself.
- Visit the pet’s resting place.
- Use photos to create a memorial in your home.
- Plant a tree or bush in the yard to commemorate your pet.
- Make a donation to an organization that helps animals.
Over time, the pain fades and it’s important to remember that, although some may diminish the significance of losing a pet, thousands of animal lovers have experienced the death of a favorite friend and understand what you or a family member is feeling. Plus, there are many resources to help work through this tragic event.
When a Friend Grieves the Loss of a Pet
Pet loss affects everyone differently and the most important thing you can do is listen. For many people, a pet is just as important as a human loved one and feelings of grief — whether for a parrot or a poodle — should be respected. It’s best to:
- Give your friend time to recover from their loss. Don’t expect them to resume a normal routine right away.
- Avoid comparing your experiences with pet loss or sharing current stories about your pets.
- Expect tears as a part of grief. Comfort a friend and don’t minimize the pain.
- Listen! Don’t try to change the subject or distract your friend from memories of their pet.
- Check in with a regular phone call to boost his or her spirits.
- Send a card or other acknowledgement.
It can be helpful to simply ask your friend how he or she would like you to help.
Acquiring a New Pet after a Pet Dies
Some people find it helpful to quickly replace their animal. Others prefer to wait or never get another animal at all. Either way, the decision is up to you and your family. You may consider volunteering in an animal shelter to help you decide if you’re ready to take on another pet. No one should feel disloyal to the memory of their pet for wanting another one. And, just as acquiring your pet was a family decision, so should be replacing your pet.