Coping with the Death of a Pet

Losing a pet is one of life's most difficult challenges. As a member of our family and often our closest friend, it is not uncommon to experience a period of grief following the death of a pet, much like you would if you lost a person in your life.

Stephanie Minturn · August 13, 2018

"Our pets lead us from patience to love and then to loss... but it is always a journey worth taking."- Author Anonymous 

Losing a pet is one of life's most difficult challenges. As a member of our family and often our closest friend, it is not uncommon to experience a period of grief following the death of a pet, much like you would if you lost a person in your life. One important fact to remember during any grieving process, is that grief is individualized and unique to each person. It does not have boundaries, such as a time limit or a specific way you "should" feel. Acknowledging that the connection between a person and a pet is a genuine connection and results in real emotions when the relationship ends. Understanding that it is perfectly acceptable to grieve the loss of your pet, is the first step to healing. 

The 5 stages of grieving were identified by Elisabeth Kubler Ross, a Swiss-American Psychiatrist in 1969 to help people understand and cope with the stages of grieving after a loss. These stages don't necessarily occur in this order and some stages may even be skipped all together. The 5 stages of grief are a great way to comprehend what occurs emotionally and to realize that these feelings are not uncommon or estranged.

The Five Stages of Grieving include...

  • Denial and Isolation - A common defense mechanism that humans use when a traumatic event has taken place. This is the brain’s way of slowly processing the initial pain of the situation.
  • Anger - This stage often involves unsettling emotions while a person is processing the pain of a loss. Placing blame is common in this stage. This could include blaming Vets, family members, caretakers of your pet, certain aspects of the pet's medications, activity level and other factors. Accusations may be irrational but this stage and these types of feelings are considered normal factors in the grieving process. Accepting these as natural feelings will help you move forward to the other stages.
  • Bargaining - This stage suggests feelings of guilt and vulnerability. During these times you may feel like you could have done something to change the outcome. "If only we had tried this medication" or "maybe if we had taken him to this Vet or that clinic, this would have ended up much differently." It is difficult to see clarity or rationalize the situation.
  • Depression - This stage usually occurs when you are no longer experiencing the first three stages in full intensity but rather, feeling a general sadness. Depression can range from mild to severe and it is important to talk to others about your feelings and seek support during this time. This is especially important for Seniors. Many times a senior has experienced the loss of their spouse and losing a pet can make grieving more difficult.
  • Acceptance - This is often the last stage of grief. Everyone reaches this stage at different times. During this stage, you essentially make peace with the situation. This doesn't mean that you're "over it" or that you don't care anymore. It simply means that you have come to accept what is.
By understanding that it is appropriate and acceptable to grieve the loss of a pet at your own pace and in your own way, you are welcoming the beginning of the healing process. Listed below are ideas and resources to help you cope and manage your emotions in a healthy way. It is essential to your mental health and wellbeing to be aware of your feelings.

When grieving the loss of a pet:

  • Give yourself permission to talk to others and express your pain. Do NOT listen to negative comments such as "it's only a dog, it's not like it was a person" or "I lost my cat and I wasn't that upset". Remember that everyone grieves in their own way. Choose to be around people who support and understand what you’re going through.
  • Create something or do something in memory of your pet. This act often brings comfort to the heart of a pet parent. Making a keepsake, photo album, writing a poem or stories about your pet in a journal are just a few ways to help you cherish memories for years to come.
  • Don't get another pet until you are ready. If you do feel ready soon after the passing of your beloved pet, don't feel guilty for allowing your heart to open up to another pet. Getting another pet doesn't mean that you didn't care about the pet you recently lost. It means that you understand and appreciate the love and comfort a beloved pet can bring. Sometimes a new pet can help you cope with your grief.
  • Here is a link to several resources pertaining to the loss of a pet. There are plenty of articles, websites and support groups available. Don't be afraid to reach out. There are others out there who know what you're going through and could use your support as well.

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Stephanie Minturn

Stephanie Minturn

Stephanie is a Registered Nurse and proud mother of 4 who has always loved animals and the purity and beauty they bring into the world. She enjoys researching current trends and evidence-based practice in the pet industry and relating it to the healthcare industry for humans. She has passion in discovering new-found knowledge with other pet owners like herself.

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