Pets are more than just pets. They are part of the family. And losing a pet leaves a gaping hole in the hearts of their owners.
Animals create intense bonds with their owners and offer them unconditional love. They are there to see their owners off in the morning and the first to greet them when they come home. They create structure in life. Daily walks keep the owner active and social in a way only a pet could provide. Many people have stories about how their pets saved their lives, sometimes physically and sometimes mentally. Taking care of an animal brings a sense of purpose to a person’s existence.
So when the pet dies, the grief is immeasurable.
Losing a pet
Often people, particularly non-pet owners, don’t understand the depth of the pain. After all, to them “he was just a dog”. Or they make comments about how short an animal’s lifespan could be, as if there’s no reason to mourn for it. Nevertheless, there should be no guilt or shame for grieving for an animal friend who has brought so much joy and meaning to your life.
Besides, we all react to grief differently, and every pet death circumstance is different. In general, the closer you were to the pet, the more you’ll miss them when they are gone. If a pet was a service or therapy animal, their death ends not just companionship, but emotional support or even independence.
So grieve without guilt. It’s an individual experience and no one will quite know exactly how you feel. Losing a pet can cause you a feeling shock or loneliness – this is normal. Accept the emotions that come; that’s the first step to healing from the loss.
More than “just a pet”
Dogs, in particular, are painful to lose. After all, they are man’s best friend and have helped people overcome physical and mental issues. They are loyal and never fail to make people smile. Losing them is losing a source of love and comfort in life.
Suddenly, there’s no reason to get up early and take a walk. There’s no reason to eat at a certain time because the dog isn’t there to expect his dinner. Routine goes awry and people often struggle to find a new sense of normalcy in this chaos. It might also affect how well they take care of themselves as they grieve.
It’s hard for people to understand such a loss unless they were once in the same situation. They know how big a void a pet’s death could create. Pets teach their owners discipline, responsibility, patience, and love. Losing them can feel as devastating as losing a member of the family.
Here are 6 ways to cope with losing a pet
- Trust your own emotions. There’s no set time for you to “get over it” so don’t allow someone or even yourself to make a timeline for your grief. Don’t be embarrassed to take as much time as you need to process the loss and whatever emotions, positive or negative, that comes with it.
- Find support. Look up hotlines, forums, and support groups to connect with other people grieving a lost pet. This is especially important if you can’t find comfort among your friends and family members. Find someone who could understand you because they’ve been through a similar situation.
- Hold a funeral. Funerals help the loved ones of the deceased get support and come to terms with their loss. The same kind of comfort could be had at the funeral for a pet. While some people might find it silly, ignore them. Do whatever ritual you feel you need.
- Review your memories. Creating mementos like a memorial, photo albums, videos, or planting a tree in their honor, can celebrate the life of your pet. Building their legacy and recalling all of your fond memories could help you move on. Often there’s a fear of forgetting them, but mementos will keep their legacy secure.
- Take care of yourself. Losing a pet is stressful. The grief could drain your social energy. Although you may not feel like it, it’s extremely important to take care of your physical and emotional needs. Spend time with loved ones, eat healthily, get adequate sleep, and get exercise. These things will help boost your spirits and give you energy.
- Get professional help. Although grief is individual to every person, if it goes on for too long and interferes with regular life, it’s advisable to speak to a doctor or therapist. They will evaluate you for depression and give you professional advice on how to cope with your loss.
Although your beloved pet may be gone, think about what they would desire for you. They would want you to continue to have joy and meaning in your life. Let your pets’ memories encourage you in your endeavors. This will keep their spirit alive.
 Ralph Ryback M.D. “Why Losing a Pet Hurts So Much.” Psychology Today. August 22, 2016