Grieving A Pet: 9 Steps To Get You Through It

The 9 stages of grief after losing a pet

Whatever your personal experience, the loss of a companion can be really difficult to come to terms with. 

We don't always grieve just because a pet has died, it can also be a result of parting or separation. Even a missing or stolen pet can bring on feelings of grief.

Today we're sharing a step by step guide to help you come to terms with the loss of your furry friend.

Why do we feel upset about the loss of a pet?

old dog
They're our best friends. ©Schwoaze

 There's more to grieving the loss of a pet than you might first think. Not only do we feel the loss in the same way we would the loss of a family member or friend, but our grief is intensified by the following factors: 

  1. They're companions: Pets are with us all the time and often for a very long time! Their absence is felt so much more when they pass.
  2. We connect with them: No matter whether they're a hamster or a dog, animals really do understand and communicate with us. 
  3. They change our day to day life: Before you owned a pet, your life would have been different. Once an animal passes, you no longer have to feed them, walk them or care for them in any capacity. It'll be very strange to suddenly lose all of your daily routines.  

How to cope with the loss 

1. Give yourself all the time you need 

crying
Don't feel embarrassed. ©Counselling

Remind yourself of the above reasons as to why we are affected so deeply by the loss of an animal. 

Remember that others might not understand the connection that you had with your pet. Just because the standard for the loss of a pet is 1 day off work, don't rush the process of grieving. 

2. Talk about it

talk to someone
Speak to someone who is more likely to understand. ©GiselaFotografie

You might not want to open up about your loss straight away, but try to speak to at least one person about how you feel.

It'll help if that person knew how close you were with your pet or if they have been through a similar experience. 

3. Watch out for your other pets

cat
Could they be missing them too?

Chances are, you probably have other pets that need you. Put all of your efforts into looking after them to help you heal. 

Did you know that animals can experience grief too? Look out for signs that they may be missing their companion. They might change behaviours such as how much they eat, how active they are and the areas they frequent. 

4. Communicate with children

child with dog toy
Be open and honest. ©Pezibear

Do you have children who might have been affected by the death of the family pet? Be sure to check up on them. 

Depending on their age and the circumstances of the animal's death, try to tell children the truth about what has happened to their pet. They will find out eventually, and keeping secrets will only make it harder for them to get over the loss. 

Their initial reactions might be painful, but they'll develop important life skills from going through a difficult time and processing their feelings. 

5. Lay to rest

death of dog
There are a few different options. ©Engin_Akyurt

Laying your pet to rest in some way can be a really good way of processing their death. 

Burial

Most people will opt for a burial in their back garden. You could place a special plant in the spot you lay them so that it's easy to find again. The problem with a home burial is that if you need to move house, you can't easily take their remains with you.

A burial in a pet cemetery is a great idea if you want to be able to visit the spot but not have their passing be a constant reminder on your property.

Cremation

If you want to stay close to your pet forever, you could opt for cremation and keep them in an urn. You can even get really discrete photo frame urns or have their ashes set into beautiful glassware, so guests wouldn't be any the wiser. 

Alternatively, you could scatter their ashes on their favourite dog walking route. That way, you can still walk the route knowing they're there. 

6. More ways to remember

pet scrapbook
A great way to keep yourself busy! ©ArtsyBee

Hopefully, you'll have a small collection of photos to remember your pet by. Why not print some of the pictures out and either frame them or make a scrapbook?

You could put together a small box of treasures for things like their collar, clippings of their fur and paw prints.

It might sound like a bit of a throwaway gesture, but more and more people are turning to social media to help with their grief. Write your own tribute post for your pet with pictures and videos. It'll allow you time to reflect and will also show others that you are going through a hard time. 

7. Clearing your home

pet toy
Time to say goodbye to Mr Frog.  ©Tomasz_Mikolajczyk

It can be really hard to let go of things like pet beds, cages and toys once your pet has passed. You could hold onto them for sentimental reasons, but they'll clutter your space and probably won't make you feel any better.

Ask yourself if you'll be likely to have any more pets in the near future. If yes, box up their belongings and put them out of the way until the time comes so they can be used again.

If no, consider whether they could be donated to a vet, an animal shelter or a friend. 

8. Room to love again 

girl with pet bunny
Make sure you're ready. ©emilytrue

When is it time to get a new pet? You shouldn't rush into getting a new pet or let anyone pressure you to make a decision one way or the other.

You should: 

  • Feel excited about getting a new pet.
  • Avoid trying to replicate the last - avoid using the same names and going for an identical fur colour, breed or sex. 
  • Include your family in the decision - everyone should feel ready for it. 

If you don't think you're ready to make that kind of commitment again, why not volunteer at a shelter or lend your dog walking services to people in the local area?

If you're looking to get a dog, be sure to check out our essential guide to getting a puppy - it's a great help!

9. Seek professional help

phone call
Try calling a helpline for support. ©nastya_gepp

If you've been through all of these steps and you're still hurting more than you think you should be, it's time to seek professional advice in the form of therapy or counselling. 

The Blue Cross offers a brilliant pet loss and bereavement support service. You have the option to call, email or submit an anonymous form with the promise of a response within 48 hours. 

Have you been through grieving a pet? Let us know how you got through it in the comments below.
Author

Joanne A

Editor

Expert in finding beautiful solutions for small and rented spaces. Would happily spend the rest of my life shopping for homewares and watching Disney movies - I only wish I had Cinderella's army of mice to help me clean!

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