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.
Why do we feel upset about the loss of a pet?
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:
- 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.
- We connect with them: No matter whether they're a hamster or a dog, animals really do understand and communicate with us.
- 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
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
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
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
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
Laying your pet to rest in some way can be a really good way of processing their death.
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.
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
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
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
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.
- 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?
9. Seek professional help
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.