The death of a pet can be an incredibly sad and emotionally draining experience. Most of us have a deep emotional bond with our dogs, cats, birds, rabbits and the other creatures we share our homes with, and the pain cuts deep when they pass away.
When your pet first passes away, it can feel like the pain will never end. From shock to guilt, sadness to anger, you are likely to experience a whole range of emotions. While some people might not understand why you are so upset, most people have also lost a pet in the past, and most of your friends, family, and colleagues will be very kind and understanding.
Remember to be kind and gentle with yourself, and don’t rush the grieving process. Read ahead for more information and advice on how to deal with the death of a pet.
Why Can The Loss Of A Pet Be So Painful?
Our pets are often the only relationships in our lives that are purely based on love and unconditional acceptance, with no judgement, anger, or ‘emotional baggage’ attached. A dog, cat or other furry/feathered friend is a member of the family, providing you with seemingly endless amounts of love and companionship.
For some of us, our pet is our only companion, keeping us social and helping us to get out of the house. For others, our pets provide much needed emotional and/or physical support. They are always there to greet you when you arrive home, and sit with you at the end of a long day. Losing this reliable and constant friend can be a profound and incredibly painful experience.
Whether you have had your pet for a few years or a few decades, you will feel their loss. The ways that your own grief will manifest will likely depend on your personality, your age, how long you have had your pet, your pet’s age and medical issues, and if you have other pets in the home. For some people, it is easier to accept the death of a pet when it is of an advanced age, while for others this makes the loss even more painful. Just remember – everyone is different.
What Can You Expect When Your Pet Passes?
When your pet first passes, it is normal to experience a sense of shock and disbelief. You might even have a hard time believing that your pet is truly gone.
Everyone undergoes grief in his or her own way, so your own grieving process will be an intensely personal experience. Some common emotions that people report experiencing include depression, denial, anger, and guilt. You might feel anger directed at your veterinarian, and blame them for not doing enough to save your canine or feline companion. It is very natural to place blame on yourself, and to even feel guilty for not being able to save your sweet friend.
You might find that your own grief comes in a series of stages. It might also come in waves, or as a series of highs and lows. You might start feeling ‘better’ one day, only to be extremely sad or angry the next. Try not to be too hard on yourself – this is normal, and you will soon be able to think about your beloved pet with fondness and love rather than sadness and pain. Even years from now, a sight, smell, or song might trigger a strong memory of your pet, causing a twinge of grief.
How To Prepare Yourself For The Loss Of Your Pet?
It is not always possible to prepare for the loss of your pet. If your pet dies in an accident, or has a rapidly advancing terminal illness, you may not have any time to prepare yourself. However, if you do have any warning in advance, consider the following:
Accept Your Pet’s Fate
Coming to terms with your pet’s diagnosis might be one of the hardest things you have ever had to do. After all, we all want our pets to live happy, healthy, and long lives and to pass away peacefully of old age. Consider getting a second opinion from a different vet. If the diagnosis is clear, you need to dig deep and focus on your pet’s needs in order to do right by them and prevent them from suffering.
Talk To The Vet
The most important step is to talk to your vet and take their advice. They can tell you if your pet is experiencing any pain, and make recommendations on the next steps. If your pet is terminally ill but not feeling any pain, your vet might advise that it is ok to take them home for weeks/months, or even years. However, if they state that they believe it is time to administer euthanasia, it is vital that you follow their advice. This can be very emotionally painful, but you can say goodbye and ensure that your pet passes away peacefully.
Make Sure You Have Memorabilia
Maybe you have hundreds of photos of your pet’s younger days, but have a look to ensure that you have photos of them as they look now. The white on their muzzle and the wizened expression is how you know and love them today, and you will want to be able to look back on all stages of their life.
Once your pet has passed away, you can request to have their ashes returned to you. Some people like to display their pet’s ashes in an urn, while other prefer to have their pet’s ashes embedded in pet memorial jewellery. This allows you to take them with you wherever you go.
How To Help Yourself Cope With The Loss Of A Pet
Everyone goes through pet bereavement in his or her own way, and so it is important to remember that your grief is normal. As listed above, you might feel angry, sad, guilty, or even depressed, but you are not alone. Even if no one else in your life is going through this with you, you can always find support on Facebook groups and other online forums.
While some people will feel much better within a few weeks or months, others will be in the grieving process for years. Don’t try to escape or avoid your feelings, as this can make the pain and depression more acute. Some people find a lot of comfort in rituals and services, so don’t hesitate to hold a funeral for your pet if this would help you and provide closure.
Some of your friends or colleagues might not be able to understand the level of grief you are going through, but don’t let anyone make you feel ashamed for your reaction. If you are having a hard time moving on after a few months or a year, you could consider speaking with a counsellor or therapist to help you healthily manage your emotions. Just always be patient and kind with yourself, and take comfort in your memories.
Many people enjoy keeping mementoes and keepsakes of their pets in visible places to remind them of the good times. This can include photos, a favoured toy, pet memorial jewellery, or placing their ashes on display.
How To Explain The Death Of A Pet To a Child?
The death of a pet is likely to be one of your child’s profound losses. If this is their first experience of death or dying, it is a chance to model healthy grieving practices and coping mechanisms. While you should keep them from seeing anything too upsetting, it is important not to hide the loss from them.
This is likely to be acutely painful for your child, so make sure that they know they are allowed to feel angry, sad, or confused. Their initial reaction may even be to blame you, which can add to your own grief. Just remember that this is a trying time for everyone, and to be kind and gentle. Explaining pet death to a child is never easy, but it is very important.
Resist the urge to lie to your child by telling them that your dog or cat ‘went to live elsewhere’ or ‘ran away.’ While you might be trying to protect your child from the harshness of death, it can make them feel even more frightened and confused. Make sure that you answer their inevitable questions as honestly and openly as you can, and allow them to say goodbye (if possible) in advance, which can provide much-needed closure.
Do not be surprised if your child begins to express worry or doubt about other loved ones dying or leaving them. Death is confusing and upsetting for all of us, and their minds are grappling with this new experience. Reassure them that you are not going anywhere, and reiterate that they did not do anything to cause this death. Reading books and watching short videos are also good ways to help them cope with their emotions.
Losing a pet can be one of the hardest things to go through, and some people claim it is even more painful than losing a friend or family member. Remember that grief takes time and that you are not alone.