Pet Bereavement: How To Cope With Pet Loss

There are few experiences in life more devastating than the loss of a pet.

Whether it was an unexpected shock or something that you had time to prepare for, you’ve still lost someone tremendously special in your life. Naturally, you will need a good deal of time to grieve.

In the weeks and months following the event, the painful emotions you will go through can range from anger to severe depression, and you may well suffer detrimental effects to your mental and physical health.

But while you might feel embarrassed by such feelings, it’s important to remember this pain is completely normal, and a testament to the phenomenal bond shared between you and your pet.

Although others may fail to understand what you’re going through, there’s nothing confusing about losing a loved one, and there is no correct way for someone to grieve.

We understand your grief, and while we can’t promise to make things any easier, we can offer our advice and guidance on how to best deal with the situation.

Ill cat lying down

How to cope with the loss of a pet

The death of a loved one is the toughest experience you can go through in life, and so coping with the pain of losing a pet can at times feel unbearable.

But while it may at first feel like something you’ll never truly get over, it’s important to remember that even the most profound grief can become easier to live with through time. It never goes away but becomes part of normal life.

Managing grief is something that poses a real challenge, and your emotions will likely be unpredictable. However, there are a few things you can do to help you through the grieving process.

Talk to someone

On the road to acceptance, the best thing you can do for yourself is to talk to others.

At this time, friends and family members will be rallying around you to show support and so opening up to them can be a useful exercise. This is because it allows you to talk about your feelings in a trusting and caring environment without worrying about being emotional.

You’ll often find that they have lost a pet of their own at some point and so finding out about how they handled the event can be useful for you going forward.Woman being comforted by therapist

If you’re finding things particularly hard, you may want to consider reaching out beyond your own personal support network. This could be in the form of a support group or an online forum or a message board.

It doesn’t really matter who it is, talking about your situation will help lift the weight off your shoulders.

Express your emotions

You should never feel embarrassed or ashamed about showing your emotions when it comes to the death of a pet, even if well after the event.

It’s cathartic to shed tears and it’s your body’s way of releasing stress.

Repressing such emotions means they’re less likely to go away and so coming to terms with your pet’s passing could take years if you bottle it all up.

Even if it feels like you’ve been grieving for a long time, you shouldn’t worry, no one can tell you at what point you should get over it, and in some cases, you never really will.

However, it will get easier!

You may always miss your pet but you will likely learn to accept their passing in time, making remembering your pet a fond or melancholic experience rather than an outright upsetting one.

Crying old woman

Take care of yourself

The most important thing you can do for yourself at a time of grieving is to make sure you are looking after both your physical and mental health.

When wrapped up in a state of depression it can be incredibly easy to forget to eat and suffer from insomnia, which only makes your situation worse.

This combined with the added stress your body is under will likely see you lose energy and emotional wellbeing very quickly.

Try to maintain a healthy diet and sleep where possible, and even consider exercise to try and alleviate stress hormones.

If you feel that managing your personal health is becoming too difficult, it may be wise to seek professional help from a GP, vet or therapist.

Helping children understand pet grief

Dealing with the bereavement of a pet can become particularly hard when you have children.

Depending on a child’s age, the loss of their close friend may be their first real experience of death, and so explaining why a pet is no longer around can often be a difficult subject for parents.

However, it’s important not to be dishonest with them.

sad girl lays head on parent's lap

Parents will often try to lessen the severity of grief by using choice phrases such as the pet has ‘gone to sleep’ or ‘gone to live somewhere else’. You might assume these explanations are less upsetting, but they tend to just merely cause confusion. Not only do they suggest the pet is not truly gone, but that they could also return.

This causes a sadness all of its own, as your child will then likely start pondering why their pet has mysteriously left them, and perhaps even why they don’t want to come back.

Pet bereavement is painful enough without your children thinking their pet no longer loves them.

While it can be upsetting to tell them the truth, honesty is likely to help them come to terms with the loss far more quickly.

Grieving process

While people react to the passing of a pet in all sorts of ways, most will roughly follow the five stages of grief as stated in the Kubler-Ross model. There is no real timeline to this grieving process, and so some of these stages can last much longer than others.

But by understanding them and identifying them when they happen, you can help reassure yourself that grief is not a permanent state and that you are in fact slowly learning to live without your pet at your own pace.

sad woman

Stage 1: Denial

Denial is common when your pet first passes away, and it can be difficult to even accept their death as a reality. You will likely be in pure disbelief and may even still expect them to come running around the corner as you cling onto a preferable reality.

Stage 2: Anger

It’s at this point where grieving starts to become truly difficult. As you come to terms with what’s happened, frustration and anger build, and you may begin to blame yourself and others for the death of your pet. It’s really important to talk to people and open up at this stage, as bottling things up tend to lead to frustrated outbursts.

Stage 3: Guilt & bargaining

At this stage, you may start to ask a lot of ‘what ifs’.

These are often quandaries about the care your pet received before death and whether there was anything that could have been done to prevent their passing. This often leads to blaming yourself, especially if you made the difficult decision of having your pet put to sleep.

This questioning of what happened is a form of bargaining, and yet another way of the human psyche avoiding true grief. We barter with a fictional universe in which we change our courses of action and our pet survives, but ultimately it’s just another way of avoiding your reality.

Try not to be so hard on yourself during this stage. No pet can live forever, and it’s highly likely that you did everything in your power to give them the best life possible while they were alive.

Stage 4: Depression

This is the worst part of the grieving process. Here you will finally embrace the realisation that your pet is gone, and naturally, it’s going to be very painful. You will likely feel empty, hopeless and of course, consumed by grief. This part of the process can often seem the longest and you may find yourself withdrawing from your everyday life, and failing to take proper care of yourself.

It’s important you have a good support base at this stage and that you attempt to maintain your physical health by eating well and getting plenty of rest, although we realise it will be hard.

Remember that this stage is the most appropriate response to the death of a loved one, and so don’t feel embarrassed or ashamed about being in it. It can take time, but to truly accept such a loss, you need time on your side.

Stage 5: Acceptance

Many people confuse acceptance with suddenly becoming ‘fine’ or ‘O.K’, but of course, this is not the case. A pet’s death is never going to be something you no longer care about, and so the term acceptance merely means to understand the reality of the situation and begin learning to live in a world without your friend in it.

Hopefully, when reaching this stage, you will be able to look back on your pet’s life with fond memories. You will still always miss them, but will likely no longer be completely lost without them by your side.

Moving on from pet loss

For most people, moving on from your pet is about celebrating their life. There are many ways of honouring your pet rather than just thinking of them from time to time, and it may help you to conduct some kind of ceremony as part of your healing.

Traditionally, this would be a sort of memorial or funeral that may involve burying them or the scattering of their ashes. If this is too upsetting, you could alternatively plant a tree or flowers in their memory.

Sad looking dog

Purchasing a memorial stone to place in your garden also gives you a place to reflect and honour your pet’s life. This can be a helpful item, as when you feel sad or miss them you can lay flowers by the stone, or just sit by it and reminisce.

Reliving happy memories with your pet can also help you alleviate your pain, so try and do something which brings those thoughts to the fore, like creating a photo album or getting some special pictures framed for display.

When to get a new pet after pet loss

People can cope in different ways. Some owners can be tempted to get a new pet very quickly after the death of a previous one, but it’s not always a wise decision.

A new ‘replacement’ can cause confusing emotions amongst your family, especially if they are still not completely over the passing of your pet. Getting a new animal while people are still grieving may be unfair on both parties and will surely delay any healing processes still in session.

It’s best to wait until your family misses the feeling of a dog in the house and are excited to start a new chapter with a new pet.

Grief support services for pet loss

We realise that sometimes you can feel very alone after the death of a pet.

You may be in a situation where you have few friends or family to talk to, or they may just simply not understand your pain.

However, there are others that will, and if you really feel you are struggling, don’t be ashamed to contact a support service who will considerately listen to what you’re going through and even offer advice.

We recommend this dedicated support line from the Blue Cross, which can help offer support whether you have recently lost a pet or are preparing to say goodbye.

Pet Bereavement Support Service:
0800 096 6606
Open every day 8.30 am-8.30 pm