The grief you’re likely to feel after the loss of a pet can often be overwhelming. After all, your dog or cat was probably a huge part of your life for a decade or more. There was once a deep bond, but now there is emptiness and you feel alone without your pet. Grief recovery is a process that can take longer than you might expect, so give yourself plenty of time to process your feelings.
Several different emotions factor into the grieving process. One of the most common is depression – those lingering feelings of sadness that naturally come with a loss of any type.
In some circumstances, you may also feel guilty, wondering if you did everything possible for your pet, or finding yourself playing the game of “If only I had…” Pet owners who make a difficult decision to euthanize may also be plagued by guilt. Especially in the case of terminally ill pets, it’s important to remember that you made every decision with your pet’s best interests in mind and that there’s no reason to beat yourself up over the outcomes.
Depending on how your pet died, you may also feel anger – say, if you feel a careless driver was at fault, or if you feel your vet didn’t do everything possible in the event of injury or illness.
Experts in bereavement agree that it’s important to express yourself, no matter what you’re feeling, rather than trying to keep your emotions bottled up inside. If the animal you lost was a family pet, the whole family can support and listen to each other, while single people may have to turn to outside family and friends for a sympathetic ear.
It’s also true that friends who aren’t pet lovers may not understand the impact the loss of a pet has had on you, and are not willing to listen empathetically. If this is the case, you may be able to find a pet support group in your area – call your vet or the local humane society for a recommendation.
Dogster’s Saying Goodbye: Memorials & Support forum is an amazingly supportive place to share your loss with others who understand exactly what you are going through. It’s often ranked as one of the most valuable forums in our community.
Remember that other pets in your household may also be grieving. It’s not uncommon for dogs or cats that were raised together to react to the loss of a companion with listless behavior and loss of appetite. You can support them with love and extra attention.
For children, the loss of a pet is often their first experience with death. Being supportive to them means explaining the event in a way that is appropriate for their ages and that fits into your family’s spiritual and religious beliefs. Children under six often don’t understand that death is permanent, while older children may be so curious about the process that they ask questions that seem morbid. No matter what age, let your kids be part of any rituals or activities you plan to celebrate your pet’s life or memorialize its passing.
If your pet died at home or if you had a cat or dog put to sleep by your vet, you may be disconcerted by the process of deciding what to do with the remains. Deceased pets can often by handled by veterinary offices for a fee. Home burial is perhaps the most popular option, giving you the comfort of laying your pet to rest in his own yard or garden. Be aware, however, that in most cities, ordinances discourage or prohibit pet burial, even though it’s unlikely these ordinances will be enforced.
If you rent, or if you move around a lot, home burial may not be an option you’re comfortable with. You can check your local Yellow Pages for a pet cemetery or pet cremation facility. Or, go to The Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement and then click on your state to find a listing of all such services in your area. You can also shop online or locally for a decorative urn to hold your pet’s ashes, or a custom head stone to mark its resting place.
Often pet lovers have to deal with the question of when to adopt another pet. Some may feel ready to do it right away, while others may feel the need to wait weeks, months, or even a year. In general, any time frame is okay, as long as you’re sure you’re adopting a new pet in an effort to move forward, rather than looking backward and trying to replace the pet that you lost.