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How to deal with the loss of a pet

Losing a pet can be a very painful, heartbreaking experience. It is natural to experience all the stages of grief after you had to say goodbye to a beloved animal, but that doesn’t make it any easier. Many of us share an extremely close bond with our furry companions, and they are far more than “just a dog” or “just a cat” (or whatever species your beloved non-human friend may be).

Pets offer us fun and companionship but, in reality, they give us so much more than that. Pets add structure to our lives, they give us a sense of purpose and responsibility. They get us out in nature and keep us active and social. With their unconditional love and affection, they often add a sense of meaning and purpose to our lives. When they get old and sick – or when it is time for them to depart this life – it can be devastating.

Dealing with grief after losing a pet

While everyone responds differently to loss, the level of grief after losing a pet is likely to correspond to how significant your animal companion was in your life. If your pet was your only companion, it is likely that you will feel the loss more profoundly. 

If you were unable to afford expensive veterinary treatment, or a medical condition was only picked up in its late stages, you are likely to experience some feelings of guilt. If your pet was a service animal, you will likely also mourn the loss of your independence and much emotional support.

The grief after losing a beloved pet can be intense. Allow yourself to really feel all your emotions, especially the painful ones. Remember that grief is part of the healing process and that it is a highly personal experience. Some people may grieve for weeks, others for months or years. 

It takes as long as it takes, so remember to be patient with yourself while you process your loss and adjust to life without your animal friend. Try not to bottle up feelings of heartbreak, sadness and grief, but rather express your emotions during this important time freely. Doing so will shorten your period of grief.

Here are some tips for coping with the loss of a beloved pet:

  • Let it all out. Your emotions are bound to be very raw just after losing a pet. Allow yourself to fully express all your feelings, and cry as much as you need to.
  • Talk about it. One of the best things you can do, is to talk about your feelings with someone who understands how important your pet was to you.
  • Work through the guilt. Feelings of guilt after losing a beloved companion are normal. Try to fully process these feelings and remind yourself that you did the very best that you could for your pet.
  • Give it time. Grief is a process; accept that it will take time for your heart to heal. Grief comes in waves, so expect some days to be harder than others.
  • Cherish the memories. Consider having a memorial ceremony to remember your pet for the unique soul he or she was. You can plant a tree or erect some other type of memorial to always remind you of your beloved companion.

You will know when you have fully processed your feelings of loss and heartbreak, and when the time is right to open your heart to another animal friend. When you do, please consider adopting from an animal shelter and rescue an animal in need of a loving home.

Here is a video of a sweet poem about the meaning a dog (or any beloved pet, really) can add to your life:

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Written by Riana Wiechers

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