Pet Loss: How to Deal with the Loss of a Pet
Pet Loss Support, Pet Loss at Home
The loss of a pet can be one of the most devastating events in a pet parent’s life. Pet loss, and recovering after the loss of a pet, can be very difficult. Grieving the loss of a pet alone can even be so traumatic for people trying to figure out how to cope with the loss of a pet. Pet loss is such a part of our lives that there are even pet loss support groups and veterinarians who specialize in hospice care and pet grieving.
I’ve been a pet lover and owner my entire life, but I know that when it’s Dexter The Dog‘s time to go, I am going to be beyond devastated. Dexter is what dog folks refer to as my ‘heart dog.’ This is a dog who holds a special place in the heart of their guardian like no other dog has in the past. Obviously, all my pets have been special and loved, but there’s just this indescribable connection and bond that Dexter and I have. I thought it would be best to discuss the loss of a pet before I ever have to deal with losing Dexter.
Today, I will try to offer a few suggestions and ideas to help you cope with the loss of a pet. The first question that came to my mind is, what is ‘normal’ when grieving for the loss of a pet? I spoke with Dr. Monica Turenne, owner of Four Paws Veterinary Wellness in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Dr. Turenne specializes in hospice and in-home pet euthanasia. Dr. Turenne said, “The most important thing to understand about grief is that it is normal but it is far from typical. There is no ‘usual’ way a person should grieve or does grieve. Some people may cry, be angry, or show no emotion at all. Interestingly enough, the 5 Stages of Grief that so many know about are no longer considered to be helpful because of the very reason that grief is dynamic and fluid – it is not a step by step procedure.”
Hearing Dr. Turenne say that some people show no emotion at all makes me feel a bit better about myself. I’ve always been a person who seems to hold my emotions in. I’ve even had people say I was cold and had no emotions. But that is far from the truth. I’m very emotional, but do tend to keep everything inside. I’ve often felt numb during times of grief. My emotions escape my control only in the comfort and safety of privacy.
Patti Floyd, a certified euthanasia technician and owner of Sweetly Made Pet Behavior and Adoption Counseling, added, “Normal is subjective. Not everyone moves through the different stages at the same time, or in the same order. What a lot of people don’t expect is the “odd” reasons for grief to pop back up: seeing a similar animal or finding an old photo. Some aren’t ready for the intensity of the grief and may even chastise themselves with “it was just a dog.” I’ve seen everything from the stoic pat on the head type of good bye, to people throwing themselves on the floor wailing. Each person was normal in their own right.”
With so many raw emotions during pet loss, how are we to know what is normal grief and when we may need to seek help from professionals? How long should we expect to grieve over the loss of a pet and when should we expect to get back to our everyday lives without the immense pain and sorrow? Dr. Turenne had this to offer, “There is no timetable. But most will gradually return to a ‘new normal,’ learning how to relate to the deceased pet in a new way, cope with the pet’s physical absence, and heal even with the scar on their heart and soul. And during this time, resume their normal routines and activities.”
Dr. Turenne went on to explain, “Pet parents are often startled by the strength of the emotions they feel after losing their beloved pet. They expect they will feel the sadness but not often do they expect the depth of the sadness. I often counsel pet parents after a euthanasia or after their pet has died to be patient with themselves, as too often pet parents feel they need to somehow rush through the grief process and it should be all wrapped up in a week.”
She went on to explain that not everyone is able to cope with their pet’s passing. “For other people, grief can become ‘complicated’ – here their responses to the pet’s death do not dissipate over time and they are not able to adapt to a new normal. This inability to cope impairs their ability to resume their normal routines and activities. ‘Normal grief’ and ‘complicated grief’ features can look similar…but the difference, however, is that with “complicated grief” the emotions can also have signs of hopelessness, low self-esteem, problems accepting the pet’s death, self-destructive behaviors, and even suicidal thoughts. Seeking the help of a mental health professional for grief support can be helpful for any pet parent experiencing any type of grief – ‘normal grief’ and certainly for ‘complicated grief.’”
Patti Floyd suggests having a family conversation when bringing a new pet home to discuss end of life care. This is when people are not emotionally charged and can think through the process and plan. “Even if there isn’t a specific, written plan, knowing how your family feels and what is most important to them will help the process.”
As hard as it is to cope with pet loss, it’s important to remember the joy and love pets bring to our lives and the lives of our family members. Even science shows us that pets decrease stress and blood pressure. But we don’t need science to show us how much our pets bring to our lives. All we have to do is look into their eyes as they allow us to see deep into their souls, while they see into ours.
How have you coped with the loss of your pet? Tell me in the comments.
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44 thoughts on “Loss of a Pet: Grieving the Loss of a Pet: Understanding Pet Grief”
I really support therapy, emotional support, etc., for pet loss – you are losing a family member and grief is very real. One friend described it this way: a dog is the ‘child’ you will welcome in to this world and allow to pass while you are still alive. When you think about it that way – it’s completely comprehensible that the grief of this type of loss is critical. Good post and I’ll share it with my readers.
Thanks, Rebecca. I know I feel that my pets are family and I’m their mom. They rely on my for everything and in return, mean the world to me. I will likely need therapy when Dexter’s body leaves this earth. Thank, you.
Losing a pet is a very traumatic event. It’s important to grieve, but not get swallowed up in it. Finding ways to honour the memory help cope.
Thanks, Hindy. Sometimes grief is very difficult. Memorial article later. 🙂
I firmly believe that there is no “right” or “wrong” way to grieve and everyone has their own schedule, pace, and way to handle (or not) it. It’s such a personal, difficult time.
Thanks, Nichole. I agree.
Mommy has lost a few pets in her lifetime, and it was devastating each time. She still thinks about them. We hope your article helps many people.
Thank you Lola. Hugs to your Mommy. I hope this helps too.
It has always helped me get over a loss by adopting another pet. I’ve waited as long as several months and as little as a few days to do that. A new pet helps fill the void in my heart and the hole in our family and keeps me motivated to move on. Everyone needs to grieve at their own pace and in their own way. Knowing I gave my pet love, time, and the best care quality of life I could brings me comfort.
Thank you DeEtte. After my last dog’s passing, I decided to get a puppy about 2 weeks after. We had to wait almost 12 weeks and it was nice to think about the upcoming puppy.
Everyone grieves in his/her own way and there’s no right or wrong. No right or wrong for the surviving pets, either.
Thank you Amy. Very true.
Thank you for opening up and sharing so much about your own emotions, and pet loss. Dexter is precious and I hope you NEVER have to let him go. I have lost FOUR pets this past year. Plus two human family members. It was a rough past year for sure. I often find those who tend to hold in emotions are those who bond most closely with animals. You are my kind of human!
Thank you Joely for your kind words. That makes me feel better. I am so sorry for your loss this year. What a rough one. 🙁
This is a very important topic to cover thank you. I’ve only experienced grief over the loss of numerous cats, but Dolly and Taffy are my first dogs. I remember when I waited at the vet with my cat Danny, my first, and heart cat, at the vet to be PTS my husband was crying and I told him to knock it off. To my chagrin, a man came up to me while I held Danny and said you should never be ashamed of showing emotion over losing a pet. Boy did I feel like an idiot. But he was right.
Thanks for sharing. What a very enlightened man.
The loss of a pet is devastating. I have gone to loss support groups and have also gone to counseling to help cope with loss. I also try to be as supportive of friends who are dealing with pet loss.
That is so amazing that you offer your support for friends and others in need.
As I said on Instagram, this is an excellent post and, yes, we would definitely love to have a pdf to give to our clients. Losing a pet is so hard, it’s just like losing a child! And some clients leave so distraught that we worry about them weeks after their pet is gone.
Thank you, Kandace. I will get one made and emailed to you soon. <3
I have lost many pets in my life but there are two that were extra special, Pichevkes my lil cat that was born in my closet who passed away very suddenly at the age of 8 and Baby who was with me during my Domestic Violence Relationship and ran with me from it, she was my trooper and an amazing little girl, the first to be accepted into a Domestic Violence Shelter. She was 6 years old and passed from IMHA. It was hard dealing with them passing, but was blessed to have the most amazing friends around me especially with Baby, they even organized a memorial event for her in her favorite dog park. I still tear up when talking about them and my biggest fear is losing Layla who I rescues 3 months after Baby passed. I look back and say that without them I am not sure where I would be today
Wow. Thanks, Ruth for sharing. I am so glad your pet brought you such help in a time of need.
I’ve had several pets in my life, but none devastated me more than the loss of Sweet Praline. She was almost 16 years old when she died from cancer and she was with me through a divorce, getting a Ph.D. losing a job, and surviving numerous surgeries. I don’t think you ever get over that loss, but the pain gets better. Thankfully, Truffle and Brulee have helped to heal that hole in my heart.
Thank you for sharing your Sweet Praline. <3
This really struck me hard as we just had to say good buy to our senior dog Sheba last week. I still am having trouble talking about it.
I am so sorry for your recent loss. RIP Sheba.
There’s a grief support group here and art therapy workshops. It’s nice that there’s options for people.
That’s wonderful. We have some here as well. I’m not sure I would be able to join these types, just not sure.
We lost our dog, Pip, in October 2013. I see grief as a process and it comes and goes and I still experience it. I definitely remember and cherish all the incredible times we had together – sometimes those memories make me happy and other times very sad. I have accepted that this is just how it is going to be. I will always miss him and that’s OK.
Thank you for sharing Pip. <3
I’ve been lucky enough to have loved many great dogs in my life. Unfortunately, that means I’ve had to say goodbye to some of them. I grieve differently for them as I’ve aged and also the circumstances of their deaths. One had to be euthanized as she was suffering from issues due to old age, it was much less devastating than the one who died because of a groomer’s neglect. I think it is important to take as much time as you need and to get a dog when you are ready. After our elderly dog passed on, we waited four years because we were busy raising babies and toddlers. I couldn’t bear the empty house after the sudden death of my Keeshond and found another dog within 3 weeks.
Thanks Beth for sharing. I am so sorry to hear a tragic neglect story. 🙁
If I bottled things up I know I would suffer some kind of serious meltdown that would do me permanent harm.
I was very upset when Dash was killed and it has taken time but I am recovering, largely due to the immense love and support of pet loving friends round the world. No one who would say “it’s just a dog” or “it’s just a cat” would remain a friend of mine for long and I have no patience with those who cannot cope with the grief of others; making glib statements of such staggering insensitivity.
Sometimes when a pet passes fate intervenes as it did when Peanut (19.5) died. We would not replace her we decided – but fate dealt us a hand barely a week later when a cry for help from a friend brought 14 year old Dusty to our door. He is with us now, a little old joy and a smile with him and at him every day.
Thanks for commenting. “just a cat” would be an unbearable phrase to hear.
When that dreadful day comes, I will probably seek therapy.
<3 Me too.
You are so sweet Tonya..different ways of showing or handling emotion does not equal cold. I can go either way when it comes to emotion. Inward or outward, depending on the circumstance. I know I’d have to be dragged out of the vet office if something happens but I hope I get to make the decision in the privacy of my home. I know when that dismal time comes, I’m going to completely disengage socially. It’s going to be like losing a part of my body. Deeply personal and really tough to just ‘go back to normal activities’. How can you when your pups are a part of your normal every day..your best buds? I’ve lost dogs before but these two…UGH! I honestly feel like I’d have to move somewhere different to avoid the constant memories. It’s so sad reading about other people’s losses and most of the time I rush past because I don’t want to go there. It’s why I try and be so proactive now in doing everything I can to give my babies their best and longest life..but hopefully never for selfish reasons. 🙁
Thanks, Barbara for your genuine comment. I don’t even know what will happen when it’s Dexter’s time. I anticipate a long haul of dumbness. Giving them the best life is not selfish! <3 LIVE!
Sophie Doodle was my ❤️?. Ironically she died of a broken heart in January 2017. She had a hemangiosarcoma in her heart. I had trained her to be a Therapy Dog and as a team we did many visits over the years. I am a retired RN . I still cry over her loss. It was about 10:30 PM when I left High Point clinic after putting her to sleep. It was so foggy. There were a 1/2 dozen deer in the parking lot that gracefully ran off . I have always believed it was Sophie telling me she was ok.
<3 Thank you for sharing.
Tonya, I’m so sorry you had to say goodbye to Nutter. He was such a sweet boy.
It’s been 2 months since we said goodbye to Kiefer, and I still cry every day. He was my heart dog, just as Dexter is yours. I had no idea it would hurt this badly. My heart still aches every day. I have not been able to bring myself to put anything of his away. Everything is just as it was when he was here. I know he isn’t coming back, but I can’t give myself permission to launder and pack up his belongings. I would feel as though I was erasing the little bits of him that remain …..his scent and little bits of his sweet fuzzy fur. Some people probably think I’m crazy, but this is the way I have to cope with things right now. I need lots of constant reminders of him around me.
There is really no closure when you have to say goodbye to your pet. You return home from the vet’s office without your pet, and then it’s up to you to figure out how to move forward. It’s tough, but I try my best to focus on all the happy moments we had with our sweet Kiefer. Give Dexter hugs from me, please. I pray you have many more good years with him.
<3 Thank you, Valerie. I still can't believe Kiefer is gone. I feel so lucky to have met him. He was such a special boy.
I haven’t get over at the death of my beloved bella, she died 3 months ago. i have cremated her at pet cremation houston tx as i want to keep her remains at home, but after few months. It was merely fine now and somehow i moved on and i’ve decided to bury her urn in a pet cemetery.
I am so sorry for your loss. <3
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