The death of a dear companion animal is an agonizing experience. The death of a treasured pet can cause feelings of grief and bereavement.
Losing a pet is unique. Many pets die of old age, illness, or an accident, but some die by euthanasia. This term means you must decide when to put your pet down. This choice may also add to your feelings of sadness. If your pet runs away, there’s no chance of closure or saying goodbye to them. Whatever caused your pet’s death, saying goodbye is never easy.
Eight Reasons Why It’s So Hard to Lose a Cherished Companion Animal
If you’re struggling with losing your cherished pet, it may be helpful to understand why it’s so hard.
1 – Pets bring happiness to people
Something called neurochemistry occurs when you bond with your little animal. A simple exchange between you and your cat or dog triggers the release of happy hormones into your bloodstream. These give you feelings of joy and comfort. The more you interact with your sweet animal, the more bonding occurs and the greater the feelings of happiness.
When your beloved pet dies, this bonding stops. Losing a pet can be devastating for people who rely on their pet as their friend to experience something like a parent-child relationship. Neurochemicals trigger feelings of fear, grief, and sorrow in times like these. The emotional cost of losing your pet is worth considering. Attachments to animals are more substantial if you’ve experienced trauma in the past, and their death is even more devastating.
2 – It’s suddenly quiet in your house
After the death of a pet, your house will suddenly be very quiet. With your pet no longer underfoot, there’ll be no furry friend welcoming you home as you walk in the door from work. Little rituals like belly scratches and nuzzling their fur are over. This new everyday reminder of your animal companion’s death brings a flood of your emotions.
3 – A special bond with your pet
Not everyone has a pet or understands the special bond you can make with a sweet animal. Even well-meaning family or friends may shrug it off after the death of your pet. They might say hurtful things without realizing how thoughtless they’re being. Feelings of grief and sadness are expected, so hang around people who understand your special bond with your pet so you can mourn.
4 – Grief is a moving target
If you try to talk yourself out of emotions, be prepared for grief to hit you out of nowhere. You may say you’re doing okay, but your heart may disagree with your words. It’s easy to assume that losing a pet shouldn’t cause you grief, but it does. Studies show that for some people, grief over a pet’s death is synonymous with a human’s death. Denying your grief can make it worse. Grief over loss is normal, and it’s okay to say you feel sad about losing your cat or dog.
5 – You were your dog’s caregiver
When you bring home a pet, you take on a parental role for the animal. You provide food, water, and exercise. When they’re sick, you take them to the vets. You arrange a dog friend for them to play with once in a while. Being a caregiver to an animal creates a sweet bond between you. This makes the animal’s death even harder as you relinquish your role.
6 – Your dog was a companion animal–but also your best friend
Dogs are wonderful companion animals. They keep you company, and you also keep them company. Your dog might lie at your feet in the evening while reading or watching television. Dogs enjoy being around their humans. When your dog dies, there is a void in your life. The buddy that followed you around the house and came when you called them is no longer around. And that takes some time to get used to.
7 – Will your pet go to heaven?
Many say that after their pet’s death, they had questions about heaven and their pet’s afterlife. Many people have opinions about this. It may not be the best time to ask people’s views when grieving. You need to come to terms with your pet’s death first. You can discuss your spiritual questions with your pastor or priest. They can help answer your questions and pray for you.
8 – Grieving a pet is unique to you
In our society, there isn’t a set way to grieve a pet with a formal ceremony. There are cards you can buy to send to someone who lost a pet. You may find a pet cemetery. If your pet is cremated, you can find a particular spot to scatter their ashes. It’s up to you how you want to celebrate your pet’s life. Remember, your grief will look different from someone else’s grief. So, take one day at a time.
What can you do to cope with the loss of your pet?
Here are some suggestions for coping with your sweet animal’s death. See which one or ones could help you as you walk through the grieving of your pet.
1 – Acknowledge the death
Coming to terms with your pet’s death is key to healing. You may not fully admit your loss for weeks or months. It will happen, and you may feel almost relieved to embrace the harsh reality of your pet being gone. Be patient with yourself. Recognize the depth of your loss of a sweet buddy who laid by your bed as you recovered from a broken foot or used to go on runs with you. Give yourself time and space to grieve.
2 – Move toward the pain
Everything inside of you will want to avoid the pain, pretend it’s not there or ignore it, but the best thing to heal is to move towards the pain of loss. Take time to work through your sad feelings rather than getting busy with projects and other things to pretend that nothing happened. Instead, embrace the pain, and allow your emotions to work out. Talk with someone who understands what you’re going through. Tell them what you miss most about your pet.
3 – Stay active
Of course, don’t sit at home and mull over your sadness. This won’t help you deal with your loss but only make you feel more lonely. Stay active and focus on your daily life. Stay engaged with your personal and professional responsibilities. Take care of your health. Get out with your friends. Visit your family. It’s helpful to avoid what triggers your grief for a few months. Things like dog parks, pet food aisle at the grocery, or pet shows on television might be unhelpful to you until you’re feeling better.
4 – Cherish the memories
One of the best things about having a pet is the great memories you create together. Cherish these memories. At first, they’ll be painful to think about. But with time, these little stories will be sweet to you—even the bad memories like when your silly dog grabbed the pizza off the counter. If you have pictures of your dog, you can look at these with an understanding friend or family member and reminisce about your dear pet’s life and the blessing they were to you.
5 – Adjust your self-identity
Did you know that part of your self-identity may come from owning a pet? Many people go through an identity crisis when their pet dies. If you’re the person who walks the yellow lab around the dog park every morning and talks to your neighbors, it will be a change when you don’t have your canine. You may need to walk in a different neighborhood or find a neighbor to walk with. Whatever it is, you have a new identity without your pet, which is part of the grieving process.
6 – Look for meaning
When your pet dies, you’ll have more time on your hands. Because you’re not a pet caregiver, finding things to do to fill your time is helpful. Perhaps you’d like to volunteer at an animal shelter or tutor kids after school. Looking for meaning after losing your pet will get you on the road to working through your grief. You can also find meaning in helping animals shelters by
- Donating money to needy animals
- Donating bedding, toys, or food
- Help walk dogs or play with the cats
- Donate office supplies
- Donate cat litter
- Donate cleaning supplies
- Repost or share the social media site of the shelter
7 – Find grief support groups
You might find a grief support group that deals with the loss of pets. Your local animal shelter or ASPCA can direct you to one of these groups’ information. It’s helpful to talk to others who are going through what you are. You can not only find healing but provide healing for those around you who are also grieving the loss of a dear animal companion.
Final thoughts on Losing a Cherished Pet
If you’ve lost a pet, ask for help from others. You’re going through a lot. Even though you may find it difficult to admit it. You are grieving the loss of a sweet animal companion. Your friends and loved ones want to be there for you. Don’t suffer alone. Find a good friend to talk with about how you’re doing with the death of your dog or cat. Let them walk with you through your loss. It’s better than walking through it alone.