After receiving the news of a death, most of us call others, plan to deliver food for the bereaved, purchase a sympathy gift, offer to help, and do our best to comfort those grieving. But what if the deceased is a pet and the bereaved is a friend, family member, or work colleague?
- Grieving the loss of a pet means mourning several losses at once.
- Guilt complicates pet loss grief as most pets meet their end at the decision of their owner.
- Studies show social support is crucial to grief recovery, yet many find death scary to talk about.
- Taking steps to show others how to assist with pet loss grief recovery is essential.
- Even in death, pets provide comfort, courage and strength until happiness returns.
- (New Pet Loss Grief Gift Sets now available.)
Talk to people who have lost a much-loved pet, and they’ll tell you the heartache was worse than losing a human relative. Yet, needing time out to grieve the death of a pet can raise a critical eyebrow. Many view mourning a pet’s death as emotional weakness or an overreaction. However, nothing could be further from the truth.
Research shows many dog owners derive more satisfaction from their adored canine friend than their human counterparts. The reason? Dogs give love and positive feedback unconditionally—unlike human beings.
When we are grieving the loss of a beloved pet, we are actually mourning several losses at the same time.
What psychologists say about pet loss grief
Psychologist Julie Axelrod writes in her Grieving the Loss of a Pet blog, ‘When we are grieving the loss of a beloved pet, we are actually mourning several losses at the same time.’
Often, the death of a beloved pet means the loss of:
- Unconditional love: Pets provide positive emotional feedback.
- Purpose: Having a pet is much like being a parent. Pet care creates rewarding routines.
- Friendship: Pets accept their owners without judgement. Plus, pets often play the role of a friend, child or significant other.
- Soul mate: For some, pets are the only social companion in the world.
The role vets play
Veterinarians understand the strong bond that forms between an owner and his or her pet. For that reason, vets don’t recommend euthanasia lightly. All options, risks, outcomes and costs are explored before the recommendation is made. But ultimately, the decision to end a pet’s life rests with its owner.
Guilt resulting from euthanasing a much-loved dog or cherished cat often compounds grief. Feelings of devastation and heartbreak are nothing to be ashamed of. Continuing to ask, “Did I make the right decision?” even after the fact, is a common reaction.
Studies have found social support is critical when mourning the loss of a pet. Yet talking about death—even pet death—is scary for many people. Consequently, those grieving often find themselves feeling isolated and alone. Should this happen, one strategy is to involve others in your pet loss recovery.
Healthy pet loss grief recovery actions include:
- Finding an empathetic friend: Talk about pet death to someone who understands. Or ask a vet for local pet loss and bereavement groups.
- Generating an Insta story: Find adorable pet photos and create an Instagram story to share with family and friends. Seeing what your pet meant to you will do wonders to help others understand your loss.
- Creating a ritual: Plan an upbeat pet service at your local dog beach or park. Invite family and friends to help you remember the love your pet brought into everyone’s life.
- Gifting possessions gradually: Consider gifting your pet’s toys, bedding and bowls to an animal shelter, but only when you feel the time is right.
- Making a pet memorial: Place a token portion of your pet’s ashes in a beautiful piece of pet urn jewellery or plant a tree in their honour.
Perhaps the most healing of all is to ask, “What would my pet do if she or he could see my tears and feel my heartache?” Did those thoughts raise a smile or give comfort? Recalling happy pet memories releases the love pets leave behind in their owner’s heart.
Happy memories can heal pet loss grief
Even after death, the memory of a pet can offer comfort, courage and strength until happiness returns. And nothing makes departed pets wag their tails, purr loudly, fluff their feathers, twitch their scales or shake their mane more than seeing their owners smiling again.