One of the saddest aspects of pet ownership is coming to terms with the death of a beloved pet. Our pets are part of the family and as such, it’s only natural that we mourn and grieve their loss.
What to expect emotionally
While some (mostly those who don’t own a pet themselves) scoff at the idea of mourning a pet, it’s actually a perfectly normal and natural response. The stages of grief for those who have lost a pet are in fact very similar to those who have lost a family member or loved one.
While the length of the mourning and grieving process is individual to each circumstance, the following emotions and stages are quite common:
Stage one: Denial – Typically, this stage lasts the shortest and occurs when the owner hasn’t yet accepted, or come to terms, with the loss.
Stage two: Anger – In the next stage, many pet owners channel their anger towards a third party for the loss of their pet.
Stage three: Guilt – There will always be the ‘what if’ component of any loss and it’s normal for a pet owner to feel guilt over what they could have done, even if there were no other options.
Stage four: Depression – The final stage of grieving is typically personified by a deep sadness that permeates the pet owner’s life and reduces their motivation.
Thankfully though, there are coping mechanisms that you can put in place to help deal with the death of a pet, the first of which is to allow yourself to grieve. Whatever you are feeling, acknowledge the emotion and let it run its course. The following, lists some coping mechanisms you can try:
• Where possible, speak to friends, family and loved ones about your loss.
• Prepare a tribute to celebrate the life of your pet. This could be a scrapbook, a letter or a poem to your pet.
• Make a difference to the lives of other pets and either volunteer your time at an animal rescue organization or donate money on behalf of your pet.
• Seek the support of professionals, whether that is your own family therapist or an organization like The Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement. The American Veterinary Medical Association also has pet loss support hotlines available for your use.
• If the sight of your pet’s belongings upsets you, you can put them away during your mourning period or donate them to charity.
• You can organize a memorial or funeral for your pet. This is one of the more practical aspects to consider. Whether you choose to create a burial in your backyard, or plant a tree in your pet’s honor, the final resting place of your pet is a special and important decision.
• If you have other pets, understand that they may experience grief too, even if it’s just in response to your own.
• Do not bring a new pet into your life until you feel completely ready. You must be emotionally up to the demands of a new pet and able to dedicate yourself to their upbringing.
• If you have children in your family, be honest and open about your pet’s death and support your children through their grief.
And finally, be kind to yourself. This is a difficult and emotional event in any pet owners life. Ensure that you take care of yourself and give yourself the time and the space to move on.
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