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Coping with the Loss of a Pet

Losing a pet is one of the most challenging things many of us experience in our lives. As best friends, companions, and family members, our pets walk into our lives and leave an imprint on our hearts that we carry with us for many years.

Like any other form of grief, the loss of a pet can stir up a storm of emotions – sadness, anger, guilt, and even depression. Although these emotions may be difficult to explain to those around us, it’s important to give ourselves permission to grieve in whatever way feels right.

While many people don’t always understand the depth of emotion involved in losing a pet, you should never feel ashamed of, or guilty for your grief. Keep reading to find out what makes losing a pet so painful and how you can manage these challenging times with a few effective coping strategies.

Why Does Pet Loss Hurt So Much?

There is something unique about the human-animal bond that causes many of us to consider our own pet to be as important to us as any other family member. When we lose a pet, we are not simply losing an animal – we are also losing our best friend, our source of unconditional love, our go-to cuddle buddy, and our emotional support system.

Caring for a pet is a full-time job. From the moment we wake up to the time we go to sleep, we need to schedule daily exercise, remember to feed and groom them, and plan pet care for when taking a holiday. No matter if you’ve lost your dog, cat, rabbit, hamster, snake, or any other special friend, the loss of a pet creates a void in our lives that can’t easily be replaced.

Oftentimes, the pain of pet loss can be triggered by certain memories, conversations, or simply seeing another pet pass by outside.

How to Cope with the Loss of a Pet

Like all forms of loss, the pain that comes with losing a pet can manifest in many different ways. Here are five tips to help you grieve your loss and work through these challenging times in a way that feels right for you.

1.   Allow yourself to feel

One of the most important steps in any grieving journey is to open yourself up to feeling the loss. Allow yourself to experience the raw emotions: anger, sadness, guilt, or frustration. 

Avoiding our emotions can lead to isolation from those around us and can take a considerable toll on our physical and mental health. Experiencing the pain and anguish that comes with losing a pet is an important first step to moving forward. Ultimately, it can “free up” our emotional energy that is bound to our pet.

Here are some helpful ways to work through your emotions:

  • Crying alone
  • Venting to a friend or family member
  • Writing in a journal
  • Meditation
  • Attending therapy

2.   Practice self-compassion

Grieving can take a toll on our mind, body, and spirit. Practicing self-compassion is a proven way to help moderate the amount of suffering we experience with grief.

When we are self-compassionate, we can experience our grief (along with all its pain and difficult emotions) without resorting to blame, criticism or self-judgement. Instead, it gives us the opportunity to relate to our grief with kindness, empathy, and an open heart.

Some beneficial ways to cultivate self-compassion while you grieve or coping with the loss of a pet include:

  • Practicing forgiveness rather than feeling guilty for having mixed emotions
  • Allowing ourselves to accept uncertain or difficult situations for what they are
  • Prioritizing our own health and well-being (i.e. engaging in a self-care routine)
  • Finding ways to express gratitude for our situation, no matter how painful or difficult it may be at the time

3.   Find a way to memorialize your pet

Finding ways to honour our pet can help bring us a sense of closure to our grieving journey. When the time feels right, you may choose to honour the love you have for your pet by memorializing them.

Memorizing them can take many different forms. While many people choose to find a resting place for their pet, others prefer to create a photo journal or customized piece of jewelry. Sometimes pet owners will even get a tattoo in memory of their lost pet. No matter how you choose to memorialize them, you’ll always have fond memories to look back on. This will allow you to feel connected to your pet in some way.

4.   Don’t let anyone tell you how to feel

When it comes to coping with the loss of a pet, it’s important to always remember that grief is your own personal journey.

Recognize that people around you may not realize the pain you’re experiencing, and with that, they may be dismissive of it. Avoid allowing others’ opinions to make you feel judged or embarrassed for feeling any sort of way. The strong connection that you have with your pet is one that no one else can understand.

One of the best ways to begin accepting your feelings as they come is by spending quality time with people who care for your well-being. Surrounding yourself with positive and supportive people makes grieving more manageable.

5.   Speak to a therapist about your loss

 It’s fair to say that grieving is a challenging process that not many of us are familiar with. For this reason, therapy can be a beneficial coping strategy to help us process our grief and the loss of a pet.

Grief counselling is designed to help individuals cope with a loss of any kind. Using a range of methods, counsellors help us work through our emotions throughout the various stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance).

Grief counselling helps to:

  • Treat symptoms of trauma
  • Explore the emotions associated with your loss
  • Help guide you towards expressing emotions
  • Address any feelings of guilt surrounding the loss
  • Help you come to terms with this new reality

We are Available to Support You

Living with the pain of unresolved loss can be incredibly difficult and can impact your mental health and well-being. At On Your Mind Counselling, we don’t believe anyone should have to work through these challenging times alone.

Our team has a selection of counsellors who not only specialize in grief and counselling, but who have experience supporting those who are coping with the loss of a pet. Book with us today.

Written by Laura Anderson BA, MA, MSW, RSW

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