Pet Loss Grief
The sadness we feel when a beloved pet dies is natural. It is part of the pain that comes with losing someone we love. But pet loss is often made more painful because others do not understand how deep the attachment to a pet can be. Pets are members of your immediate family. The task in grieving is to honor your deep loss.
Your remaining pets grieve, too, when one of their companions dies. Learn the common signs of animal grief and ways to comfort your grieving pet.
We who choose to surround ourselves with lives even more temporary than our own, live within a fragile circle, easily and often breached. Unable to accept its awful gaps, we still would live no other way.
The Fragile Circle of Life
The simple joy that companion animals bring to our lives is priceless. Our pets cheer us, comfort us, delight us, sustain us and love us without condition. Our family of pets is a fragile circle of life. Dogs and cats live a dozen years or so. Horses average two decades, maybe a little more. Smaller animals may grace our lives for a year or less. We will outlive our companion animals and their deaths will break our hearts. If we continue to live with pets, we will experience this grief many times.
The sadness we feel when a beloved pet dies is natural. It is part of the pain that comes with losing someone we love. But pet loss is often made more painful because others do not understand how deep the attachment to a pet can be. We hear, "Well, he was just a dog," or "You can always get another cat." Based on the writings of Kenneth J. Doka, the death of a pet is one type of disenfranchised grief, deeply felt by the griever but minimized or negated by others. What these insensitive people fail to understand is that we had a strong and loving relationship with our beloved friend.
Pets Are Members of the Immediate Family
The opinion of others is not important during this difficult time. We alone know how devoted our animal friend was. No matter what our mood or appearance, our pet was always there for us: always forgiving, always loyal, always loving. No wonder the pain of loss is so great. We have lost a member of our immediate family.
Your Deep Loss
If you start to question how deeply you are grieving the death of your pet, please remember these words below. They come from On Grief and Grieving by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler and appear on page 30:
When you compare losses, someone else’s may seem greater or lesser than your own, but all losses are painful...Losses are very personal and comparisons never apply. No loss counts more than another. It is your loss that counts for you. It is your loss that affects you.
Your loss is deep and deserves your personal attention without comparison. You are the only one who can survey the magnitude of your loss. No one will ever know the meaning of what was shared, the deepness of the void that shadows your future. You alone know your loss...
...Your task in your own mourning and grieving is to fully recognize your own loss, to see it as only you can. In paying the respect and taking the time it deserves, you bring integrity to the deep loss that is yours.
The Cause of Death Can Add to the Heartache
The circumstances of the death can also add to our heartache. If our beloved companion dies without warning, as with accident or sudden onset illness, we can berate ourselves, or become angry for our carelessness: How did this happen? What symptoms did I miss? What could I have done to prevent it?
When Pets Are Reminders of Other Losses
Sometimes we are caring for a pet because a family member has died and the animal is left without a home. Not only does the pet become a friend over time, but the bond represents a living, loving connection to our deceased loved one. When this cherished companion dies, we may experience a grief burst: sorrow intensifies as we grieve again for our other losses.
No Right or Wrong Way to Grieve a Pet’s Death
Grief is an expression of our love for the dear one who has died and none of us experiences the death of a beloved pet in the same way. There is no right or wrong way to grieve. Whatever helps you cope, whatever eases your pain, whatever brings you peace—these are the right ways to express your sorrow.
Grief Is Messy
No one can tell us how long or in what manner we should grieve, but it is common to experience strong feelings such as shock, denial, anger, regret and, of course, sadness. The emotions of grief are difficult to bear, but they are all part of the natural reaction to loss. As most of us discover, we do not experience grief in a neat, step-by-step way. Our emotions are all over the place because grief is messy.
Consider, too, that each member of your family had a different relationship with the departed pet. Each member will have a different reaction to the loss. The important thing is that you all accept your feelings for what they are and find ways to express them.
The Most Agonizing Decision
One of the most agonizing decisions we will ever make is authorizing euthanasia. Even if the pet has suffered a long time, we may doubt ourselves afterward: Was it the right thing to do? When you find yourself questioning your actions, it is important to recall the circumstances that led up to the decision.
Ending the life of a suffering animal is the loving, compassionate, unselfish thing to do. It is the final act of caring. Your friend closed his eyes for the last time knowing that his trust in you was well placed. He was always safest in your care. In the end, you loved him enough to set him free.
Pets Grieve, too
If you have other pets, you may find that they are also grieving. Signs of companion animal grief include listlessness, a refusal to eat or drink, yowling, whimpering, over-grooming, frequent meowing, or wandering from room to room. You will most help your surviving pet grieve by showing him extra attention and care during this painful time.
Consult your veterinarian if your pet displays any of these symptoms because they can indicate a medical condition that needs attention. Once illness is ruled out, most animal experts believe that it can take up to six months for the symptoms of your pet's grief to disappear. If your pet goes outdoors, it is wise to restrict unsupervised access to the outside for a while because your pet may wander off in search of his lost friend.
Pet Loss Grief
What to do when your life has been turned upside-down with grief
How to Help Your Grieving Pets
Pet Grieving: How Pets Mourn the Loss of a Companion by Gary Le Mon
Pet Loss Grief and the Holidays