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Coping With Losing a Pet

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Author: Dr Lizzie Youens BSC (HONS) BVSC MRCVS

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Navigating your way through the loss of a loved pet is an extremely difficult and heartbreaking experience for anyone to go through. Our pets play an essential role in our lives, and the void they leave after they are gone can be devastating, whatever the circumstances. 

It is completely normal to feel isolated, depressed or desperate at this time. There may also be some difficult feelings if you had to make the decision to euthanise your pet, such as self-doubt or guilt. Some people feel shock or anger. All these emotions are normal. 

Each individual responds to grief and loss differently. How we experience grief depends on things such as personality traits, age, and often the circumstances of losing our pet. 

It can be a lonely experience as some people who don’t have pets don’t fully understand how much they mean to us. People may think they are ‘just a dog’ but they truly are a valued member of the family and a loss is grieved like the loss of a human family member. 

It’s good to talk

Whatever you feel after losing your pet, it is important to know that it’s all completely normal. If you have the opportunity and you feel comfortable, talk to someone as much as possible about how you are feeling. Talking to someone who also knows your pet will enable you to remember the happy times shared together. Focusing on these occasions may be a comfort to you. 

Some people find writing their thoughts and feelings in a diary or journal comforting. Some people keep special sentimental things such as a hair clip or a paw print.

If you do not have a close friend or relative that you feel comfortable talking to, you can speak to your GP. They can refer you to a bereavement counsellor who will be able to help.

Some people find that sharing their experiences with others who have gone through a similar thing may be helpful. There are support groups and online forums that people can join to discuss their own experiences. We also have expert tips on helping children cope with pet loss.

Often, hearing about different coping mechanisms can help you find alternative ways to navigate through things. 

Coping with milestones 

When a big milestone such as a birthday or Christmas is looming, try to plan something for that day if you feel comfortable. This can be either something to distract you if you don’t want to dwell on the fact your pet is no longer with you, or it can be something significant to celebrate their life and to take some time out to reflect on your time together and remember them. Some people take comfort from going on their dog’s favourite walk or visiting a place you both spent quality time together. 

The five stages of grieving

Some people refer to the Five stages of grieving when navigating the loss of their pet, these are, denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance. These are relevant and helpful for some, but others go through different stages at different times so tackle each of your emotions as they come and try not to bottle up feelings as this can cause more issues long term. 

When should I consider getting a new pet?

Choosing the right time to get another pet is a big decision. There is no ‘best’ time to start looking, it does depend on how everyone in the household feels. Some people feel a new pet will fill the void left by the bereaved pet. Getting another pet before everyone is ready may trigger confusing emotions and spoil the bond between the family and the new pet. It can delay the healing process for individuals. It is best to wait until you are emotionally prepared and have mourned your old pet. When you do eventually decide, it’s normal to feel guilty. The new pet will have a special place in your heart, but they will never replace the lost pet; there is always room for both. 

Helpful resources

Rainbow bridge Grief Support Centre 

Pet Bereavement Support Service (PBSS) 
Freephone – 0800 096 6606 Email – pbssmail@bluecross.org.uk

Animal Samaritans Pet Bereavement Service 
Telephone – 0203 745 9859

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