Coping with the Death of a Pet

Coping with the death of a pet can be as painful and traumatic as any other grief.  The loss of the loved one is an emotional experience that can take its toll on all of us, and we must give these feelings the respect they deserve.

Don’t bottle up your feelings

Talk about how you feel with sympathetic friends and family.  You’ve lost someone you cared for very deeply and it’s natural to feel huge sadness.  Talking will help.  There is no need to feel embarrassed or ashamed of your feelings and do whatever you feel you need to do.  People will understand and want to support you.

Try to seek out people who will empathise.  They may have pets of their own, or have also lost a beloved pet, so will be know how you are feeling. 

Look after yourself.  Make sure you continue to exercise, get plenty of rest and eat well.

It may take time, but gradually the feelings will become less intense.  Don’t feel that you have to rush or should be ‘over it by now’

My old friend

There are companies that offer funerals for pets (we don’t) but there are many ways to cherish their memory.  Small pets can be buried in the garden, or you can bury a symbolic memento such as collar or favourite toy. You can hold a ceremony, just as you would for a person, and this can be particularly helpful for children.

You can also create a lasting memory of your beloved yet.  Photos and keepsakes can be a lovely reminder.  Their collar or bowl can be used as a planter in the garden, or tag turned into a bracelet or keyring.

Helping children

Often the loss of a pet is a child’s first experience of death and bereavement.  It is an intense time for them and it’s important to acknowledge how they feel and support them where you can.  They may be frightened, upset or angry and these are all valid emotions.

If the pet is old or sick, talk to the child beforehand about what is to happen, and give them the chance to say goodbye.  They may want to come to the vet with you, or they may wish to stay at home, but you should let them take the lead.  Be honest with them.  Telling them that the pet has ‘run away’ or ‘gone to live somewhere else’ may seem kinder but will only cause confusion and will not take away the feelings of loss.  I can still remember finding out years later that our budgie had not in fact ‘flown away’

It is also not helpful to tell a child that the pet has ‘gone to sleep’.  This again is confusing for a child and can give them false hope that they will return.

If your pet has died suddenly or has had an accident, there will also be feelings of shock and anger.  Protect your child from upsetting details but, once again, be honest.

Don’t feel the need to buy a replacement straight away.  Although it might seem helpful, it can offer bring with it confusing feelings of guilt both of forgetting the former pet or not being excited enough about the new one.

We know how painful loss can be, and we hope that this advice has provided some help or comfort.