How to Deal with Grieving the Loss of a Pet

Published on: 24 Aug 2022
Clinically Reviewed by Meaghan Rice PsyD., LPC
sad woman crying

Losing a pet is something very difficult we can go through in life. For many of us, it’s like losing a family member. In fact, a systematic review of 17 studies concluded that the feelings we have after losing a pet are the same ones we have when we lose a human family member or loved one. The pain is real, and it’s not easy to get over. 

You might have spent years with your furry, feathered, or scaled loved one. You cared for them. Maybe you let them sleep in your bed, or go to work with you, or even vacation with you. What’s more, they cared for you, too. They were there to greet you when you walked through the door at the end of a long day. They never held a grudge or made you feel bad about yourself. Your pet was your friend…maybe your best friend. 

It’s only natural that you feel grief and sadness when they pass away. We’re here to let you know, though, that you don’t have to suffer alone. There are ways you can navigate the pain and eventually heal from pet grief. If you’re looking for ideas on how to deal with the loss of a pet, we have tips that can help. You’ll never forget them, but you can, slowly, begin to accept their loss. 

Understanding the Pain

Pets aren’t just animals we take in. They become beloved, trusted members of our family. You share a lot with your pet, and they offer that unconditional love that can be hard to find anywhere else. 

Many pet owners structure their days around caring for their animals. They must be fed, exercised, and comfortable before we leave for work. If they’re ill towards the end, we don’t give a second thought about taking on extra caregiving duties. When they’re gone, we can’t deny the glaring void that fills our home and life as we no longer have those duties.

If you’re struggling with how to deal with the loss of a pet, it might seem like there’s no end in sight for your pain. You may find yourself admitting that my pet died, and I can’t stop crying. Understand that crying for your pet is natural. It’s normal, and though painful, it’s part of the grieving process that’s necessary for you to heal.

“Most people who have bonded with a pet know the comfort and joy animals provide. When we lose a pet, part of us feels like it’s dying. Pets may be the only time we experience unconditional love.”

Talkspace therapist Dr. Karmen Smith LCSW DD

A Look at the Grieving Process

The process of grieving your pet looks different for each person. Some people may cry frequently. Others may look over and over at pictures of their pet. Still some others might feel a sense of comfort just “getting on with life.” There’s no one or right way to grieve the loss of a pet.

There are several common scenarios when it comes to pet grief.

My pet died, and I can’t stop crying

Crying is a common reaction to loss, whether it’s the loss of a friend, family member, job, house, or even a pet. You might find that the tears begin to flow for any number of reasons, including:

  • Every time you walk past where their food bowl once was
  • The time for their daily walk approaches
  • Each time you open the door to an empty house and expect them to greet you
  • A date on the calendar marks a vet appointment you made  
  • Seeing their empty crate, enclosure, or bed 

Anything can trigger the tears, especially when you recall the special times the two of you spent together. 

It can be difficult — maybe even feel impossible — to believe, but eventually, your pain will become less acute, and you will stop crying. The time frame is different for everyone. It could take days, weeks, or even months. Be patient with yourself. It’s your grief and you can’t rush it. 

I feel sad, shocked, and lonely

Sadness, shock, and loneliness are all very natural reactions to loss — whether it’s the loss of a person, or a pet. This is especially true when the loss was of someone who was always at your side. The emotions you’re having are nothing to be ashamed of.

I feel guilty

Some pet caregivers feel guilty, particularly if they had to make difficult decisions about end-of-life care and treatment. Remember that how you’re feeling is a natural response, and most often, depending on the situation, there’s usually nothing you could have done to prevent your animal companion’s death.

“I remember making a video of my son saying goodbye to our cat, Katie. He expressed how grateful he was for her being in his life since kindergarten. As a 24 year old, he celebrated her life with gratitude. Therapy can be an outlet through which we can get support after a pet dies.”

Talkspace therapist Dr. Karmen Smith LCSW DD

How to Cope with the Loss of a Pet: 5 Tips

There are several things you can do to ease some of the pain you’re feeling after losing your pet. Some of our favorites include the following. 

1. Create a memory board

One of the sweetest things you can do in honor of your pet is create a memory board. You can include symbols of the things you did together, your favorite pictures of them, or pictures of the two of you together. Keep it near your desk or by your bed, where you can look at it frequently whenever you’re missing your friend.

2. Take care of yourself

It’s easy to neglect yourself when you’re feeling sad and grieving the loss of your cat, dog, bird, or any type of pet. However, getting enough sleep, exercising, and eating well will go a long way toward helping you feel as good as possible while you grieve.

3. Write in your journal

One of the saddest parts about pet bereavement is that not everyone can relate. People who aren’t pet owners sometimes just don’t understand the intense pain of losing a pet-friend. If you’re worried about reaching out to people who may or may not understand, try writing down your thoughts in your journal. Journaling is a great way to manage any type of grief.

4. Join a support group

Your area might have support groups specifically designed to help people learn how to cope with the loss of a pet. These groups are filled with other pet owners who are going through the same pain that you are. During meetings, members share coping skills and stories, so you know that you’re not the only one trying to figure out how to deal with losing a pet. You can ask your vet about pet grief support groups or look for an online group.

5. Consider a mourning ritual

Mourning rituals are common when a person we love dies. We have funerals, wakes, or memorial services in honor of our human loved ones. We call friends. We get together in their memory. We might have what’s now known as a celebration of life. Though it can be argued that pet grief is just as acute as grief from losing a friend or family member, there are fewer established rituals. Consider creating your own, perhaps by inviting friends over to share memories of your pet or setting up a memorial stone or statue in your yard to honor your pet.

Work Through Your Grief with Talkspace

Don’t take pet loss lightly. There are many types of grief (a few examples include anticipatory grief, disenfranchised grief, and prolonged grief disorder), and like any other form, everyone handles pet grief at their own pace and in their own way. For most people, though, grief can begin to (though probably not fully) lose its sharp edge after a few weeks. That doesn’t mean you care any less about the pet you lost. It just means that the raw emotional pain will ease as time goes on. 

One way to work through your grief is through online grief counseling. If you need help processing your grief over losing a pet, consider talking to someone. Talkspace therapists are available through a virtual platform and can help you get through any grieving process in a healthy, timely, productive way.

Grief is normal, but that doesn’t mean you should know how to go through it on your own. If you need help, grief therapy is available, and Talkspace can be there for you. 

Sources:

1. Cleary M, West S, Thapa D, Westman M, Vesk K, Kornhaber R. Grieving the loss of a pet: A qualitative systematic review. Death Stud. 2021:1-12. doi:10.1080/07481187.2021.1901799. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33881389/. Accessed June 29, 2022.

Talkspace articles are written by experienced mental health-wellness contributors; they are grounded in scientific research and evidence-based practices. Articles are extensively reviewed by our team of clinical experts (therapists and psychiatrists of various specialties) to ensure content is accurate and on par with current industry standards.

Our goal at Talkspace is to provide the most up-to-date, valuable, and objective information on mental health-related topics in order to help readers make informed decisions.

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