Coping with Pet Loss and Grief

Our animals are a huge part of our lives; they help to make our lives whole.  That’s why losing a pet can feel like losing a part of ourselves.

Grieving for your pet and for your loss is normal and understandable; and you should never feel embarrassed or ashamed about your feelings.  It is important to recognize the grief that you and others may feel surrounding the loss of a pet, but remember that not everyone will show and experience grief in the same way.

Grief can affect all aspects of life, and the effects can be widespread.

Symptoms can be physical, emotional, mental, social, and spiritual.  No matter how grief affects you, it is important that you recognize that what you are going through is quite natural.  It is also important that you give yourself time to grieve.  Find a way to honor the memory of your faithful companion, something that feels right for you and helps you to cope and, eventually, to heal.  Options include memorials, candle lighting, and rituals.  Our website has a paw wall where you may leave a memorial for your lost friend.

 As veterinarians, we are often asked how to help children through the grieving process.

Perhaps one of the most important facets of this is not to shield children from death.  The loss of a pet is often a child’s first experience with death, and this experience can be a powerful learning opportunity for children.  While it is natural to want to protect our children from the heartbreak associated with loss, it is often better to be honest and support them through the process.  Be willing to answer all of their questions, no matter how strange or complicated they may be.  Consider involving your child in saying goodbye to the pet, if at all possible. Above all, help your child to remember the good times with a much-loved pet, and encourage them to share happy memories.

When the right time to bring a new pet into the family?

This is a difficult question, and the answer is as unique as you and your family!  First take time to grieve for your pet, but remember that having another pet (while never a replacement!) can help your family and your heart to heal.  There are many pets out there who would love to come into your home.

It is also important to realize that when you lose a pet, you are not alone.

We are here to help, and there are plenty of other resources available to you as well.   Charlotte has a pet loss support group that meets on the second Thursday of each month from 7:00-8:30 at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church.  These meetings are facilitated by a grief counselor from Presbyterian Hospice care and also have a veterinary advisor (Dr. Ginny Dodd) in attendance to answer any questions you may have.  You can find more about this group at www.petgriefsupportgroupnc.com.  The ASPCA also provides a Pet Loss Hotline that you can reach by dialing (877) GRIEF-10.  The ASPCA Hotline can provide support in your decision to euthanize, in coping with pet loss and grief, and in helping children through the grieving process.  Other websites you might find helpful are www.petloss.com and www.petlosshelp.com.

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