Anyone who considers a pet to be a beloved friend, companion, or family member knows the intense pain that accompanies the loss of that friend. Following are some tips on coping with grief, and with the difficult decisions one faces upon the loss of a pet.

 Tips When Grieving the Loss of a Companion Animal

by Michele Shimamura

  • It can be quite emotionally and physically painful to experience the death of a beloved companion animal. Many people report that they experience stronger feelings for their pet’s loss than they felt when a human loved one died.
  • Everyone grieves differently and each death experienced may evoke different grief reactions. Factors affecting your grief may be influenced by the nature of the death, the relationship you had with the animal, and your coping patterns, support system, and spiritual beliefs.
  • There is no rule book for grief. It is an organic process that takes place over time.  There are no fixed stepping stones you must pass through.   Grief takes as long as it takes for you; there is no magic timeframe.
  • If you entertain thoughts about things you should have noticed or done, or similar guilty thoughts, know that you did the best you could out of love, knowing what you did at the time. Looking backwards, ruminating about regrets, or harshly judging yourself serves no useful purpose.  Our pets were unconditionally loving as well as unconditionally forgiving.
  • Think about what you learned from your companion animal. What did s/he teach you?  Think about what was going on in your life while you had your pet then look at why you think the pet was a part of your life at that particular time.
  • Don’t isolate yourself. Stay connected to people who understand the dynamics of pet loss.
  • Grieving takes a lot of energy so it is important to stay healthy; eat nutritious food, sleep well, move around (walk, run, ride a bike, swim), and take four deep breaths periodically. Physical activity relieves stress and anxiety as well.
  • Sometimes it is helpful to conduct a ritual or ceremony to memorialize and honor your pet’s life. Light a candle, read a poem, write a letter to your pet, plant flowers or a bush in his/her honor.  Be creative; think about what would have been meaningful to your pet.
  • Grief is never really “over”, but grief becomes more bearable as you accept the reality of the loss, adapt to a world without your pet, and learn to create a different emotional relationship. It is likely you will create a spiritual bond with your pet.
  • Do something nice for yourself. Figure out what that is then do it.
  • Adopting another animal is a personal choice, but do so when you’re ready. You are not replacing your pet, but adopting a “different” pet.  It is impossible to replace a pet as they all have different personalities and traits.