The love and bond we share with our animal companions is intense. To most of us, our pets are so much more than “just a dog” or “just a cat”; they’re beloved members of our family. They bring so much to our lives – fun, companionship, joy, a sense of meaning or purpose, structure, activity, and social interaction. They’re by our side day after day, year after year. How many people are in our lives that we can say that about?
It’s only natural that losing a pet causes intense grief and sorrow. Research shows that grieving the death of a pet can be just as painful, if not more painful, as losing a loved one. Some people even feel guilt for mourning their pet more deeply than a friend or relative. “Many people (including pet owners) feel that grief over the death of a pet is not worthy of as much acknowledgment as the death of a person,” researchers wrote in a 2003 article in the journal Professional Psychology: Research and Practice. “Unfortunately, this tends to inhibit people from grieving fully when a pet dies.”
Pet owners also report that they don’t feel that they’re given as much support when a pet they love dies as when a person they love dies. For example, friends and family don’t always rally to our sides to provide support and comfort when we’ve lost a pet like they would when we’ve lost a person. That can lead to what psychologists refer to as disenfranchised grief. Disenfranchised grief is a term describing grief that is not acknowledged by society.
There is a lot of room for society to grow in how they acknowledge pet loss and the grief that comes with it. But that doesn’t mean that your grief is not valid and that your pet’s life wasn’t valuable and meaningful. It’s never easy to lose a beloved member of the family but there are some things we can do to cope with the loss.
1. Acknowledge your loss and grief
Even if it feels like the world doesn’t understand or acknowledge your loss or your grief, it is valid. It may take weeks or even months, but be kind to yourself as you adjust to your “new normal” of life without your beloved pet. Allow yourself to experience the emotional thoughts and feelings that the death of a pet brings. Pets love unconditionally and the loss of that unconditional love takes time to adjust to.
2. Let go of any guilt or regret you carry
Feelings of guilt are a natural part of the grieving process, as are questions like: Did I do everything I could? What if I had done xyz sooner? Did I wait too long or was it too early? People often concentrate on what they didn’t do—what they feel they should have done—but forget about all they actually did! Remind yourself that you made the best decisions you could with the information you had at the time. Regret, guilt, and self-loathing often result from us being way too hard on ourselves.
3. Memorialize your pet
There are many things you can do to memorialize the pet you lost. Some choose to plant a tree or sow a garden. These can be living tributes to your pet that will remain as reminders for years to come. Others choose to make a donation to a rescue or organization related to their pet, whether it’s a donation to the rescue the pet was adopted from or a donation to an organization that works towards find a cure for your pet’s particular ailment. Some pet owners hold a service or ceremony in remembrance of their pet, while others might put their pet’s collar in a shadow box or leave their pet’s ashes in a central location in the home.
Pets are selfless and loyal companions who bring so much joy to our lives and it’s natural for us to deeply mourn their loss. There’s no doubt that their time with us feels far too short but despite the pain that comes with losing a pet, we can all agree that the love they give makes it so worth it. Please know that the staff at Big Lick Vet understands your loss and sympathizes with your loss. We will do anything we can to try to make the grieving process easier, so please don’t hesitate to reach out to us anytime.