Dealing with the Death of a Pet

The death of a pet is a hard thing to face. For pet owners who consider their pets to be a member of the family, the death of a pet is a grief-ridden ordeal. Pets give us unconditional love, acceptance, and companionship; often, they are there for us when no one else is. If you're struggling to cope with the loss of a beloved pet, read on to learn more about how you can deal with your grief, and get support.

The Difficulty of a Pet Dying

Many people don't understand the grief we feel upon the death of a pet. But we have special relationships with our pets, relationships that are often closer and more secure than those we have with the human people in our lives. Before you can begin to cope with the death of your pet, you need to accept that you shared a powerful, life-changing bond with your pet, and you need to know that's it's okay to feel grief and sorrow over the loss of that relationship.

Your Grief Process

Grieving for the death of a pet is much the same as grieving for the death of a human loved one. You can expect to experience at least some of the five stages of grief, as follows:

  • Denial, or an insistence that nothing is wrong
  • Anger, possibly toward the veterinarian who has failed to save your pet, friends, family, or your pet himself
  • Bargaining, which can mean clinging to the hope that a dying pet's death can be delayed
  • Depression, in which you will experience feelings of sorrow and grief at the loss of your pet, and begin to let go
  • Acceptance, in which you will finally realize that everything is going to be okay

Everyone grieves differently. Allow yourself to feel and express your feelings of grief in your own way. Don't allow others to make you feel guilty over your grief for your lost pet.

Coping with Grief

Expressing your grief upon the death of a pet can be a powerful coping tool. Reach out to others who may be going through the same thing, perhaps through a pet loss support group. Express your feelings by making art, writing or music. Talk to a sympathetic friend, or design a memorial to your pet's life.

Helping Children and Other Pets Cope with the Loss of a Pet

For children, the death of a pet can be especially difficult, because many young children have never had prior experience with death. Use this opportunity to explain to your child what death is and what it means. Tell your child the truth; trying to protect him could cause further grief down the road. 

Help your child express his grief by expressing your own. Encourage your child to work through his feelings by talking or expressing himself creatively.

Your other pets may also experience grief and depression upon the death of a pet, especially if they, too, shared a bond with the deceased pet. Give your surviving pets extra love, care and attention while they are grieving. Try to stick to their established routine and eliminate unnecessary stress from their lives.