The bond with a pet is often so strong that the death of the pet leaves the pet owner devastated. Those who consider their pet a friend, companion, soulmate or “fur baby” may experience intense grief pain upon the death of the pet.
Grief is a normal and natural response to the death of your pet and don’t let anyone convince you otherwise! Society, as a whole, does not generally give bereaved pet owners permission and space to grieve. Accordingly, it is important that you allow yourself the time and attention to grieve. You may experience physical, behavioral and emotional symptoms of grief such as crying, fatigue, insomnia, feeling disorganized or unable to focus, and feeling sad, guilty, angry, or alone. Know that any or all of these symptoms are NORMAL reactions to the death of a pet!
The grief surrounding the death of a pet is often very deep because the loss of this relationship means the loss of a non-judgmental and unconditional source of love. A part of the pet owner “dies” with the pet and a large, gaping hole is created. The pet owner experiences a myriad of emotions including denial, anger and guilt.
A common emotion that consistently surfaces in pet loss support group is GUILT. This often centers on the decision to euthanize one’s pet. Life or death decisions are not easily made, even when suffering is present. The pet owner second guesses whether they either a) waited too long and their pet was in pain or b) made the decision too early and their pet could have lived longer. It helps to remember that to end the pet’s suffering in a dignified, loving and painless manner is the pet owner’s final act of love. It is interesting to note that the word euthanasia translates to a “good death”. So while this decision surrounding death with dignity will be most painful, it is also the greatest act of love for your suffering pet.
Guilt also creeps in when pet owners focus on times they feel as though they “neglected” their pets, i.e. failed to take them for a walk, went on a vacation without their pet, or yelled when the hamburgers disappeared off the counter. It is important to remember all the love and care you gave your pet.
Other emotions often include denial, anger and depression. All of these are NORMAL! The most important task for a bereaved pet owner is to be honest about their feelings. Don’t deny them; they must be acknowledged. Express your feelings through crying, talking, drawing, photos, writing, etc. Don’t avoid grief. Find someone who “gets it” and understands what you might be feeling.
Know that your feelings will eventually become more tolerable and less painful as you allow happy memories to replace the pain of loss.
Not everyone understands the intense pet-human bond as is illustrated by the following insensitive statements that you may hear:
“Your pet is in a better place.”
“There is a reason for everything.”
“You can get another pet.”
“I know exactly how you feel.”
“You need to get over it. It has been months since your pet died.”
Bereaved pet owners should surround themselves with people who understand the significance of pet-human relationships in order to hear helpful and healing statements such as:
“I am sorry for your loss.”
“I can’t imagine how you feel, but know that I care about you.”
“My favorite memory of your pet is…..”
“You and your pet are in my thoughts and prayers.”
Receiving hugs…instead of advice.
Note that it is not uncommon for bereaved pet owners to “see”, “smell” or “hear” their departed pets. There is no need to question this, take it is a gift or sign from your beloved pet.
The pain associated with the death of your pet is real and must be validated and addressed in order for you to begin the healing process. Let fond memories sustain you at this difficult time.