Our pets mean an immense amount to us -- they are our companions, family members, and suppliers of unconditional love. For most pet parents, their furry friend becomes an integral part of their daily life and routine, and their passing can be a heartbreaking experience.
Losing a pet is like losing a member of the family, and it is perfectly normal to feel sadness and grief. The way you deal with that grief can have an impact on how long it lasts, and how soon you can move on from -- but not forget -- your beloved friend.
Prepare Yourself For Grief
Most pet parents don’t even want to think about losing their pet, but getting emotionally prepared can really help in dealing with the pain when the day comes.
As with the loss of a human, someone who loses a pet can expect to go through some if not all of the classic stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, guilt, depression, and finally, acceptance.
Pet loss counselors point out that in cases where pets are put down, the guilt stage may be pronounced. It is important to not get stuck on feelings of guilt, and to allow yourself permission to grieve.
How To Know If It’s Time To Put Your Pet Down
As pets age, many develop conditions that can be difficult or painful to live with. Your veterinarian will be able to answer any questions you have about your pet’s health, and will discuss whether it may be appropriate to consider sparing them further discomfort. This is not an easy conversation to have, but it is often a necessary one, and getting answers from your veterinarian can help you prepare to make the tough decisions.
The quality of life scale developed by Dr. Alice Villalobos may also help to give you an idea of your pet’s condition and how they are doing day-to-day.
How To Handle The Grief & Where To Get Help
Everyone grieves in different ways, but there are things you can do to make the process easier.
Keeping your emotions bottled up inside can leave you trapped in a cycle of grief. Find trusted outlets for expressing yourself and sharing your feelings -- friends, family members, counselors, and support groups are all excellent options.
There are a great number of resources out there for pet parents coping with the loss of a pet:
- The Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement has free, online chat rooms for pet parents who are anticipating a loss or who are dealing with a recent loss
- A list of Pet Loss Support Groups can also be found on APLB’s website
- Founder of the APLB, psychologist Dr. Wallace Sife, wrote a guide to handling the pet grieving process titled The Loss of A Pet
- PetLoss.com provides resources for support online and by phone
- PetPartners.com has an excellent list of resources for grieving pet parents
- The ASPCA has a pet loss hotline and a website containing frequently asked questions about dealing with the loss of a pet
Should You Get A New Pet?
Some pet parents are ready to bring a new pet home right away, while others may need more time or decide that they don’t ever want to own another pet. It is a personal decision, and one that only you and your family can make.
Pet counselors suggest that getting a new pet too soon can sometimes lead to feelings of guilt, disloyalty, and even resentment, and this can have an effect on the relationship that you form with your new four-legged friend. While every pet parent is different, this is something to keep in mind.
The Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine’s “Should I Get Another Pet?” has further information on deciding to get a new pet after a loss.
Dealing with the loss of a pet is never easy. Allow yourself time to grieve and seek out resources if you need help coping with the loss.
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