Owners forge a strong bond with their pets, with the latter showing their human companions unconditional love and making them feel better in times of stress, said Kristeen Cherney of Healthline, a medical information and health advice website. The human-animal bond is one of the most powerful relationships you will form in your life, making the grieving process harder.
The Grief Experience Among US Respondents (2019)
“Grief Beyond the 5 Stages,” a survey by health and medical news website WebMd, found that 32% of US respondents had experienced a death of a family member or close friend, excluding their child or partners in the last three years and loss of a friendship/relationship (29%), reported Debbie Koenig. Respondents also experienced a family member’s serious illness or diagnosis of a chronic health condition (23%), a death of their pet (20%), their own serious illness or diagnosis of a chronic health condition (15%), and loss of job/career (11%).
48% of participants said their most powerful feelings dissipated within the first six months while 67% had recovered in a span of 12 months. Interestingly, pet owners were likely to bounce back quickly, with 66% of those who lost a pet reporting that their intense grief lasted less than six months versus 48% of respondents who lost a close family member or friend to death and 45% who grieved the loss of a friendship/relationship. 81% of those who lost a pet said their intense grief lasted less than 12 months, while a smaller proportion of respondents said “more than one year” (7%) and “I am still intensely grieving” (12%)
However, 53% said they had encountered individuals who expected them to recover quickly and of these, 58% of those who were pressured said they felt the need to recover within the first three months. This also included 81% of respondents mourning a pet and 75% of those who lost a friendship or had a breakup.
76% of respondents said someone had tried to cheer them up. It worked at least for most of the time (54%), but 36% said it was ineffective. 74% had shared their own experience with loss, having a similar effect as 53% felt better afterward. But 37% said it was ineffective. Saying “It could be worse” made 46% of respondents feel worse. 42% said it made them feel worse when someone told them they needed to move on and seek closure. Posting their loss on social media also made 41% of respondents feel worse and 33% said unsolicited advice made them feel worse.
How Do I Cope With the Loss of My Pet?
1. Explain to Your Family/Kids
If you have children, it is recommended to be honest about your pet’s loss even if you are tempted to protect your kids’ feelings. If you tell them that their cat has run away, it will make your children guilty, confused, and hurt. In the long run, this is not good so it is better to be honest and communicate how your pet’s death is hurting you.
Let your family go through the grieving process. Don’t let others expect you to “move on” quickly. Take your time to grieve and talk to others if you need more help. Consider reaching out to your friends and loved ones can aid in your emotional well-being. Having them listen to you will help you sort out your feelings and move on.
2. Find A Pet Support Group
If you are not keen on sharing the loss of your pet with your friends or other relatives, try to find a pet support group in your area. Ask your veterinarian or your local shelter if they know any support groups. Support groups will allow you to be vulnerable to people who empathize with your loss.
3. Express Negative Emotions
Losing your pet can make you sad, guilty, etc, which may become a part of your life as you start to face the new reality. You might try to appear strong or invalidate your emotions, but it is better to feel and express them. At this point, it is advisable to write down your feelings in a journal.
4. Practice Self-Care and Create a Memento
Let your family continue practicing self-care such as exercising after losing your pet. Set aside time for engaging in relaxing activities like reading or meditating. On the other hand, creating a memory book of your pet can also help your family cope with the loss. Chances are, you have a couple of photos of your pet on your phone, social media, or computer. A tangible memento like a memory book can offer more comfort than digital images, as it allows you to embrace the good memories you had with your pet— which in turn aids in closure.
What If Someone’s Pet Dies?
Perhaps you have a friend who lost their dog. If you do, it is important to be empathic and understanding of their situation, said Debby Mayne of The Spruce, a website dedicated to the Home category.
Give that person a call and listen. You can also share your positive memories of your friend’s pet if you think they need kind words from you. Do something nice such as removing the pet’s toys, food bowls, and bedding. They may appreciate your initiative and comfort “of a few kind words.” Sympathy notes are also appreciated. Start the letter with comforting words, letting the person know that you are thinking of them. When your friend is ready to talk, be prepared to lend them an ear.
What Should I Not Say When Someone’s Pet Dies?
Think before you speak. It is difficult to find the right words, but sometimes even the best intentions can backfire and hurt your friend more. Avoid saying, “Don’t cry” as crying is a grieving process for most people. Telling your friend to "get over it” makes you come across as mean and insensitive.
Telling your friend that their pet is in a “better place” may make them feel worse. Advising them to get another pet to replace the deceased animal is not a viable idea either. Your friend will get another pet when they are ready, but for now, they need to go through the grieving process.
Grieving for the loss of your (or someone else’s) pet does not have to involve a deadline. Don’t let people pressure to move on in a span of weeks. Take your time and continue engaging in self-care practices.