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Dealing with the Loss of a Pet

A mother holding and comforting her son.

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Losing a beloved pet can make you feel intense sadness and grief — not unlike the sorrow that accompanies losing a friend or family member. After all, our pets are close companions and beloved members of our families. It’s important to know that feeling devastated is perfectly normal and natural.

Although time is the best way to heal and find peace after your loss, there are healthy actions you can take now to help you work through the grieving process.

Three Healthy Ways to Cope with Losing a Pet

Let Yourself Work Through Your Grief

Your instinct may be to try to hide your feelings or ignore them, especially if you feel silly for mourning the loss of a pet. But your feelings are valid, and you need to experience them to fully grieve the loss of the pet you loved. In fact, denying your grief rather than giving yourself time and space to work through it, may only make it last longer.

Remember That Grieving Is Personal

Mourning the loss of a pet is a highly individual process. How to grieve the loss of a pet and how deeply you grieve will be different for each person. Grieving can also depend on factors, like whether your pet’s death was expected and how old they were. Also, their relationship with you can affect your grief level. For instance, if your dog was not only a pet but also a service or therapy animal, there may be more emotional complexities attached to their passing.

Make sure you give yourself grace to grieve the way you need to. The process can’t be forced. It’s best to let it happen naturally — and on your own timetable.

Honor Your Pet’s Memory

It can be easy to dwell on the final days or hours of your pet’s life. Instead, try to focus on the months and years that came before with all the joy, laughter and companionship they brought to your life.

Creating a memorial for your pet — maybe by planting a tree in their memory or making a keepsake — may help you process your grief. Observing the ritual of a funeral for your pet can also honor your pet’s life and help you work through your feelings.

Helping Your Child Through the Loss of a Pet

When a family pet dies, it may be a child’s first experience with death. Like you, they may experience a range of emotions, including sadness, guilt and fear. While it’s always best to tell the truth as much as possible, you should also consider your child’s age. Tailoring your explanation to their age and needs can go a long way in helping them work through their own grief in a healthy way.

Depending on your child’s age, you might also suggest they participate in honoring your pet. That might include sharing happy memories at a memorial service, drawing their pet or journaling their favorite stories.

When it’s Time to Get Another Pet

There’s no set amount of time you should wait before getting another pet. Having a pet dog or cat, for example, comes with plenty of benefits. In fact, research suggests that owning a dog can substantially lower your risk of disease and death, particularly in people living alone.

Make sure you don’t rush the decision. Usually, you’ll know when you’re ready. While another pet can’t replace the one you’ve lost, a new furry friend can become a fresh source of joy and energy.

Here to Walk With You Through the Grieving Process

You’re not alone. At AdventHealth, we want to be there for you when you’re dealing with any injury, even those that may not be visible from the outside. We offer behavioral health services like support groups and one-on-one therapy to help you process difficult emotions.

Learn about behavioral health care at AdventHealth.

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