How to Cope With the Death of a Pet

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Saying goodbye to a beloved pet can be difficult. Many of those who have experienced the death of a pet compare it to losing a family member.

Animals provide emotional support, companionship, and unconditional love to their owners, so when they pass away, feelings of sorrow and expressions of grief are normal and should be expected.

Accept your feelings
People often feel that the death of a pet is somehow insignificant or less important than the death of a loved one. Comments such as, “Oh, he just lost his dog” are common. When coping with a pet’s death, however, you must acknowledge the deep grief and profound sense of loss that you feel.

Coming home to a quiet house or seeing a pet’s empty bed can trigger feelings of sadness. Do not be afraid to accept and express these negative emotions even when many others see them as trivial.

Help children cope
The death of a pet can be a traumatic experience for children, and long bouts of illness or euthanasia can be even harder for kids to understand. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) recommends having a memorial service to allow children to honor and remember the pet: “Sitting down with the family and sharing memories of your pet can make your children sad – but it can make them laugh, too, and will help your child understand that everyone is feeling the loss as well.”

Acknowledge that the grief may linger
Many people expect that the mourning process for a pet’s death will be relatively short. Many times, however, the grief tends to linger for months or even years. Mark Ingram, a military service member who lost his dog in 2005, says, “I never really got over Harley’s death. I got used to it and learned to deal with it, but it hasn’t gone away. I think about him all the time.”

Expect behavior changes in other pets
Surviving pets may display behavior changes or even refuse to eat or drink when a companion dies. Moira Anderson Allen, author of “Coping with Sorrow on the Loss of Your Pet” and former editor of “Dog Fancy” magazine notes, “You may need to give your surviving pets a lot of extra attention. If you are going to introduce a new pet, your surviving pets may not accept the newcomer right away.

Don’t get a new pet too soon
Allowing a sufficient grief period to adjust to the loss of a pet is important. Many people rush into getting a new pet in an attempt to fill the void. They often end up comparing the new pet to the deceased one, however, and are unable to form fresh bonds and appreciate the new pet in its own right. Veterinarian Jeff Feinman says, “Some pet owners find great comfort in acquiring a new pet soon after the loss of another. Others, however, become angry at the suggestion of another pet.”

Once you have adjusted to the loss of your pet and you are ready to move forward, take your time selecting a new companion. Remember that this is not a replacement, but a new friend who needs a loving home, and you’re sure to have years of happiness together.