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Coping with pet bereavement: How do you get over the grief of a pet?

Man holding dog's paw in hand

Coping with the passing of a pet: Our tips!

© Kuttelvaserova Stuchelova - Shutterstock

We adopt a kitten, a puppy, or an older animal. We spend years with him, we see him grow and evolve, then grow old. And then we have to face the saddest moment: the death of a pet that has become a real family member. This can be a very difficult ordeal.

By Emilie Heyl

Updated on the

Grieving your cat or dog can take time, and you can feel lost and alone when mourning your pet. Yet death affects everyone, and mourning is part of a human and animal reality.

We all expect it to happen sooner or later: but how to cope with the passing of a pet? Who can we ask for help? How can we help a loved one? Here at Wamiz we want to help you deal with the death of your pet, even if it is at a small scale.

How long does grief last after losing a pet?

Because our pets shared all of their life with us and have been around us for several years, their departure creates a huge void. The routine and habits we established with them no longer exist. Whether it was the dog who happily greeted us at the door, their morning walk, the cat coming up too cuddle on the sofa, being woken up in the morning by a lick and a wet nose, or running around the house with a toy. Suddenly the house becomes empty, silent... We feel lost and helpless.We must learn to live without our pet and change all our habits.

Mourning takes place in several stages:

  • Denial ("no, it's not possible")
  • Anger, the feeling of injustice
  • Anguish
  • Sadness and the release of tension
  • Acceptance, which marks the turning point

This process can be long and it is only at the end of it that the bereaved person recovers from this ordeal.

Why does losing a pet hurt so much?

When we suffer the loss of our pet, whether we are prepared or not, we think first that we will not recover, that the pain is too intense, that we will never be able to stop crying. But, time eases sorrow. Does it really heal our pain? Maybe not and that’s okay.

Dr Anne Sachsé, psychiatrist said: “What is specific is the special relationship that we have with the animal, it is this very deep connection on a physical and emotional level that makes the relationship unique. Our life is punctuated by the animal: we feed him, we walk him…”she explains. This is why, when the animal dies, it leaves such a big void...

How to deal with the grief of losing a pet?

Mourning is a psychological state in which a person who has lost a loved one and whose emotional bond has been severed. Depending on the individual, bereavement may not take place or it may occur with varying intensity and duration. Grieving a loved one remains one of the most difficult situations in our life, and the death of a pet is one of them. Here are some tips to help you cope with the passing of your pet.

Prepare a ritual to accept your pet's death

If you have lost your pet, you can take small actions that can help you cope with your grief. Whenever you feel ready of course, but you could for example put away all of his belongings but keep his favourite toy out or print off your favourite picture of your pet and frame it.

Mourning your pet by writing: it will release your emotions and the pain of losing a pet

Writing can be a great way to release pain. In the form of a letter or even a drawing, writing can allow you to reveal your emotions without being afraid of judgment.

Honor the loss of a dog or a cat

It is also possible to honor the memory of an animal. You could for example plant a tree in your garden on your pet's favourite spot, or in a corner in your home, you could install a little souvenir of your pet.

Remember: Grieving a pet takes time

After an animal has passed away, it is important to take some time for yourself to grief. Don't hesitate to stay in over the weekend or in the evening if you feel like it, but you should definitely rest after all the hardships you have gone through.

Don't be ashamed of your sorrow

Some find it hard to conceive, but it is quite normal to mourn the loss of your pet, a loved one whose disappearance leaves a huge void. You have to accept your sadness, cry if needed, without being ashamed of your tears. “Grieving is a natural stage in life. It corresponds to a complex process of psychological adaptation, in the face of the shock that the person has just undergone upon the announcement of death, ”explains Dr Sachsé.

Avoid people around you who will not understand your grief, and get closer to those who will listen to you with empathy.

Denial, anger, sometimes guilt, sadness, acceptance: the work of mourning is done in stages. It is longer for some than for others, but you should not try to restrain your emotions.

Speak with owners who are going through the same situation

You shouldn't stay silent! Don't hesitate to speak to people who have experienced the same feeling as you. Shelters are starting to organise group or one-on-one counselling services for owners who have experienced the loss of a pet. Go online or on Facebook or Forums and share your experience with other pet owners. Supportive messages that can help her cope with the grief.

If you would like to get in touch with a support service, check out our recommendations below:

Should I adopt another animal?

Only you and your family are able to make this decision, as long as it is not rushed.

The adoption of a new companion must be reasoned, and not motivated by the hope of finding in him the memory of your missing animal. This dog or cat will never replace your beloved pet. On the other hand, he can bring joy, comfort and a distraction to the whole family if everyone agrees to adopt him and love him for who he is and not what he might remember.

How can you help a loved one deal with the loss of their pet?

Losing a dog or a cat is a difficult ordeal for owners. While some of them can overcome this loss, for others the situation may take longer. As a loved one, how can you help a friend cope with the loss of their beloved pet? Wamiz gives you some advice.

Be present for your loved one

The loss of an animal causes pain and great sadness for an owner. After years of happiness, the death of a dog, cat, rabbits, or any other pets can be difficult to deal with. Sadness can also lead to incomprehension or mockery from those around you. As a loved one of a grieving owner, it is important to be there for the person who has lost their pet. You need to show your friend your respect and kindness. To help him pass this step, do not hesitate to make him verbalise his feelings.

A person who is going to lose his beloved pet will have to mourn the life he led with his lifelong companion. He will have to create new habits, a new daily life. It is important to reassure your friend that he is not alone and that he should not be ashamed of his grief. He has the right to be in pain and to cry. These are essential steps to grieve.

During the first days of death, check in with your grieving friend. It is really important to be by his side to support him in this ordeal. Losing a dog or a cat might be his first experience and he will probably feel lost. When he is ready, you can, for example, help him remove his pet's belongings. It may seem insignificant, but these small gestures can relieve it. The happy memories will stay forever!

Advise him to think before adopting another animal

Grieving owners may want to quickly adopt another animal. Do not advise him to welcome a new dog or cat into his home so quickly. It is important to explain to him that it is important to mourn the loss of a pet before replacing a dead animal.

He has to ask himself the right questions before adopting an animal. Why does he want to welcome a new animal? Is he aware that this new companion will not replace the deceased animal?

As a loved one, it is really essential that your grieving friend is in tune with their feelings before embarking on a new adoption.

How to help a grieving dog?

When a dog grows up alongside a friend, an indestructible bond is formed. Many dog ​​owners have noticed a change in behaviour in their companion when another animal dies. Dogs, too, go through grief which can affect their mood and health. An animal deprived of its best friend may become lethargic, lose its appetite, or suffer from separation anxiety from its human. He may also start to moan sadly, sleep more than usual, or lose interest in his usual games. While these few signs may denote bereavement in an animal, they can also be synonymous with illnesses: so remember to take your dog to the vet, to make sure he is still in good health.

You can still help your furry friend to grieve with these tips to help your dog cope with the loss of their best friend.

1. Be patient and understanding

The first and essential step is to show patience and understanding. Don't get angry if he remains listless or refuses to take one sole step off you. Each dog has its own personality. Take this parameter into account and adjust your behaviour accordingly.

2. Don't over protect him

Naturally, you will tend to want to comfort your dog and try to make him forget his pain, but cuddling your dog too much or giving him too much attention could backfire on you: your animal could use your behaviour to his advantage. If he doesn't want to eat, don't pet him and tell him it's okay. Sit next to him and firmly tell him to eat. Your pet needs to understand that you will not tolerate bad behaviour under the guise of grieving. Don't reward depression.

3. Don't change your habits

This is an important advice for the well-being of your companion. The times for meals, walks, baths or grooming should not be changed or suspended. Life must continue. Thus, you will allow your dog to overcome his distress as quickly as possible and to relearn how to live. Even if he enters a phase where he does not want to eat, keep his meals in the refrigerator and give them to him at the usual times.

4. Don't hesitate to talk with other pet owners about your dog's grief

They are certainly many pet owners who are going through the same as you. So, don't hesitate to reach out to them. Not only will this help your dog as you will probably get some tips, but it will also help you as you are also going through grief.

5. Talk to your dog

Dogs understand a lot more than we think, so don't hesitate to talk to your dog, reassure him, explain to him what has happened and express your love to him.

Losing an animal is difficult for a human, but so is it for the animals that are still around you. They need you more than ever to help them grieve.

How to help a grieving cat?

Cats are known for being independent animals therefore they have not really been many studies on mourning cats. Now, with that being said, cats do exhibit behavioural changes that can sometimes be difficult to understand when their companion goes away. While some cats seem completely indifferent other cats, on the other hand, will stop eating, will lose all interest in those around them and will remain motionless staring into the void; they then seem depressed. Some cats also experience changes in personality or behaviour when their companion dies.

In 1996, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals conducted a study called the Companion Animal Mourning Project. They found that cats:

  • Ate less
  • Slept more
  • And meowed more after the death of a feline companion.

The good news is that of the 160 households surveyed, all the animals that lost a companion returned to their usual behaviour after six months.

Minimizing the changes and maintaining the same habits as before will give your cat time to better cope with the disappearance of his feline companion. There is a lot you can do to help a cat overcome grief:

1. Make sure your cat eats

A cat that refuses to eat for several days is potentially at risk of hepatic lipidosis, a fatal liver disease. Encourage your cat to eat by warming her food slightly. You can also add a little water or meat juice. Sit next to him at mealtime to reassure him. Don't be tempted to change your diet to stimulate your appetite. It could cause digestive problems. If your cat doesn't eat for three days, see your vet.

2. Spend more time with your feline

Spend more time brushing, stroking, and playing with your feline. This will create a positive association with the change your cat is feeling at home. Don't try to replace a missing cat right away. Your cat is unlikely to welcome a newcomer if they are still disturbed by the absence of their longtime companion. A new cat during this time would only be a source of additional stress. Any significant behavioural changes will need to be reviewed by your vet, in case this hides a physical problem.

3. Meet up with support groups

Helping your cat through their grief can be difficult. Even more so if you yourself are having trouble coping with the loss of your cat. You have to talk about it with someone who has had the same experience. Someone who knows how painful losing a pet can be, it can sometimes help you get over your grief.

4. Redouble tenderness

We must also redouble the hugs especially since in these moments, we also want to take advantage of the cats present. We know, and above all we feel that they understand us, we need to console each other. So don't hesitate.

5. Talk to the cat

Tell him that you are there that you also feel sorry, like him. He understands your sadness, he will also be more asking for intimate moments with you.

These animals that will have passed into our lives over the years will leave their mark on our hearts forever and will never be forgotten. The pain subsides, and over time, another dog or cat, will come, not to replace it, but rather to offer us again the opportunity to love, to cherish and to live moments which will remain forever engraved in our memory.

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