How to cope with pet loss
One of the most difficult aspects of pet ownership is something most of us try to avoid talking about — pet loss. In most cases, our pets will die before we do, and we need to find ways to deal with their loss.
Rainbow Bridge Remembrance Day (August 28th) was founded as an opportunity to remember the pets we’ve lost and join others worldwide in processing our grief.
Let's look at how pet loss can affect us and how to deal with those feelings.
The impact pet loss has on mental health
Like any other grief, losing a pet can bring up a variety of intense and painful emotions. Many people dealing with the loss of a pet will experience deep sadness, loneliness, and anger.
It’s also completely normal to have strong feelings of guilt around the loss of your pet. You’ve been responsible for their welfare and possibly even the painful decision of when to let them go. Understandably, you might doubt yourself and feel guilty.
Sometimes, losing a pet can make pre-existing mental health issues worse or even become a trigger for developing them. This is especially common if your pet has been a part of your coping mechanisms for problems such as PTSD, depression, or anxiety.
The grief you feel after pet loss can even impact your physical health and wellbeing. Your grief can lead to physical symptoms like insomnia, changes in appetite, and even skin conditions such as psoriasis.
One of the most difficult aspects of losing a pet is how difficult it is to talk about your feelings and the lack of agreed social rituals or behaviour. Some people feel guilty about how upset they become after pet loss, and you might not have as much support as you would after losing a friend or family member.
How to deal with losing a pet
Losing a pet is never going to be easy, but there are things you can do to help you cope with your feelings.
Acknowledge your grief
Pushing strong negative feelings away can be tempting, but this only stores problems for later. Instead, acknowledge and accept your feelings of grief, loneliness, and sadness.
Rumination means going over the same thoughts again and again. Trying to second-guess your decisions in the final few days with your pet won’t help your feelings. Remember that you did your best and acted out of love for your pet.
Use your support system
Talk to the people you trust to be understanding and compassionate. Share your feelings and give them a chance to support you.
You might also want to avoid talking to people who don’t seem to understand your emotions. Some people always want to put a positive spin on things, but this can come across as invalidating your feelings. Give yourself a break from people who make you feel worse.
Memorialise your pet
You might find it comforting to have some form of memorial of your pet. You could have them buried in a specific location, have a framed picture, or arrange a memorial service for them. Choose something that feels right and meaningful for you.
How to speak to someone that has just lost a pet
There’s no single way to talk to someone who has experienced a loss. When it comes to friends and family, you’ll probably have a good idea of what the person needs. When you’re talking to a coworker who’s lost a pet, however, it can be more difficult. Here’s some advice that might help
Validate their feelings
Explain that you understand what they’re going through and that you’re here to help. This makes it easier for them to be honest if they’re struggling.
Someone who is dealing with pet loss needs emotional and practical support. Try to provide both. Try to take over some work tasks to reduce pressure on them in the early days of grief.
Anyone who is suffering after a pet loss can benefit from some emotional generosity. They’ll probably be out of sorts, irritable, or easily distracted. Offer them grace and understanding.
Most of us don’t know what to say when someone has experienced bereavement but staying silent can be hurtful to the person who is grieving. Ask them how they’re doing and what they need. Make space for them to talk about their pet if they want to. Listening can be the most important gift you can give them.
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