Many of us share an intense love and bond with our animal companions. For us, a pet is not “just a dog” or “just a cat,” but rather a beloved member of our family, bringing fun, joy, and purpose to our lives. A pet can add structure to your day, keep you active and social, help you to overcome setbacks and challenges in life, and even provide a sense of meaning. So, when a cherished pet dies, it’s normal to feel racked by grief and loss.
The pain of loss can often feel overwhelming and trigger all sorts of painful and difficult emotions. While some people may not understand the depth of feeling you had for your pet, you should never feel guilty or ashamed about grieving for an animal friend. Our pets carry a large emotional burden with them as they help to support us, and their loss can transfer that burden back onto you. This, combined with the common feelings of sadness and longing, can be a lot to carry.
The grieving process happens only gradually. It can’t be forced or hurried—and there is no “normal” timetable for grieving. Some people start to feel better in weeks or months. For others, the grieving process is measured in years. Whatever your grief experience, it’s important to be patient with yourself and allow the process to naturally unfold.
Feeling sad, shocked, or lonely is a normal reaction to the loss of a beloved pet. Exhibiting these feelings doesn’t mean you are weak or your feelings are somehow misplaced. It just means that you’re mourning the loss of an animal you loved, so you shouldn’t feel ashamed. Having a companion that greets you when you arrive home from work, shares experiences, and comforts you when you are feeling down can shape the very fabric of your life, so loosing that companion can have a large impact.
If you are feeling unheard or underappreciated, it can help to reach out to others who have lost pets. Check out online message boards, pet loss hotlines, and pet loss support groups. If your own friends and family members are not sympathetic about pet loss, find someone who is. Often, another person who has also experienced the loss of a beloved pet may better understand what you’re going through and be able to hear your thoughts and wishes without judgement.
Remember that the relationship you have with your pet does not have to end with their physical loss. Creating a legacy for them can be a wonderful way to work through your grief and feel connected to them after they have passed. Preparing a memorial, planting a tree in memory of your pet, having a Close by Me jewelry or other keepsake made, compiling a photo album or scrapbook, or otherwise sharing the memories you enjoyed with your pet, can create a legacy to celebrate the life of your animal companion. Remembering the fun and love you shared with your pet can help you to eventually move on.
Above all, do not hesitate to seek professional help if you need it. If your grief is persistent and interferes with your ability to function, your doctor or a mental health professional can evaluate you for depression. There is never any shame in asking for help, try to see it as a strength rather than a weakness, and remember that there are those who love and support you and can do so during your time of loss as well.