We all know that death is an inevitable part of life and pet ownership; however, the grief that comes with the loss of a loved one, including pets, is never easy.
Although some pet owners may feel uncomfortable mourning an animal, Michael Hawkins, a licensed professional counselor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences’ Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, said that grieving is a natural response to the heartbreak associated with this kind of loss.
“Grief does not ask if the loss was a person or an animal,” Hawkins said. “A bond with an animal is no less impactful than a bond with a person. Sadness and grief are our ways to feel the weight of the loss, regardless of with whom the attachment was. It’s never wrong to feel sadness over a significant loss.”
There are many coping strategies owners can use to make the grieving process less difficult, such as practicing self-care and seeking support from others.
“Mourning owners need to make sure that they are taking care of themselves,” Hawkins said. “Eating, sleeping, and exercise are vital to the healing process. When needed, seek out the help of a grief counselor or a support group. Writing down feelings and staying connected with friends and loved ones is also very important.”
Mourning pet owners may also benefit from studying the grief process and the stages most people experience when dealing with loss—denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.
“By understanding the stages of grief and loss, a person can recognize that what they are feeling is a normal part of grieving,” he said. “It’s important to be kind and patient with oneself and treat oneself as you would a loved one.”
Similarly, if a friend or family member is grieving the loss of a pet, there are many ways to show support and provide comfort during their difficult time.
“When someone is grieving, many times, it is better to listen than to talk,” Hawkins said. “Empathetic listening without judgment can be healing for a person who is grieving. Also, grieving with them and just being physically present with them can be very healing.”
Even though a pet has passed away, it is still very much alive in its owner’s memory. Going through the right healing process will not only help pet owners with the pain of losing their beloved furry, feathery, or scaly friend, but it will also set the stage for navigating loss with grace, empathy, and resilience for the entire family.
The loss of a beloved pet can be tragic, but we can never completely lose what we have once loved and cherished. Regardless of the limited time we get to share with our two- or four-legged family members, the love we have for them lasts a lifetime.
Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University.