Just as every pet is unique, every relationship between a person and their pet is unique. The mixture of feelings that we each experience during pet loss will vary from one person to the next. Some people might view the loss of their pet in a pragmatic way; they are able to move on quite quickly, without in any way denigrating the depth of feeling they had for their pet when it was alive.
Others experience a deeper, longer feeling of loss, and for some it can affect how they cope with every-day things going forward. It’s important to recognize that every feeling is valid. There is no right or wrong way to feel. Just as your pet was unique, your feelings around pet loss are unique to you and you should not feel pressured to ‘get over it’ or ‘get on’.
Some of the emotions that you might experience around pet loss follow here. It’s important to realize that there is no set combination or pattern for what you might feel. Grieving for a pet might involve some, all or none of these emotions. For some it can be a shorter process, taking hours, or days to work through; for other it could be months or even years.
Feelings of grief
For most people, the loss of a pet brings with it deep sadness. Particularly early on it can be hard to see past the recent events surrounding a pet’s death. Sadness might bring with it apathy, lethargy or a feeling of loneliness. For most, these feelings will typically ease; the time taken for this will vary, but for most, over a period of days, feelings of intense sadness will lift.
For others though, the deeper feelings of sadness do not lift. Pet loss is a very emotional time, and some individuals may struggle to work their way through it, taking weeks or months for the intense sadness to lift. Keeping up with daily tasks and activities might be difficult and they may withdraw from regular life. It’s important to recognize that for some, the traumatic events of pet loss can lead to depression. This is a recognized clinical condition and medical help should be sought. You may find our section Where to find more support helpful for more information.
Just as with human bereavement and grieving for a person, anger is an emotion that can surface when grieving for a pet. You might feel anger at your vet, your veterinary practice, your family or friends, God or the universe, your pet’s disease, your pet and yourself. Acknowledge it, but let it go if you can so you can help yourself to move forward through the rest of the grieving process. Be gentle with yourself. Seek help if you can’t get past the anger.
Guilt is a common emotion to experience around the time of pet loss. You may feel guilty for having made the decision to euthanase your pet, even though at that time, it was the right thing to do and the best decision for your pet. You might feel guilty for ‘letting your pet go on too long’ or not being able to judge ‘the right time’ to let go. In some circumstances of accidental death, you might feel guilty for having let your pet out at that particular time, or not having supervised them or safeguarded them sufficiently. Again, it’s important to be gentle with yourself. We make the best judgements and decisions we can, based on the circumstances, our feelings and environment that surround us at that time. Try to move past the negative emotions of guilt and allow yourself to heal. Your pet would not have wanted you to grieve in this way. Try to remember the happy times. Learn from your pet loss experience and note whether there’s anything that you would do differently next time.
In the early hours or days after losing your pet, you might feel that it’s too painful to let yourself open up to the feelings of loss. You might try to deny that your pet has died by keeping yourself busy, rushing out to get another pet to fill the void, or tell yourself that it’s insignificant and you shouldn’t be so weak. By avoiding acknowledging deeper feelings of loss, you prolong the period of healing. Open yourself, gently look inside and help yourself heal. Seek help from family, friends or counsellors if you need support to do this.
Denial can also come before your pet has died. You might be having difficulty in acknowledging that your pet is very ill or that death is to follow. But taking courage and overcoming the fear that is part of denial is the best thing you can do for your pet at this time. It allows you to prepare yourself, and also to make the best decisions in caring for your pet. Facing up to reality will let you have precious time with your pet and you can focus on making positive memories of your final days together. It will also help to alleviate any guilt that might be felt after your pet’s death that you didn’t act or prepare.
You may feel some of these feelings or none of them. You may feel other emotions that you can’t categorize into any one common theme. But acknowledge whatever emotions you feel; they are valid for you, and they will be common to many other people. Talk about your pet loss, cry if you need to. Open up with family, friends, or colleagues. Not everyone will be able to understand your feelings; some people just aren’t pet people. But there are many others that will know just what you’re going through. If you can’t find someone who can support you emotionally, reach out to a pet loss forum or speak to your veterinary practice about where you can find more support. Keep a grief diary if it helps and note down your thoughts and emotions.
Try not to let yourself spiral into very deep emotions where you are alone. Seek help if you feel that you cannot keep perspective on your loss. There is support through helplines and forums, and you may in some circumstances need to seek medical help if you feel you might be becoming depressed. Acknowledge to yourself that it’s OK and valid to reach out.