Grief and Pet Loss

Losing A Pet Is Like Losing A Member Of The Family

When you get your first pet, it can be surprising how much and how quickly it can become part of the family. It is really easy to connect with an animal – for some people, it is much easier to connect with animals than with human beings. Pets can understand you in ways that humans can’t. A dog will greet you at the door after a bad day and cats will keep purring in your lap even if you can’t muster a smile. When life seems unbearable, pets can put a grin on your face and put life’s challenges in perspective. 

So when we lose these endearing creatures, pets that mean so much to us, the loss can be devastating. In grief counseling, clients sometimes share with me they are embarrassed to admit the loss of a pet has caused more grief than the loss of human family members and other loved ones. They don’t understand how this can be the case and if something is wrong with them. Why are they grieving over a pet more than other important people in their life? 

There is nothing wrong when you grieve more for a pet than you do for a human loved one. It is the same if you end up grieving more for one human loved one over another. Every person and pet plays a different role in our life, so when the connection goes away, it impacts us differently every time.   

“Pets understand humans better than humans do.” Ruchi Prabhu

Most pet owners describe their pets as loving them unconditionally. Having pets provide a snuggle when it is needed most or a companion to go for a walk when company and solitude are needed at the same time. Pets know our secrets. They may sense when we are sad or happy when no one else does. When this connection stops, it can feel like our inner world has been taken away.

So when we lose a pet but look for them to help us through this loss, it can be terribly confusing and lonely. Especially when our human loved ones don’t understand, it can even be more isolating. 

Moving Through Your Own Grief After The Loss Of A Pet

Remember to take it one step at a time and that grief is a moment to moment process. Some moments we can feel fine and other moments we can find ourselves crying when we hear a commercial with a dog bark or cleaning the house and finding an old pet toy. It is important to give yourself time to breathe and show yourself compassion as you experience grief differently moment to moment. 

When we grieve, we often forget to take care of ourselves. Grieving can be very taxing on the body and things we used to find simple like eating or sleeping can now be big challenges. Remember to take care of your basic needs first and try to make life easier on you. Order groceries online, ask friends and neighbors to take over the kids’ carpool for a couple of days, and taking several days off from work or working from home are ways clients have told me it has helped ease the loss of a pet. If you have other pets to care for, sometimes this can be incredibility difficult to do after the loss of a pet. You might want to consider asking a friend to help care for your pets. 

For some clients, having a ceremony to say good bye to a pet has helped them transition to a life where they feel they can move forward. Memorializing the memory of your pet gives you an opportunity to experience the process of saying good bye while also remembering the wonderful connection and moments you and your pet shared.  Powerful ways to say good bye to a pet include writing a letter, ceremonial services, shadow boxes with the pet’s collar, toys, paw imprint, and pictures, or dedicating a special place in remembrance. This experience can give pet owners time to recollect all their favorite pet memories while transitioning to a life where healing can begin. 

If You Want Support Moving Through Your Pet Loss

If you have a lost a pet, either recently or several years ago, and it is still on your mind constantly and it is hard to find joy in everyday life, you may want to consider talking to a therapist. A therapist will provide compassion, support, and understanding while you move through the pain of the loss and find that healing is possible. 

Grief counseling can help you overcome your pet loss and incorporate the memories of your pet back into your life in a positive way. To see if grief counseling may be beneficial to help you heal from the loss of a pet, please contact me to ask any questions you may have or learn more about my approach to grief therapy

Suzi Sena, EdS, LPC provides individual, couple, and career counseling to clients of Connecticut Integrative Counseling, LLC.