The Challenge of Grieving For A Loved Pet


Grieving for a loved pet can be difficult as often people don’t recognise how painful pet loss can be and how much it can impair both our emotional and physical health, particularly for those who have never had a pet themselves.

Even pet owners can assume that losing a larger pet such as a cat or dog is more painful than losing a smaller pet such as a rabbit or a guinea pig, but grief is so personal and dependent on so many factors that often this is not the case and assumptions should not be made.

Few of us would ask our employers for time off to grieve a beloved pet because we fear doing so would paint us as overly sentimental, lacking in maturity or emotionally weak. However, this can prolong the grieving further if you do not give yourself the required time to grieve. There is no set length of time set for grief as each person goes through the grieving processes differently and for different amounts of time. Some may even skip stages or progress through them in a different order.

Grief can affect people in many different ways; it can cause disturbed sleep, loss of appetite, fatigue, anger and anxiety, to name a few. It can be hard to explain these feelings to other people as we can feel embarrassed and even ashamed about the severity of the heartbreak we feel, and this can mean we feel hesitant to disclose our real feelings to our loved ones making you feel very alone. Some people think that pet loss shouldn’t hurt as much as human loss, but this is a very personal process.

There are ways to overcome these societal challenges. Try to maintain a normal daily life as much as possible for example if you used to walk your dog, try going for walks anyway to help maintain normality and that sense of routine. You can think of fond memories along the way and visit places that your dog loved. You may not feel ready to do this straight away, but it can help the grieving process in the long run to maintain this sense of normality.

Remember that you are never alone and that everyone reacts to grief differently; allow yourself time to process and accept what has happened in your own time. You should never feel embarrassed about grieving for your pet. Social support is crucial in working through grief of all kinds so if you find you aren’t getting the right support among your family and friends you could even reach out to people you don’t know online. Many animal clinics offer bereavement groups for pet owners.


Grief factsheets

If you’re in need of some extra support in the days and weeks following your pet’s passing, take a look at these handy guides written by leading figure in grief and empathy education and author of "When Pets Die: It's Alright To Grieve,"  Doris Zagdanski. 


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