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Understanding and Mourning the Loss of a Pet

Events this past week have gotten me really thinking about dealing with the loss of a pet. Losing our furry family members, no matter how large or small, can have a definite effect on our hearts and psyche. But that loss often affects us a bit differently than a human loss. Here’s a look into why.

This last week has been an ordeal when it comes to pets. My 27 year old horse Monster colicked last week and scared me half to death. Those who know about colic in equines know how serious this is and how close we came to losing him. The process of saving and treating him isn’t over and we’ve had ups and downs, with a peek into what it might be like when I ultimately DO have to say goodbye.

In addition, a few days ago, our pet goat Lloyd passed away unexpectedly. He has been off his feed and I planned a call to the vet. I sent my livestock savvy daughter out to gather some vitals and she found him, gone. Lloyd was more dog-like than goat. When we visited the sheep pen he’d come running for scratches and the occasional treat. To say his loss didn’t affect us, would be lying. We feel his loss like we do the many pets we have loved and lost over the years.

Pets We Have Loved and Lost

Why the Loss of a Pet is Different

To many, the loss of a pet can be devastating, and many pet owners find the grief associated with losing their furry loved one equal to or greater than that of losing a human counterpart. Those who do not experience the deep emotional connection and companionship of a pet find it difficult to understand the gravity of that loss. In addition, they may be unable to adequately validate the loss. The sheer lack of universal mourning for an animal or pet compared to a human may lead to owners to feel isolated and misunderstood. Only those who also experience the same love and companionship for animals may be able to adequately sympathize with the owner’s loss.

Pets Love Unconditionally

No matter how you look, what annoying habits you may have or the fact that you haven’t gotten off the couch for two days, pets love unconditionally. Their primary job is to be our companion and support. They know our secrets, they have seen us at our worst and often comforted us through those times.

Since pets depend on their owners for food, shelter and care just like children. BUT, unlike children, that relationship doesn’t change as the pet ages. While kids will grow up, become less dependent and eventually move on to college and adult life, a pet stays. Our relationship and bond with our pets remains the same, or deepens. We are their universe and to some, they are ours. When we lose an animal companion, we lose a special relationship like no other.

Unique Grieving Experience

The loss of a pet brings a unique grief experience. While the elements of loss that we feel when losing a human still apply, we might also experience other emotions. Guilt can be a common one, as we may question “what if” I had done A, B, or C? Would that have changed the outcome of the pets loss? Likely not. Much like those experiencing human grief, we often experience anger, sadness and loneliness as well.

6 Tips for Processing the Loss of a Pet

  • Realize that your grief is real and valid. Even though some may not understand the unique relationship pet owners have with their animals, doesn’t diminish the feels you may feel. Don’t let others tell you how to grieve or to “get over it”. Sometimes it helps to connect with other pet lovers who understand that connection. This can be done through social media like Facebook or special pages dedicated to pet loss, such as Rainbow Bridge, a community created for the purpose of connecting people who have lost a pet.
  • Know that grief and bereavement are not permanent. While the feelings may be overwhelming at first, they will eventually lessen and fade. This knowledge won’t stop the feelings but may help you in knowing that there is an “end” in sight.
  • Create a legacy or memorial. Some owners choose to have a pet cremated and keep their beloved pets ashes, other may save bits of fur or have a cast of a paw print made. Regardless of how you choose to memorialize your pet, having a reminder of their affection and the memories you shared may help you move on.
  • If you have other pets, try to stick to your routine. Pets do feel grief and may mourn the loss of their family member and friend. In addition they may become stressed when they sense your sadness and anxiety over the loss. Sticking to a routine and even increasing walks or playtime will not only increase their mood but may help increase yours as well.
  • Take care of yourself. The loss of a pet can bring about depression and sadness which may take its toll on your own physical health. Be aware and work to make good decisions on eating healthy, getting exercise and talking to family or friends to boost your mood.
  • Realize that you still have lots of love to give. If you have other pets, you can channel it there but it is not a betrayal to provide a loving home to a new pet. If you aren’t ready to bring a new pet home, consider volunteering at a local shelter or rescue.

Help is Available

The loss of a pet is difficult and sad. There is no denying that. It is a natural part of life and grief is normal. If you find your sadness and grief to be affecting your daily life or ability to function, please seek out professional help.
Here are a few online resources that may help connect you with trained pet loss specialists:

boar goat in a feed trough

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