To have a pet is to sign up for near-inevitable sadness—we almost always outlive our beloved companions. Learning to live with loss is an essential part of life. It’s not easy, but to deny the pain is to deny that we live, that we love, and that we matter to each other.
Honor your emotions
Your emotions are important. Dealing with the loss of a pet is a deeply personal experience. There is no "should" when a pet dies or has gone missing for so long that it is time to say goodbye. Many pet owners find comfort in envisioning a pet crossing the rainbow bridge to a paradise where pets enjoy a heavenly afterlife.
It’s a natural reaction while we are grieving to want to do something. And while there are things to do, it is also important to simply be with the reality and feelings. I invite you to pause from doing, and take a deep breath, and another, and sometimes one more. Take a moment to be with your feelings that honor your pet, your companion, your friend who lived a life of unconditional love and perhaps accepted you even more than you accepted yourself.
Honor your pet’s memory
As you carry on, remember those sounds, sights, smells, and touches. Remember all those habits and little adjustments you made for your pet, some of which you may still make unconsciously. Those are now places in your heart. Perhaps an honoring ceremony will help the grieving process, and ultimately help you to heal. You may want to make a scrapbook or a special box of memories with photographs, some writing, or special objects. Some find it helpful to create a special place of honor in or around the home.
Help a child cope with loss
The death or disappearance of a pet can be a child’s first exposure to the loss of a loved one. You may need to help your child sort through feelings. A child may blame herself for the pet’s death or disappearance, or she may feel shame for having emotions at school. Children need healthy guidance to make sense of the loss, to experience the emotions and process the pain in a healthy way, and to carry on with school and an ordinary routine rather than withdrawing from life. Like adults, some children also benefit from drawing, writing a story, or gathering mementos. Assume that a child needs a parent or trusted adult to guide that memorializing process.
AAHA pet loss resources
- The Loss of Your Pet. Covers the importance of the grieving process when healing from a loss, how to cope with grief, and moving forward.
- When Your Pet Is Sick. Discusses how to deal with the news, where to go from there, how to know when it’s time to euthanize, and how to understand and prepare for euthanasia.
Resources for children
For support when coping with the loss of a pet, this program offers information on meeting the emotional needs of children at the time of a pet's death, pet loss FAQs, and end-of-life care FAQs.
Larry Kay is an award-winning dog book author. His newest book is LIFE’S A BARK: What Dogs Teach Us About Life and Love.
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