Refer to a cat or dog as “just a pet” to most pet owners, and chances are they’ll correct you and let you know that their pets are more than just pets; they’re family members. Most pet owners share an extremely close bond with their fur babies. Cats and dogs provide us with friendship, companionship, unconditional love, fun, and laughter, bringing joy and excitement to our lives. They also provide structure, purpose, and emotional support and keep us active. So, it’s no wonder that when one of our beloved pets die, we feel devastated and experience grief akin to losing a person we’re close to.
Everyone experiences loss differently; death can trigger many emotions, whether cat, dog or person. Processing the loss of a pet is similar to processing the loss of a loved one, and sometimes it can be hard to know what to do. Below, we’ll go over the pet loss stages of grief and some tips to help you cope with the loss of your pet.
Pet Loss Stages of Grief
Grief impacts everyone differently and there is no right way, wrong way, or allotted amount of time typical for the grieving process. With that said, there were traditionally five stages of grief, which were first identified in 1969 by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. She later adapted the five stages to seven overlapping ones, called the Kübler-Ross Change Curve. Pet loss stages of grief can be classified in the same way. They are as follows:
- Shock: The initial surprise of the loss (which can be intense and debilitating).
- Denial: Disbelief that the loss has occurred and trying to disprove it.
- Anger and frustration: Acknowledgement that something has happened and feeling angry about it.
- Depression: A feeling of intense pain and sadness (feeling like you can’t live with the loss).
- Testing: Trying to understand how this loss impacts your day-to-day life through trial and error.
- Decision: The understanding that this loss has in fact occurred and starting to believe you can live with it.
- Integration: Acceptance of the loss and the new normal and actively moving forward in life adapted to the loss.
Dealing with the Loss of a Pet
Grief and sorrow over the loss of a pet are perfectly normal and to be expected. While you can’t make the pain go away, or just “get over it,” there are some things that you can do to lessen the intensity of the pain you’re feeling.
1. Remember that your grief is valid.
It’s totally fine to be an emotional wreck after the loss of your pet! Some people express confusion at the intensity that others feel over the loss of their pets, but you should never feel ashamed about grieving for your pet, especially if your pet died suddenly. While all loss is difficult, losing a pet suddenly and without warning can be even more devastating. Pets are part of our families, and their loss is just as real as the loss of anyone else. Remind yourself that your feelings are valid.
2. Reach out to others who have gone through a similar loss.
It’s been said that you don’t know until you know, and that applies to everything, including the grief you feel over the loss of the pet. It can be helpful to connect with friends and family who have also experienced the loss of a pet or by joining a pet loss support group. Again, everyone’s experience with grief will be different, but those who have gone through the loss of a pet can offer a unique perspective and provide support in ways that those who haven’t gone through that same experience can’t.
3. Take care of yourself.
Don’t give up on your daily routine, chores, work, workouts, etc. This is especially important if you have other pets or people who depend on you for care. Your surviving pets can also experience grief and pick up on your emotional cues. Maintaining your routine helps you and those around you remember that you will be okay, eventually.
4. Create a legacy.
Creating a legacy for your pet with physical items that you can remember them by can be incredibly helpful. This includes planning a memorial, planting a tree in their memory, creating a photo collage or scrapbook of them, and sharing your memories of them in whatever way feels best for you.
Grief is one of the most complex emotions you’ll have to face, and when you lose a pet, it can be devastating. By reminding yourself that your feelings are valid, taking care of yourself, connecting with others who have experienced loss, and memorializing your fur baby, you can help soften the blow and cope with your loss with a little more ease. For more information on dealing with the loss of a pet, contact Oklahoma Veterinary Specialists.