This picture is from Dr. Katie’s childhood with her dog, Corky. He passed away from lymphoma (a type of cancer of the lymph nodes) while she was still in high school.
Here at My Zoo Animal Hospital, we understand what an important role pets play in families. They are beloved pets and non-judgmental companions. They provide hours of entertainment with the silly things they do, hours of snuggling on warm laps, and hours of companionship. Unfortunately most our pets have a significantly shorter lifespan than humans. This means that if you have pets, you will probably experience the loss of a pet.
Grief is a natural response to the loss of a pet. Sometimes the need to grieve for this loss is not understood by others. Others may not appreciate the companionship your pet provided or the bond shared. You should not feel ashamed by your grief, and you should allow yourself to process and experience this grief. Loving your pet is a wonderful thing. If your usual support group (ie, friends and family) is not supportive, we recommend you reach out to other pet lovers during this time.
In most people, grieving is a process that encompasses many different “stages”: shock/denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Of course, the grieving experience encompasses many more emotions than these 5, and not everyone experiences grief the same way. However they provide a framework for understanding some of the grieving process.
- Shock/Denial – Initially it may be hard to accept what has happened. This is especially true if your pet’s death was sudden or unexpected. At this point you may find yourself waiting for your pet to walk through the door or take up his or her usual residence at your feet. You might not want to move food bowls or water bowls and leave them as they were while your pet was alive.
- Anger – Anger is a normal part of grieving. Anger can be directed at close friends and family, caregivers of your pet, or even at the memory of your pet.
- Bargaining – During the grieving process, you may find yourself thinking “If I did such and such, would it have saved my pet?” Some people even try to bargain with higher powers. For example “God, if you give me back my pet, I’ll walk him every day and only buy the best food.”
- Depression – After some of the other feelings/stages have been exhausted, sadness remains. You may feel hopeless and loose interest in your normal activities. You may feel exhausted. Children may direct this outward by acting out.
- Acceptance – Acceptance of a loss does not mean forgetting. Oftentimes, we carry memories of the loss for the rest of our lives. Acceptance means you learn to process, acknowledge, and accept the loss. During this stage, you begin to create a new life – one without your pet.
Here are some tips with regards to grieving:
- Don’t be ashamed – It’s ok to feel the pain and grief after losing a pet. You don’t have to be ashamed that you are sad because your pet has passed away.
- Communicate – Talk to others about how you’re feeling. Seek professional therapy with a licensed professional. Find a way to communicate and express your feelings – art, pet memorials, talking, therapy, etc. One way we try to help owners is by making a donation in honor of a beloved pet to the Missouri Veterinary Medical Association. You can view memorials on their website (http://mopetmemorial.com/) and you can add descriptions and pictures of beloved pets.
- Don’t dwell on the “what ifs” – If your pet passed away naturally or you made the decision to have a veterinarian euthanize your pet, don’t dwell on what ifs. Forgive yourself for all the “should have,” “would have,” “could have” thoughts. Accept that you did the best thing you could for your pet and your family. Also forgive yourself for any embarrassment you might feel because of your grieving. We understand that pets play an important role in the family. It’s normal and acceptable to grieve their loss.
- Take care of yourself – even though it’s hard, life continues. To help you get through the grieving process, take care of your body. Eat well and exercise. Exercise releases endorphins and can help you feel better. Even if it’s just a stroll in the park with a friend or by yourself, exercise can help you feel better.
- Get help – Here at My Zoo we love animals, and we understand what an important role they play in our lives. However, we are not licensed counselors or psychologists. We recommend seeking help from a licensed professional and support groups. You should not be ashamed if you need support while grieving a pet.
- Children grieve too – Children also are very attached to family pets, and the loss of the pet can be very difficult for them. Let your child communicate openly about how she or he feels. Explain that their compassion and love of an animal is a great strength. Talk about concerns with your child. Your child may be afraid of other loved ones dying, and your child may need reassuring. Children often struggle with verbal communication, so it may be helpful to provide another outlet for sad feelings. For example, you may help your child create a memorial (clay paw, painting, etc) to the pet. Consider holding a small memorial service for your pet and allow your child to participate. This can let your child openly express feelings about the loss. Allowing a child to grieve for the lost pet is important before you think about a replacement pet.
- Cremation – Here at My Zoo Animal Hospital we offer private, individual cremation for your pet. If you decide to have your pet cremated here, we treat your pet’s remains with the respect we would give our own pets, and we can assure you that the remains are your pet’s! Cremation can provide a way for you to set up a memorial in your home and honor your pet’s life.
We understand that loss of a pet is very traumatic and difficult. Here at My Zoo Animal Hospital, we aim to help you in whatever capacity we can. We love providing care for your pet during his or her life, and we also want to help you when a pet passes. Feel free to post pictures of your pets on our Facebook, post pictures/memorials on our lobby photo-board, ask about cremation services, and drop by to talk about your pet. If you need professional counseling, we recommend seeking help from a licensed professional. There’s no shame in loving a pet and grieving their loss.
- http://www.petmemorial.net/ This website has a selection of pet memorial stones. We have an example 11-12″ stone in our entryway.
- Pet grief counseling (Hot Line) (888) 478-7574.