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How to Cope with Grief After Losing a Pet

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There comes a time in every pet owner’s life when you have to say your final goodbye—and, suddenly, the limitless source of love from your furry friend is just…gone. When that happens, it can be absolutely devastating. For some people, the death of a pet can feel even harder than losing a human loved one.

We may not openly talk about pet grief in polite society, but most pet owners know that a pet isn’t just an animal. They’re also a beloved member of the family and a huge source of unconditional love, affection, and comfort. That’s because, unlike other relationships, animals offer an organic connection that you don’t have to overthink or worry about. You love them and they love you—it’s that simple. Very few human relationships provide this level of trust and devotion.

Moreover, having a pet can benefit your overall mental health and wellbeing. According to the National Institutes of Health, animals can boost your mood and increase feelings of social support. A 2021 study also found that having an animal in your home can help lessen social isolation and ease loneliness.1 “An animal is kind of an extension of you,” Niloo Dardashti, PhD, New York-based psychologist and cofounder of the Manhattan Psychology Group, tells SELF. “It follows you, sits with you, and mirrors you. It becomes a very symbiotic relationship.”

So what do we do when they’re not there to greet us at the door anymore? Here are five tips to help you move through your grief.

5 ways to cope with the loss of a pet

1. Don’t let people tell you how to feel

Not everyone has experienced a deep bond with a pet, and that might lead some folks in your life to make dismissive comments like “it was only a cat” or “just get a new dog.” But for people whose everyday routine is anchored to the care of a pet, and those who rely on their pet as a source of unconditional love, the loss can be just as difficult—or even more difficult—than the loss of a human, Natalia Skritskaya, PhD, founder of the Complicated Grief Center of New York and associate research scientist at Columbia University, tells SELF.

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Just know that not everyone in your life may be able to relate to the depth of your grief. “It’s very hard for anyone else to understand your connection other than the other people who know your pet,” Dr. Dardashti says. That said, try not to let people’s comments upset you. Your grief is 100% valid.

Oh, and there is no need to feel guilty about hanging on to Rover’s stuff (and no shame in sleeping with his blanket). Some folks don’t want a constant reminder while others find it comforting. You do you. “If you had a meaningful connection and you’ve lost it, it’s going to trigger an intense reaction and it’s going to hurt,” Dr. Skritskaya says.

2. Be patient with yourself

Grief is a complicated process. You might wake up one day feeling solid, but by lunch, you’re crying again. These waves of emotions are par for the course; you’ve experienced something terrible and “feeling normal” takes time. A 2019 study examined the grief timeline in 82 people who lost a pet. About 25% experienced intense grief for three to 12 months, 50% for 12 to 19 months, and 25% for 12 to 24 months.2 So, try not to compare your grief to other losses or rush through your feelings.

Source: Self

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