How to cope with the death of a family pet

It can be difficult to come to terms with the loss of a pet. We grow close to our pets, sharing a special bond with them – they are not just a cat or a dog, but a valued and much loved member of the family.

No one can take away the heartbreak that comes with losing a pet. So it’s important that you give yourself time to grieve and approach this difficult period in a way that gives you the best chance of coming to terms with your loss.

Everyone grieves differently

It’s important to remember that everyone grieves in their own way and in their own time. Some people will gradually come to terms with their loss on their own in a few weeks or months, but for others it can be a longer and more difficult process, so be patient.

A mixture of emotions is understandable and it is perfectly normal to feel sad, lonely or even frightened. It’s always best to show these emotions and avoid trying to ignore or hide them. Keeping them bottled up can make it harder in the long run.

Here are some suggestions on how to process grief:

  • Don’t let others control your emotions. Your grief is your own and you can express it in a way that helps you. It’s also ok to feel moments of joy during this time and you will move on fully when you are ready.
  • Reach out to others who can help. Speak to friends or relatives who have experienced losing a pet, or try using a support group. Professional help is also available from bereavement counsellors.
  • Hold a funeral or memorial service. This can provide a time to bring the family together to grieve, express feelings and bring closure.
  • Create a memorial. Putting together a photo album or having a drawing created to keep their memory alive in your home can help you to always remember them while moving on.
  • Look after yourself and try to maintain your normal routine as much as possible. Grief can be draining, but it can sometimes be worse to stop your routine as it will be harder to get back into the swing of things when you start to feel better. It also gives you a welcome distraction and helps you concentrate on other areas of your life.

Helping a child grieve for a pet

The loss of a pet is often a child’s first experience of death, and it can be a scary and upsetting time for them. It’s normal for a child to look to blame someone or themselves after the death of an animal. Still, this is a good time to teach them how to cope with these emotions, which they will inevitably feel at some point in their life.

Here are some helpful tips to support your child:

  • Allow them to see your grief and to know it’s ok to feel sad. It’s important to make them feel as comfortable as possible with expressing how they are feeling about what has happened.
  • Be honest. If you hide your pet’s death, your child may become frightened. Don’t tell them your pet has just gone to sleep or has run away – they will only find it more difficult to accept the finality of the death.
  • Educate them. Use this time to teach them about the process of dying in a compassionate way so they understand it’s a normal part of life. Reassure them by being open and honest.
  • If your pet is being ‘put down’ and your child wants to be there, ask your vet. It can help your child feel included.
  • Involve them as much as possible. Allow them to play a part in any funeral or memorial service you have so they can say goodbye to their pet.
  • Do not rush to replace their pet. A replacement will not help them understand how to process bereavement, so give them some time to accept their loss before moving on to a new animal.

Sadly, bereavement is an inevitable stage of life for most pet owners. But by addressing the issues rather than hiding from them, this period can be manageable and a time for sharing in great memories and moments.

If you do need any extra support or advice, then the Blue Cross Pet Bereavement Support Service is available to help you through this difficult time.

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