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Pet loss is a difficult experience for pet owners as well as for the surviving pets. Though they cannot tell us how they feel, your pet may be going through a time of grief.  As owners, it is easy to overlook behavior changes while dealing with our own sense of loss. When pets grieve, they usually show their sense of loss with behavior changes such as depression or separation anxiety.

When the cat or dog first becomes sick or starts to decline, the surviving pets often begin to act differently . For people, this can be a time of preparation, and some of our grieving may be done well in advance of the pet’s actual death. Although we don’t know for sure if surviving pets realize their companion animal friends will soon die, they certainly do act like they are aware of the changes taking place . In fact, many sensitive cats react to their owners’ emotional upset and grieve in response to our changes of behavior over the heartache.

The surviving pet may seem withdrawn and depressed. Often the personality changes and a shy cat could become more demanding of attention, while a demanding cat may start to hide. One of the most heartbreaking situations occurs when the surviving pet cries and looks everywhere for the missing loved one. Sometimes it can be helpful to allow the surviving pet to say “goodbye” to the body after a furry friend has died. They may sniff and examine the body, cry or ignore it all together. All of these reactions should be considered normal. That’s the only way we can explain to them what has happened to their friend. Viewing the friend’s body allows them to understand he’s not coming back. They still grieve, but aren’t searching for their friend or plagued with curiosity any longer.

People go through several stages of grief including denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance, while not always in this order. Pets have their own process of grieving which may include anger or depression until they finally work through the situation to acceptance. Just as people get over a loss in different time frames, some pets may take longer than others.

Owners and pets can provide mutual support as they grieve together. The bond they share offers comfort and safe place to release the painful thoughts and emotions of the loved one they’ve lost. Be sure to welcome your pet into your presence. Speak to them about the situation to help you both process. Although they may not understand your words, your pet will pick up on your emotions. Be careful not to baby your surviving pets, however, as this can be interpreted as a reward for acting depressed.

Play uplifting music to lift depression. An herbal remedy also helps a percentage of pets. The Bach Flower remedy called Star of Bethlehem is said to be particularly helpful for relieving sorrow and grief. You can find Bach remedies at many health food stores, or online. Also, the herb Saint-John’s-Wort acts as a natural antidepressant but must be dosed according to a veterinarian’s advice. If the depression doesn’t lift and lasts too long, your veterinarian may be able to prescribe an antidepressant drug.

The most effective way for you to help your pet grieve, and even yourself, is to give ample time for this necessary process. Though it hurts, the capacity to grieve honors the memory of the departed, and is a measure of the depth of our love. That truly is a legacy to celebrate.

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If you have had to say goodbye to your pet you know you are saying goodbye to much more. Losing a pet is losing a friend, a family member, and even losing a part of oneself. Allowing room for grief is key and your beloved is worth it. If you find yourself or a loved one experiencing this lose, we hope this article may be of some help.

 

Given the intense bond most of us share with our animals, it’s natural to feel devastated by feelings of grief and sadness when a pet dies. While some people may not understand the depth of feeling you had for your pet, you should never feel guilty or ashamed about grieving for an animal friend. Instead, use these healthy ways to cope with the loss, comfort yourself and others, and begin the process of moving on.

Understanding grief after lossing a pet

For many people a pet is not “just a dog” or “just a cat.” Pets are beloved members of the family and, when they die, you feel a significant, even traumatic loss. The level of grief depends on factors such as your age and personality, the age of your pet, and the circumstances of their death. Generally, the more significant the loss, the more intense the grief you’ll feel.

Grief can be complicated by the role the animal played in your life. For example, if your pet was a working dog or a helper animal such as a guide dog, then you’ll not only be grieving the loss of a companion but also the loss of a coworker or the loss of your independence. If you cared for your pet through a protracted illness, you likely grew to love him even more. If you lived alone and the pet was your only companion, coming to terms with his loss can be even harder. If you were unable to afford expensive veterinary treatment to prolong the life of your pet, you may even feel a profound sense of guilt.

Everyone grieves differently

Grieving is a personal and highly individual experience. Some people find grief comes in stages, where they experience different feelings such as denial, anger, guilt, depression, and eventually acceptance and resolution. Others find that grief is more cyclical, coming in waves, or a series of highs and lows. The lows are likely to be deeper and longer at the beginning and then gradually become shorter and less intense as time goes by. Still, even years after a loss, a sight, a sound, or a special anniversary can spark memories that trigger a strong sense of grief.

  • The grieving process happens only gradually. It can’t be forced or hurried—and there is no “normal” timetable for grieving. Some people start to feel better in weeks or months. For others, the grieving process is measured in years. Whatever your grief experience, it’s important to be patient with yourself and allow the process to naturally unfold.
  • Feeling sad, frightened, or lonely is a normal reaction to the loss of a beloved pet. Exhibiting these feelings doesn’t mean you are weak, so you shouldn’t feel ashamed.
  • Trying to ignore your pain or keep it from surfacing will only make it worse in the long run. For real healing, it is necessary to face your grief and actively deal with it. By expressing your grief, you’ll likely need less time to heal than if you withhold or “bottle up” your feelings. Write about your feelings and talk with others about them.

when others devalue your loss

One aspect that can make grieving for the loss of a pet so difficult is that pet loss is not appreciated by everyone. Friends and family may ask “What’s the big deal? It’s just a pet!” Some people assume that pet loss shouldn’t hurt as much as human loss, or that it is somehow inappropriate to grieve for an animal. They may not understand because they don’t have a pet of their own, or because they are unable to appreciate the companionship and love that a pet can provide.

  • Don’t argue with others about whether your grief is appropriate or not.
  • Accept the fact that the best support for your grief may come from outside your usual circle of friends and family members.
  • Seek out others who have lost pets; those who can appreciate the magnitude of your loss, and may be able to suggest ways of getting through the grieving process.

Tips for coping

Sorrow and grief are normal and natural responses to death. Like grief for humans, grief for animal companions can only be dealt with over time, but there are healthy ways to cope with the pain. Here are some suggestions:

  • Don’t let anyone tell you how to feel, and don’t tell yourself how to feel either. Your grief is your own, and no one else can tell you when it’s time to “move on” or “get over it.” Let yourself feel whatever you feel without embarrassment or judgment. It’s okay to be angry, to cry or not to cry. It’s also okay to laugh, to find moments of joy, and to let go when you’re ready.
  • Reach out to others who have lost pets. Check out online message boards, pet loss hotlines, and pet loss support groups. If your own friends, family members, therapist, or clergy do not work well with the grief of pet loss, find someone who does.
  • Rituals can help healing. A funeral can help you and your family members openly express your feelings. Ignore people who think it’s inappropriate to hold a funeral for a pet, and do what feels right for you.
  • Create a legacy. Preparing a memorial, planting a tree in memory of your pet, compiling a photo album or scrapbook, or otherwise sharing the memories you enjoyed with your pet, can create a legacy to celebrate the life of your animal companion.
  • Look after yourself. The stress of losing a pet can quickly deplete your energy and emotional reserves. Looking after your physical and emotional needs will help you get through this difficult time. Eat a healthy diet, get plenty of sleep, and exercise regularly to release endorphins and help boost your mood.
  • If you have other pets, try to maintain your normal routine. Surviving pets can also experience loss when a pet dies, or they may become distressed by your sorrow. Maintaining their daily routines, or even increasing exercise and play times, will not only benefit the surviving pets but may also help to elevate your outlook too.
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It is the most wonderful time of the year but you may not be feeling very wonderful inside. This is normal for those who are grieving the loss of a pet. Whether it was recent or many years ago, the holidays have a way of reminding us of our loved ones who have passed on as we try to move through the season without them. The pain may be magnified if the loss occurred close to the holidays or if this is the first year facing the season without them.

 

Grief is a very personal and individual experience. Grief may manifest itself in different feelings such as denial, anger, guilt, depression, and eventually acceptance and resolution. However, we don’t move through the predetermined stages of grief in order, and emerge on the other side. Every loss is different, and every journey through grief is a unique experience. Even years after a loss, a sight, a sound, or a special anniversary can spark memories that trigger a strong sense of grief.

It’s important for the bereaved to know that all such behavior is normal and necessary to find healing and a new kind of normal in their lives. Finding out what helps you most and allowing time to exercise your emotions is essential, especially this time of the year. Wherever you are on your journey, whether you are facing the potential loss of a pet or have had to say goodbye already, keep the following in mind.

You should expect to feel sadness and pain. Though others may be insisting you cheer up and have a good time, you may find it impossible.  Allow yourself to feel these feelings and don’t try to cover them up with busyness or fake merriment. You don’t have to feel ashamed or afraid to cry as tears are an important part of the healing process.

Take some time to plan ahead on how you will spend the holidays. With so much hustle and bustle this time of year, it can be easy to over do it. Try to schedule some quiet time to be alone and reflect between the holiday parties and shopping sprees. If you must decline from attending some of your favorite activities, try not to be too hard on yourself. Remember that any time out taken is in honor of your precious pet which is a worthy cause. Do not accept every invitation or bury yourself in work to keep busy and avoid thinking about it as this can prolong the process and make it more difficult.

Take care of yourself. This may seem contrary to the spirit of giving that marks this time of year, but it holds true that if you are not filling yourself up first, you will not have anything to give to others. Do not drown your sorrows in Christmas cookies but try to set healthy limits on treats and desserts. Eating protein rich foods with good fats along with wholesome fruits, veggies and nuts, etc, will keep your energy steady and help battle depression. Exercise is a great antidepressant and it’s free! Try to go the extra mile whenever possible from an extra day at the gym to parking at the end of the lot and jogging in when out running errands. Allow yourself to say no to hosting special gatherings if you simply don’t feel up to it.  If being out among holiday shoppers seems overwhelming to you this year, take advantage of shopping online.

Find a way to remember your pet this holiday. Place a candle next to a photo of your pet in a special place in your home and light it during significant times during the holidays to symbolize the love that you shared with your pet. Hang photo frame ornaments with your pet’s picture on your tree. Share  memories with family members and friends who knew your pet during holiday gatherings.  This may bring tears, but it may also bring laughter, and it will make your lost pet a part of the celebrations. Make a donation in your pet’s memory to a charity that is meaningful to you.  Maybe it could be the shelter or rescue group your pet came from.  Maybe there’s a group that does research into the illness that took your pet’s life.

Remember that sometimes, the anticipation of how awful the holidays are going to be without your loved one can be harder than the actual holidays.  And as much as the bereaved dread the holidays, sometimes, the aftermath of the holidays can bring even more sadness than the actual holidays themselves, so be aware and prepare yourself for this.

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