What’s a Pet Grief Counselor & How Can They Help?

Certified Grief Counselor

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Grappling with the loss of a beloved pet can be an emotionally devastating experience that can hurt as much as when you lose a human loved one. Sometimes the death of your pet can be even more traumatic, especially when you’ve shared a close bond with your pet.

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Special pets often fill a void in your life by providing companionship, emotional support, and unconditional love. Healing from the grief that follows their death is sometimes harder than anticipated. A pet grief counselor can help you process your grief and understand these emotions you’re experiencing.

What’s a Pet Grief Counselor?

Grief counselors with special training in pet loss and bereavement can help you overcome the different types of grief experienced after the death of a pet.

They understand both the underlying causes of human grief and emotion when they’ve suffered human loss and the unique pain and suffering that comes from losing a pet.

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What Does a Pet Grief Counselor Do?

Pet grief counselors can help you understand the grief reactions when dealing with the loss of a pet.

They know and understand that when a pet dies, it can be as psychologically devastating as losing a human loved one. They can also decipher your feelings of guilt and shame that often follow.

They are trained professionals 

A pet grief counselor is trained at helping you cope with human grief and loss, as well as helping you when you’ve suffered the loss of a pet. There are pet bereavement support training courses available online to help grief counselors become adept in helping those who are mourning the loss of a pet. 

The Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement is one such organization that provides counselor training and certification courses specifically in the areas of pet loss. It was founded by the late Dr. Sife, who authored the book The Loss of a Pet: A Guide to Coping With the Grieving Process When a Pet Dies.

They walk you through your grief

Explaining the grief and sorrow that follows the death of a pet to the people you know and love can be difficult. Not everyone understands the deep impact the loss of a pet can have on you. The relationship and bond you’ve formed with your pet are special and sometimes impossible to explain to others.

The closer you were to your pet, the more devastating the loss will be. People who’ve never had this type of bond with a pet can’t understand how horrible you feel after they die. A trained pet grief counselor knows and understands what you’re going through.

They explain the stages of grief 

An experienced pet grief counselor knows the five stages of grief that a person goes through when suffering the loss of a loved one. They also know that when a beloved pet dies, the stages of grief can be more complex from that of ordinary loss. These types of counselors explain the stages of grief as they apply to the death of a pet. 

Dr. Wallace Sife developed the following six stages of pet grief in 1990:

  1. Shock: This is the feeling of disbelief that overtakes you when you first realize that your pet has died. It may follow you for several hours to several weeks as you try to make sense of your loss.
  2. Anger: Finding fault and someone to blame for your pet’s death is not unusual. Sometimes it’s easier to blame the vet for misdiagnosing, or your spouse for waiting too long to take action rather than facing the reality of your pet’s death.
  3. Denial: Hiding your pain and sadness from yourself and others is an unhealthy way to process your grief. Sometimes denying that your pet has died, or denying your feelings toward their death is a way for you to cope with the overwhelming feelings of loss.
  4. Guilt: Feeling guilty over not having done enough to save your pet’s life, or for having created the circumstances contributing to their death is normal. Overcoming feelings of guilt will take some time as you process your grief. 
  5. Depression: Keeping your feelings of loss to yourself and withdrawing from others contributes to feelings of depression. The longer you hold back your feelings, the more likely it is for you to become depressed over your loss. 
  6. Resolution: Accepting the loss of your pet and moving past your grief and sorrow comes with time. The resolution phase is the last stage in the grief process. The road to resolution can be short and bittersweet, or it can take weeks or months to navigate. There’s no rush to the finish line with these stages of grief. 

They provide support 

A pet grief counselor understands the undeniable bond between you and your pet. They not only help you process your grief but validate your feelings of loss and mourning. The support that you’ll find with this type of counseling is different than that of a regular grief counselor.

Someone who is trained to counsel you through the stages of pet grief and loss will know and understand your unique needs and your emotional ups and downs. In particular, when you’re at a loss explaining the unbearable pain you’re experiencing after the death of your pet. 

What Are Some Signs You May Need Grief Counseling After the Death of a Pet?

It’s normal to feel grief and sadness at the death of your pet. It can be tragic, traumatic, and devastating to lose what sometimes amounts to your most faithful and trusted companion. 

When grieving the loss of a pet, there’ll be unexpected triggers that send your emotions spiraling. Everything from finding your pet’s ball underneath the sofa to the scratch marks on the wood flooring has the potential to sink you deeper into your despair. 

Be on the lookout for when things get too much for you to handle on your own. If you’re experiencing any of the reactions to grief listed below, consider online therapy or grief counseling to help you get through this stage in the grief process:

Overwhelming sorrow or extreme sadness

Suffering the loss of a pet that you were close to tends to deepen the pain and sorrow that you experience when they die.

You should expect to feel sad that your pet has died for a few weeks. If the sadness isn’t lifting or coming in waves, this can be a signal that you’re experiencing more complicated grief. 

Unbearable loneliness

Grief is an individual experience that’s usually processed internally. The close relationship you shared with your pet can create loneliness in your life that may become unbearable.

Try talking to your support group regarding your feelings of being lonely without your pet. If they don’t understand, or you find it difficult to open up to them, a pet grief counselor should be able to help you process these feelings. 

Feeling your pet’s presence

It’s natural to feel grief over the loss of a pet you attach yourself to emotionally. Some people have reported to their counselors having felt their pet’s presence in or around the home after their death.

There’s no scientific proof explaining this lingering energy around you. Try talking to your pet to ease any fears or anxieties you might have regarding their continued presence. 

Reliving your pet’s death

When you’re unable to get the details of your pet’s death out of your head, you may need to speak to a professional to help you process your experiences.

While it’s not unusual for this to happen in the first several weeks following their death, it can signal a deeper issue if it continues.

Feeling extreme guilt

Guilt can run deep after your pet dies, especially if you feel as if you didn’t do enough for them to keep them alive.

There are many reasons to feel guilty over how your pet died if you allow yourself to count them. When feelings of shame and guilt overtake you, discuss this with your pet grief counselor. 

Trouble functioning

Forgetting to eat, bathe, and having trouble sleeping are all normal signs of grief. When the brain fog doesn’t lift after several weeks, consider seeking counseling to help get you back on track. 

Inability to move forward

Grief doesn't have a timeline. It can take months for you to feel back to your normal self again. Reasons to seek counseling include:

  • No longer enjoying things that used to bring you joy
  • Being stuck in the past
  • Reacting negatively to other pets

Coping with the loss of your pet

Dealing with the loss of a pet can be as easy as acknowledging your grief and allowing yourself to express it when necessary. These are some things to do in memory of your pet that can help you cope:

  • Reach out to your support group
  • Join an online pet grief support group
  • Journal about your feelings and memories of your pet
  • Write a poem in honor of your pet
  • Prepare a memorial for your pet and invite friends over

Healing From the Loss of Your Pet

Openly discussing your feelings and emotions will help you to resolve your grief, regardless of how small or large an impact your pet's death made in your life. Your grief is genuine and deserving of support. A pet grief counselor can help you process your pain and face your new reality as you move forward.

If you're looking for more advice on dealing with grief, read our guides on starting a grief journal and how long grief lasts.

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