Pets can be wonderful companions that give you unconditional love, sweet snuggles, and kisses. When your furry friend is a constant presence in your life, they grow to depend on you as much as you depend on them. They find their way into your heart and fill it with love and joy. In the end, all they seem to ask for in return is some attention, approval, and a bit of food.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Tips for Helping Children With Pet Loss
- Tips for Coping With a Pet Loss Immediately After the Death
- Tips for Grieving and Remembering Your Pet Into the Future
- Tips for Helping a Loved One Grieve the Loss of Their Pet
Most likely your pet has become a part of your family and takes up a special place in your heart. When your faithful and trusted companion dies, it can be a very traumatic experience for you. Pet loss can be as painful as any other major loss that you’ll ever experience, and you may find it difficult to express to others just how deeply hurt you are.
If you’re looking for some suggestions on how to deal with the loss of a pet, consider reading the following guide to help you better cope with your grief.
Tips for Helping Children With Pet Loss
A child who has suffered the loss of their pet will likely feel deep pain and sorrow as this may be the very first time that they experience a death of any sort.
If they’re having to cope with losing a pet unexpectedly, this may be the time to sit with your child to explain death to them. You may want to gather some books on grief to help you explain difficult-to-understand concepts in simpler terms that a child can understand.
1. Explain death in simple terms
Depending on your child’s age and maturity level, they may not yet understand the more complex concepts associated with dying, death, and bereavement. It helps to explain things to them in a language that is clear and easy for them to understand and that doesn’t create further confusion for them.
If your child has never experienced death, they may be feeling scared and may not know what is happening to them as they struggle to deal with their feelings and emotions. Simple, direct, and honest explanations work best when talking to children about death.
2. Read to them about death
If you feel that you’re unable to explain to your child the concept of death without creating more confusion for them, consider reading about it to them. There are many books related to death and dying available at your local library and bookstores that are appropriate for children of all ages.
If your child is old enough to read, offer age-appropriate books for them to keep and read whenever they’re ready. Encourage them to come to you to ask questions or to get clarification on concepts and ideas they may not understand.
3. Help them to sort their emotions
A child at any age is likely to have difficulties processing what they’re feeling. A younger child may not yet know how to articulate their grief requiring you to sit with them to talk about their feelings. Older children may also not know how to process their emotions and the pain that they’re feeling.
Consider also that children are often embarrassed to talk about their feelings with others and may be bottling up their grief. There are resources available online in case you need extra support in finding the right things to say. When dealing with children and teenagers, it’s okay to explain to them the death of their pet in clear language without sugarcoating anything or using flowery language.
4. Talk about their pet
Sitting with your child to talk about their pet will likely bring them much-needed closure. Talking through their feelings and emotions will make the grieving process easier for them to handle as they go through the stages of grief.
You can make a tradition out of it where you sit and talk about their pet at least once a day to remember them and to help your child process their grief.
5. Bond over baking
One of the most beautiful memories you can create with your child who’s grieving the loss of their pet is by spending quality time with them. You may want to set aside some time at least once a week to bond with your child. Consider connecting with them over baking or making lunch together in the kitchen.
This exercise gives your child the opportunity to talk about their pet loss. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, but allow your child time to lead the conversation and express what they’re feeling. Let them know that it’s normal to feel sad and happy at the same time.
6. Go on an adventure
A fun way to incorporate time together to honor and remember your child’s pet’s life is to pack a picnic or pick up some sandwiches for a day full of adventure. Together you can map out a route of all the places your child liked to visit with their pet. Don’t forget to stop at the dog park, the pet store, and other sites where your child bonded with their pet.
You may want to prepare your child for some of the uncomfortable feelings that they may experience. It’s normal to feel sad and happy at the same time while grieving.
7. Tell bedtime stories
Depending on your child's age, it can help them process their grief by talking about it during storytime at night. Together, you can develop a fun and creative way of weaving their pet's memory into nightly bedtime story adventures. Think of story prompts that'll get the conversation flowing in the direction of how their pet's death has affected them, how they're coping, and what things might make them feel better to help get them through their loss.
Every night can be an opportunity to bond, share, and heal from having lost an extraordinary pet companion.
Tips for Coping With a Pet Loss Immediately After the Death
After losing your pet you may have been caught off guard as to how much it hurts. You may not have considered before how much of an effect losing your pet would have on you. In the same way that we grieve other types of losses, you can expect to grieve the loss of your pet for a few weeks and up to a few months.
And like with other types of grief, you can expect to experience some of the symptoms of grief up to a year after their loss. If you find yourself not able to cope with your grief after a few months have passed, consider seeking the help of a therapist to get you back on track.
8. Recognize changes
When you lose a pet, some of the greatest losses come in the form of lost companionship, love, and emotional support.
Grief after losing a pet is heightened when you begin to feel the void that losing your pet has created. Your life changes in many ways and requires you to recognize those changes in order to successfully process your grief.
9. Seek emotional support
Seeking outside social support to help you deal with your loss is an important step towards healing. Unfortunately, most people in our society don’t recognize the extent of loss when you lose a pet.
This sometimes leads you to feel shame for feeling like an emotional wreck when your pet dies and may cause you to internalize your feelings and emotions. The help and support of a trusted friend or online support group can do wonders for you during this time.
10. Have a memorial
When someone we love dies, we usually honor their life through grief rituals such as funerals and memorial services. These same types of rituals can be had in honor of your beloved pet to recognize the love and support they provided to you.
If you’re uncomfortable with allowing others to know the depth of your grief and sorrow over having lost your pet, you can plan a private event for one. Alternatively, you can invite a close group of friends who would understand your need to honor your pet and who would encourage and support you during this time.
11. Continue with routines
There’s no doubt that your pet filled your day with routines ranging from feeding time to daily walks or exercise. When your pet dies, you lose that structure in your routine and it may make you feel as if you have no purpose in life. Keeping with these routines may keep you from falling into depression.
Consider finding alternate ways of doing the same things you did when your pet was alive. Go for a walk around the neighborhood and say hello to your neighbors, stop by the dog park to visit with your acquaintances, or visit familiar places you used to frequent with your pet.
12. Get yourself going in the morning
Part of keeping up with some of your old routines involves holding on to the daily habits developed when taking care of your pet. If you’re used to getting up at a particular time each morning to let your pet out for a morning walk, then put on your walking shoes and keep doing it.
The daily exercise can elevate your endorphins and lead you to a better mood. Don’t be afraid to try something new by taking yourself out each morning. In a few days, you’ll develop a new routine and healthy habit that’ll benefit your overall mood and fitness level.
13. Become a dog park angel
Dog park angels are those who have suffered the loss of their pet and want to keep their memory alive by donating to the upkeep of their favorite dog park. Angel volunteers ensure that every dog that visits the park has access to the basics such as a clean and litter-free play area, fresh stock of doggie-doo bags, and plenty of bowls for water.
Angels often donate memorial park benches or money to help fund the park and recreation centers that oversee the overall park maintenance. You don’t have to be a pet owner to enjoy the benefits of visiting a dog park.
14. Volunteer your time to pet rescue
Pet rescue shelters are almost always in need of volunteers and food and monetary donations. After the loss of your pet, you may feel sad, lonely, and depressed. Consider volunteering some of your time to help out a local shelter take care of the animals under their care.
They may have a need for volunteer groomers, kennel feeders, or clean-up crews. Anything you can do to give of your time or resources will be much needed and appreciated. Being around other pets may help lift your spirits out of depression. You might even meet and fall in love with your next pet.
Tips for Grieving and Remembering Your Pet Into the Future
You can continue to honor the memory of your pet for years to come by planning special tributes and other acts of remembrance at special holidays or anniversaries. These rituals will help you heal as you grieve now and into the coming weeks.
You can expect to feel the pain and sadness of your loss for up to a few months following their death. This is a normal part of the grief process and will gradually lessen as you begin to heal.
15. Donate a bench
A beautiful way of remembering your pet is to donate a bench in their honor to the local dog park so that you and others can enjoy a place to sit and visit.
It may be painful for you to consider this type of donation immediately after losing your pet so you may want to consider waiting a few weeks before putting your plans into action.
16. Make a scrapbook
Modern digital technology makes it so easy to capture hundreds, if not thousands, of pictures of our pets in daily life. It might be appropriate to set aside some time to go through those old photos.
Consider choosing some of your favorites to print and save into a scrapbook for you to look through every time you want to feel closer to your cherished pet. You can leave it out to share stories of your pet when people stop by to visit.
17. Continue with friendships
If you belonged to a special group of pet owners while your pet was alive, consider joining them for the usual outings so that you benefit from their love and support.
This is especially important when all other routines have been disrupted. It may be that you join in without your pet for a few months and perhaps decide to adopt another pet or leave the group entirely whenever you’re ready to move on.
18. Purchase a plaque
Setting a plaque in your garden or backyard with your pet’s name and date of death will help you to remember them for years to come.
The plaque can enhance an already existing garden or a special nook in your backyard, or you can create a space of beauty around it. Either way, you now have a special place to visit every time you want to feel closer to your cherished pet.
19. Create a sacred space
After suffering the loss of your pet, expect to go through some challenging emotional grief reactions that might come as a surprise. No one knows how grief and loss will affect them, and sometimes grief manifests in surprising ways that can throw even the most stoic person off-balance.
Creating a special place to mourn and be alone with your grief can be healing as it provides you with a dedicated area in which to bond and be close to your pet. Consider setting a meditation memorial stone with your pet’s image and date of death engraved.
20. Plant a garden
A garden is a beautiful way of staying connected to your pet after its death. You don’t have to have a green thumb to make the most of the therapeutic effects of gardening. A great alternative to planting actual flowers or shrubs is to create a rock garden in their memory.
Get as creative as your imagination will allow. One great way of always keeping your pet in mind is to paint stones with scenes of your favorite memories of them. If you’re not an artist, look at covering your stones with transferable prints or mod podge.
21. Make a mini-plaque windchime
Another creative and unique way to memorialize your pet is to have a handful of mini plaques engraved with special dates and milestones on each. You can then transform your plaques into a memorial wind chime to hang in your garden. Each time the wind blows, the chiming will remind you of them.
Allow your thoughts to carry you to the time and place memorialized in each plaque. This exercise is therapeutic and helps you heal while remembering all of the good times shared with your pet. Don't be afraid to hold each one in your hand to reconnect to that special time and place.
Tips for Helping a Loved One Grieve the Loss of Their Pet
Helping someone cope with the pain and sorrow after suffering the loss of their pet can seem overwhelming, especially if you don’t know how to help them. One of the greatest gifts you can give to someone who’s mourning the death of their pet is to provide them with your time and attention.
Simply being there for them to listen and give a shoulder to cry on is a tremendous help to a bereaved person. The following ideas can make a considerable difference in the life of someone who’s suffered a significant loss in their lives.
22. Show up and camp out
Many people who aren't pet owners may not be able to relate to the profound pain and sorrow that accompanies the death of a treasured pet. Grieving over a pet isn't nearly understood by those who've never experienced the love and companionship a pet provides.
A way of supporting your loved one whose dear pet has died is to show up and be there to help them as they grieve. Prepare to stay over for a while to listen to them and allow them to get their feelings out without trying to alleviate them.
23. Arrange for food delivery
For many pet owners, the death of their pet may feel the same as losing any other beloved member of the family. Sometimes, it can feel worse. Things to consider when someone’s pet dies are the relationship and closeness of the bond they shared. An elderly or single person might’ve had an incredibly close relationship with their pet and their loss can be emotionally devastating.
You can help someone cope with their grief by arranging for a food delivery service for a week or two until they’ve had time to process their loss. The first few days may be especially challenging for them.
24. Send a condolence gift
You can find many creative and unique condolence gift ideas online, ranging from the extravagant to the DIY kind. A gift that keeps on giving is one that your loved one can turn to time and again when they’re missing their pet the most. Consider going online and scouring your loved one’s social media posts for photos of them with their pet.
Carefully curate all the best ones along with their captions and send them to an online publisher. For a nominal cost, you can turn those digital memories into a physical memory book creation.
25. Lend your support creatively
A grieving person needs your love and support in so many ways. However, sometimes it may seem challenging getting through to them, especially when they’re experiencing the effects of profound loss and grief.
If your loved one has isolated themselves from friends and family, this might be an excellent time to show up with solid plans of where you’ll be taking them for the day, evening, or weekend to help them get out of their funk. Prepare yourself for some resistance. Start locally by going out to grab a meal or to see a movie.
26. Plan a memorial service
Help your loved one heal from their pain and loss by planning a pet memorial service in their pet's honor. Invite all of your mutual friends, family, and acquaintances who'll be supportive for an afternoon of celebration.
Consider planning the get-together in an outdoor location such as a park or recreational area, a restaurant with an outdoor dining area, or at the pet cemetery or other location where their pet has been laid to rest.
When planning the service, ask everyone attending to pitch in a few dollars to cover expenses if it's outside of your immediate budget.
27. Introduce them to online support groups
A great way to help someone who is suffering through the death of their pet is to get them connected to a support group that understands what they’re going through. There are hundreds of support groups online for people who’ve suffered through pet loss.
You can find some of the most popular and easy to participate in groups on Facebook. They’re usually free to join. Check for some local options as well through apps such as Meetup or Groupon. Consider paying the dues for groups that have nominal fees to participate.
Coping With Your Grief
Losing your pet definitely leaves you with an aching hole in your heart. With time, this pain will lessen and you will find a new normal way of living without them. Your old routines and habits will find a way to new ones, and your heart will begin to heal from the pain of having lost one of your best friends in life.