6 Stages of Grief After Losing a Pet

Updated

Grieving the death of your pet can be unique in both its pain and suffering. When you’ve lost your pet, it may seem as if no one understands what you’re dealing with. You may think that others will ridicule you for having these feelings.

Understandably, it's natural for you to want to hide your grief from your friends and family. However, seeking support to help you navigate your grief is one of the most effective things to do when faced with the death of your beloved pet. 

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You can look outside your circle for any support you may need. Look at the resources available to you in your community, and for tools to help you make sense of what you’re feeling. There are therapists you can consult to help you navigate your thoughts and feelings, books on grief you can read, and support groups you can join.

Stages of Grief After Losing a Pet Explained

If the loss is recent, you may be experiencing feelings and emotions that are foreign to you - things you've never felt before. Consider the several stages of grief that you may or may not be currently experiencing.

These six stages: shock, anger, denial, guilt, depression, and resolution —don’t always manifest in every situation. The way we grieve is different for everyone, and these stages don't necessarily happen in any particular order. 

One thing you may consider is allowing the natural grieving process to take place in any order that it may come. When you suppress your feelings and emotions, any unresolved grief may reappear weeks, months, or even years later. If you’re curious to know more or seeking more guidance on your grief, we’ve detailed some of the stages and subsequent feelings that may happen.

Stage 1: Shock

When your pet dies you may be shocked that they’re gone forever, or by how it happened. It doesn't matter if you expected it to happen, or if it was accidental and sudden.

You might be reeling, asking question after question to yourself what you could’ve done differently to save them. Questions like these are likely to pop up. "What if I hadn't told Pepper to fetch the newspaper?". (Then he wouldn't have been hit by the car.) What if I'd spent my savings to save Lucy from cancer? What if I didn't euthanize her?

All the "what if" questions and scenarios you can think of might be going through your head at this stage. Consider that this is just your mind trying to make sense of what happened.

You may be trying to find ways to blame yourself. Know that you don't have to and that things sometimes happen despite your best efforts. It may take days, weeks, or months after losing your pet for you to begin the grieving process. In time, the shock of their death will go away.

Stage 2: Anger

When your pet dies, you may be angry at yourself or at the world about how it happened. After the initial shock wears off, you might start feeling that all of this is unfair. That your pet was your faithful friend and companion, and you were always there for each other. You may be thinking, “Where did I go wrong to allow this to happen?”

You may even lash out at your family and friends for their insensitivity to your loss. They may say hurtful things like, “it was just a dog!” Or, “it’s not like you lost a child, you can just go get another one.” 

Anger is a natural reaction to grieving. Although it’s normal to feel this way, remember the love that you had for your pet. You didn’t do anything to hurt them intentionally. This anger that you're feeling toward yourself is not fair to you, and it isn't based on reality. This too will pass as you begin to see a different perspective on how and why your pet died.  

Stage 3: Denial

After the feeling of anger goes away, the denial stage takes over. You may not experience these emotions in such a clear-cut way, and it doesn't necessarily mean that you're in denial that your pet has died. It may mean that you're simply in denial of how you're feeling about it. 

Sometimes it's hard to express how you're feeling. And, it may be hard allowing yourself to grieve.

When it comes to losing your pet, a lot of people don't understand how much it hurts you or how sad you feel about it. The natural reaction may be to either hide how you're feeling or to ignore your grief. Neither way is healthy. It helps when you open up about what you're feeling and allow yourself to mourn.

Stage 4: Guilt

Ah, guilt, who hasn’t felt guilty when one of our loved ones gets hurt? It’s easy to allow your mind to be filled with thoughts of what you could’ve done differently to prevent your pet’s death.

Guilt is tied directly to the decisions that we make concerning our pets. We allow this strong force to drive our thought process in making those decisions, and to blame ourselves when things go wrong.

Instead of finding fault, and feeling guilty over the loss of your pet, consider making a list of all the things you did right in their life so that you start seeing things from a different perspective. Your list can include anything that brings you fond memories of your pet.

Consider adding all the ways in which you loved and honored them daily. Did you feed them every day? Did you love them unconditionally? Did you take care of them when they were sick?

Sometimes things happen that are beyond your control, and when you feel guilty, it may be hard to process your grief and get you to the next level in your healing journey.

Stage 5: Depression

Depression may be one of the hardest stages of grief to overcome. When you're depressed, you start looking at things differently. It's as if a cloud of darkness and negativity has set in around you, and you feel like there's no way out from underneath it. 

Depression may cause you to pull away from your relationships and your support group. When those around you fail to recognize that you're grieving, they may mistake your depression as a sign of you wanting your space. It’s hard for most people to consider the death of a pet as a source of grief and bereavement. They don’t even offer their condolences in most cases. 

This is a good time as any to open up about your feelings so that others can understand what you're going through. 

Stage 6: Resolution

The resolution phase of the grieving process is when you accept the death of your pet and move on from your grief. It doesn't mean that you forget about your pet, or that you move on to a new one. It means that you have effectively processed your grief. You have accepted that your pet has died. And, you have successfully moved forward through the stages of grief. 

This can be a time for you to celebrate and honor your pet’s life through memorials, special tributes, and volunteer work.  When you’re ready to say goodbye to your pet, you can commemorate their life with a special eulogy that brings back all the joyful memories that the two of you shared. 

Being able to say goodbye to your pet is part of the healing process. There are many ways to honor your pet’s legacy. One of which is having a pet funeral. This doesn’t have to take place immediately after your pet has died. You may consider waiting until the grieving period has ended or is on its way to resolution. 

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Tips for Moving Through the Stages of Pet Grief

The death of a pet can deal a devastating blow to any pet owner, no matter if the death was sudden and unexpected or if it was the result of a long illness. The type of death suffered doesn't diminish the pain of losing them. In some cases where the pet suffered an accidental or preventable death, the grieving process may get complicated for the owner who may be experiencing grief or regret.

The following tips can help you move through your grief to help you get to a place of hope and healing regardless of how your pet met its end. 

Acknowledge your grief

Give yourself permission to express your grief in whatever way it wishes to manifest. Acknowledging your grief helps to validate your feelings and emotions following the death of your pet. In most cases, the loss of a pet can feel similar to losing a loved one. Sometimes, the pain can be more excruciating.

Individuals who have a close bond with their pets may have a more challenging time moving through their grief. You can expect to experience profound grief reactions as you learn to cope with your pain and suffering. The stages of grief may take longer to get through, depending on your relationship with your pet. 

Reach out to others

Having your friends and family to help support you through your loss brings great comfort to those suffering through the death of a beloved pet. While people who do not own pets may not understand the depths of your despair, they can still lend much needed support.

Talking about your pet and what it meant to you is very healing and therapeutic when grieving. You may need to express to your loved ones how important your pet was to you until they begin to understand the impact their death is having on you. Explain to them that you need their sympathy and support to help you get through.

Start a journal

Writing during your time of despair is a form of grief therapy that is very effective in helping you to heal from your broken heart. Journals provide an outlet for grief, help you memorialize your thoughts and feelings, and help you gauge your healing progress.

You can keep your journal as a very personal part of your grief journey, or you can share it with others who understand your pain and sympathize with how you’re feeling. If you live alone and away from your support group, consider sharing your journal entries online with others experiencing the same type of loss. 

Tips for Helping a Loved One Get Through Grief After the Loss of a Pet

When a loved one is despairing over the death of their pet, it can sometimes be challenging to understand why they're in such profound pain and agony over an animal. When offering support to someone who's grieving a pet loss, try to remain sympathetic, caring, and kind even when it's difficult to relate to their level of pain and suffering.

Some people become very attached to their pets, and when they die, their death can have a lasting and profound impact on the owner. Sometimes a pet owner will take their pet's death harder than the death of a loved one. 

Practice being a good listener

Grief makes us all act in ways that might be out of character, especially when the death of a pet hits hard. A person suffering through a pet loss may appear to be grieving much more than you expected or imagined.

The death of a pet is often no different than the death of a friend or relative, as many pet owners think of their pets like family. Be prepared to lend a sympathetic ear and try not to be judgmental or offer any advice. Sometimes all a person needs is someone who’ll listen to them talk about their loss.

Teach children about loss

Children and teens who experience the loss of a pet have special needs when getting through grief. The loss of a pet may represent a young child’s first experience with death. You may need to take extra time to teach them about death and what it means to grieve. Teenagers also need extra love and support after a pet loss for different reasons.

Many teens have had their pets since childhood. When that pet dies, the pain of their loss can be profound. When you combine grief with teenage angst, you have a recipe for a more significant grief reaction than usual. 

Help a senior survive loneliness

Seniors and their pets have special attachments, especially when they are widowed and live away from their friends and family. A senior who experiences a pet loss has an increased chance of falling into chronic depression after the death of their pet.

Seniors may experience severe grief-related symptoms stemming from loneliness and a loss of a sense of purpose. A pet’s death can also be a trigger for remembering other painful losses in their lifetime. One of the healthiest ways for a senior to get through pet loss is having a solid support group and finding a new sense of purpose in life.

Grief in its Many Forms is Normal After Losing a Pet 

The stages of grief after losing a pet are only guidelines of what may happen after your pet dies. Not everyone will go through these stages. It is important to note that you don’t need to feel like there's something wrong with you if you don't experience any of these feelings or emotions after your pet has died.

Sometimes when you lose a pet, you may even feel relief that they have died. You still may feel saddened by their death, but you also understand that there was nothing else you could do to alleviate their suffering. Sometimes your pet will let you know when it's time for them to go. 

They have served and honored you throughout their lifetime, they have been a faithful companion, and they have given you their unfailing devotion. Putting them to rest when the time has come, and honoring them in return will fill your heart with joy. Throw away the guilt and remind yourself of all the things that you did right to give your pet a good life.  

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