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Losing a Furry Friend

Many of us rely on the unconditional love and support of a pet, and the sadness we feel when we lose one can be devastating. But because the process for how we mourn the loss of a pet is quite different from that of a person, our coping mechanisms can be hindered.

For example, we as a society do not have a widely accepted formal process to acknowledge the passing of an animal, such as a funeral or burial ceremony. With a person, this kind of an event recognizes the value of the deceased and his or her impact on others, and enables a mourning process with a distinct beginning and end. Not so for a pet. Whether a pet is cremated or buried, there is seldom a formal ceremony shared by others, and for many, the bereavement process can be very lonely.

In fact, family and friends may not fully appreciate the sense of loss that comes with the death of a pet. They may express condolences but often expect us to move on much more quickly than we would with a person. However, some people share a deeper connection with a beloved pet than with others; it is an unspoken bond that may be underappreciated until it is gone. This is particularly true for seniors who live alone, and, unfortunately, this bond cannot be replaced by simply getting another pet. At least not for some time.

The following tips may help you or someone you know cope with the loss of a beloved pet:

  • Recognize that it is normal to experience deep grief over the loss of a pet. Allow yourself the time to mourn the loss; it is important to transition through the various stages of grief, much as you would for a person.
  • Reach out to others who have experienced similar loss to share your feelings. Veterinary schools and local animal shelters often have support resources such as self-help groups or support hotlines to help you share, cope and move on. Online forums also can help.
  • While grieving, try to focus on maintaining your daily and weekly personal and professional activities.
  • Incorporate activities you enjoy into your daily regimen.
  • Discover ways to grieve productively, such as writing a journal or making a scrapbook or photo album about your pet.
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