How To Cope When A Pet Dies

Medically reviewed by Melissa Guarnaccia
Updated December 7, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

The loss of an animal companion can leave a profound impact. Pets can often be part of the family, and it’s common to have deep bonds with our furry friends. You may find it helpful to simply allow yourself to grieve after the death of a pet. Try to recall the good times, consider holding a service for your pet, spend time on hobbies and activities you enjoy, and seek the support of friends and family members. If you feel up to it, you might consider adopting a new pet. However, if you can’t seem to move past your grief, it can be helpful to speak with a licensed mental health professional. One possible way to do so may be through an online therapy platform.

Grieving A Pet Can Be Challenging

Allow Yourself To Grieve

One mistake that some people make when coping with the loss of a pet can be that they don’t allow themselves time to grieve. When a pet dies, some people may feel silly about experiencing grief. However, pet loss can be significant, and animals can mean just as much to many people as human companions do. Coping with any loss can take time, and it can be important to process your emotions in order to move on.

If you need to cry about losing your beloved pet, then take the time to cry. There is nothing wrong with crying about something that makes you sad. Crying may only be worrying if it’s excessive and you can’t seem to get past your emotions after a pet’s death. It might take you a few weeks to process things. If you can grieve healthily, then you may be able to move on over time and begin feeling like your normal self again.

Try To Explain Things To Your Kids

Trying to explain the situation to your children, if you have them, can be one of the toughest parts of animal loss. A child may not fully understand what a pet’s death means, and it’s generally up to you to explain it to them in a way that will make sense for them. Some parents use this as a teaching moment for their child, who may be grappling with the concept of death or grief for the first time. Try to do what you think is best for your family and be there for your kids when they’re feeling sad about losing a beloved companion.

There is an episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood that may help kids understand the loss of a pet, even during early childhood. In it, Fred Rogers reads a children’s book called When A Pet Dies, of which he is one of the authors. When a Pet Dies typically assures youngsters that what they are feeling after the loss of a pet is normal. Children may feel the same range of emotions that adults do, but they don’t always know how to handle these emotions, so a relatable book or TV show can be helpful.

Recall The Good Times

Recalling the good times in your pet’s life can help you feel better about things once you’re starting to move on. You likely made many memories with your beloved pet over the years. You can even create a photo album containing photos of your pet to look back on when your grief feels overwhelming. Beloved animal loss can’t take those precious memories from you, and you may always be able to think back on the experiences that you had with your beloved animal friends. If you had a special bond with your dog, cat, or other pet, then they will likely stay in your heart forever, even when you return to your normal routine. 

There may come a time when you’ll be able to look back on those memories and smile. It might be hard for you to do this when the loss is still fresh, but it can become a source of strength and comfort later on, and it can remind you of the incredible memories you made with your furry friend.

Hold A Service For Your Pet

Holding a service for your pet can be a great idea. It is generally becoming more common for people to hold services for their pets, and it can be a fitting way to honor your beloved companion, who made such a difference in your life. Whether you decide to have your pet cremated or buried, there may be ways to create rituals that provide a sense of closure for you and the other people who had a beautiful relationship with your pet. 

If you anticipate remaining in one place for a long period of time, it might make sense to bury your pet in your backyard, where you can grow flowers or spend time when you miss them. Alternatively, if you know you are likely to move around more frequently, it might be best to cremate your pet. That way, you can bring their ashes with you wherever you live and keep them in a safe location indoors. 

As far as a ceremony goes, there may be no limitations. You can play songs that remind you of the good times with your pet and even invite different family members and friends to create artwork encompassing their relationship with your pet. If you are caring for a pet who is nearing the end of its life, it might feel good to celebrate them before they cross “the rainbow bridge.” Doing so can ensure you have a positive memory to associate with the end of their life.

Do The Things You Love

One of the most practical ways to stay positive in the wake of a pet death can be to spend more time doing things you love to do, such as spending time with family, including any surviving pets, or even a new pet. Make sure that you are still allowing yourself time and space to grieve, instead of pushing emotions to the back burner. 

For instance, you could start to put more time into certain hobbies that bring you joy as a way of offering reassurance to yourself. Some people like to focus on exercise and physical fitness so that they can feel better overall. Others might want to enjoy other fun hobbies, such as playing sports or games, making arts and crafts, or participating in other activities. You can use hobbies to keep yourself from ruminating over the loss of an animal. This may not make the loss less emotional for you in the beginning, but it can help you return to normalcy once you’ve processed your emotions.

A related method of healing from grief can be to travel to a new place, whether that’s a nearby city or another country. Traveling can help you process your feelings of grief about your pet, and although it may not be a magical cure-all, it may help you gain perspective regarding the passing of your friend.

Consider Adopting A New Pet

Your friendship with your companion who just passed away may be something you’ll always cherish, and that isn’t likely to change. It could be a good idea to consider adopting a new furry friend when you lose a beloved animal, though. Many people find that being able to love and care for a new animal helps them move on after the loss of a pet. When a beloved animal passes on, it can be tough because part of your daily routine can change, and there may be a void where your beloved animal used to be. A new pet may give you something positive to focus on, but you don’t have to view it as a replacement.

Grieving A Pet Can Be Challenging

Moving on might be easier for some people when they adopt a new furry friend. There can be millions of animals out there in need of loving homes, and you could love one of them if you’re willing to give it a shot. If you’re not in a good place mentally after the death of a pet, then you might want to hold off on this decision. For some people, waiting a while after the death of a companion can be necessary because they will need more time to grieve.

Until you’re ready to forge a relationship with a new animal in your life, you could try attending pet loss support groups, spending time with other pets, or volunteering at the Humane Society to help other animals. This can be a very healing activity, and although it may not make up for a lost pet, it can be comforting to know that you’re making a difference in other animals’ lives.

Reach Out For Help

Some people experience symptoms of depression when they lose a pet. This can be normal, but it can be a cause for concern if the depression symptoms do not subside after several weeks or months. If you feel like you’re depressed after losing your pet, then it might be time to reach out for professional help. 

The first thing you might do is talk to your doctor about what you’re experiencing. Your doctor will likely be able to go through the process of diagnosing you with a depression disorder if you have one. Determining what is wrong can help you move forward. Some people who are struggling with depression after the loss of a pet may benefit from taking antidepressant medications to get things back to normal. Always consult your doctor before starting or stopping any form of medication. It’s also possible that your doctor will suggest therapy to help you cope and heal.

Therapy can be a very effective method of helping people cope with loss. In fact, it can even be helpful if you feel like you’re going through the grieving process normally. In general, therapy isn’t just for people who are struggling with deep depression. It can also be useful for anyone who could use help processing their emotions. If you’d like to talk to someone you can trust, then spending time speaking with a therapist can be emotionally beneficial. They can talk to you about beloved animal loss, and you can come to terms with things gracefully. This may not make the pain of losing your pet disappear entirely, but you may be able to get through this situation with support.

Benefits Of Online Therapy

Some people turn to online therapy as a convenient way of getting help. Online therapy, offered through platforms like BetterHelp, can be very similar to traditional in-person therapy, but you’re generally able to enjoy sessions without having to leave your house. Both types of therapy can be great options when you’re coping with the loss of a pet. An added benefit of online therapy can be that it is often easier to set appointments at times that are compatible with your schedule, even if they’re outside of typical office hours.

Effectiveness Of Online Therapy

Online therapy has generally shown significant efficacy in supporting people going through pet bereavement or managing a diagnosis of depression. In a 2021 meta-analysis of seven trials that utilized internet-based or mobile-based interventions to support participants with symptoms of grief, depression, and post-traumatic stress, researchers confirmed high levels of effectiveness and user satisfaction.

Takeaway

For many, losing a pet can be like losing a family member or a best friend. It can be completely normal to feel profound grief after saying goodbye to a companion who has been in your life for years. They have likely gone through important milestones with you and supported you when you needed them most. You deserve to take the time you need to process your emotions when your pet crosses the rainbow bridge, and the empathetic, qualified online therapists at BetterHelp are here to support you. You may also find it helpful to allow yourself to grieve, recall the good times, hold a service for your pet, engage in hobbies, and consider adopting a new pet when you feel ready.

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