My Pet Died Now What?

The loss of a pet can be devastating. Even a pet fish has its way of wiggling into our hearts.

In my last blog, I discussed the idea of disenfranchised grief. Disenfranchised grief is a hidden grief or one not recognized by others. Pet loss is an example of this grief.

No doubt you either have owned, currently own, or at least know someone who owns and adores pets. When we adopt or rescue another life it changes things for the animal as well as the human. Even a pet fish has its way of wiggling into our hearts. This new pet brings a change of routine, having something depend on you for survival, having an endless supporter and listener, and a friend who looks forward to you coming home all wrapped into one. These pets become an important piece of our family and the bond is undeniable. As much love as a pet brings to one’s life heartache is also a piece of the journey when we lose our pet. The loss of a pet can be devastating. Pet loss is considered disenfranchised for many reasons including the following:

  • Reactions to pet loss may be seen as insignificant for those who have never experienced owning an animal. The relationship is just as comparable to losing a loved one. For some people a pet is their only family.
  • When a loved one passes, a few days bereavement leave is considered acceptable. However, when a pet dies, we tend to go back to work business as usual. Society does not see the loss of a pet as an acceptable reason to take days off and perhaps out of embarrassment pet owners choose to suffer in silence.
  • There are also no normative grief rituals surrounding the loss of a pet. When a loved one passes there are obituary columns and memorial services. This is not the case for when we lose a pet and this lack of public acknowledgment further leads to the owner suffering in silence.

So, the next question becomes what can we do for ourselves or someone we know who has recently lost a beloved pet?

First, never downplay the bond between the owner and pet. One of the worst things to hear is “It’s just a cat!” or “When are you getting a new one?” These statements are extremely hurtful to the grieving owner.

Second, remember there are secondary losses that come with losing a pet including the changes in routine, loss of a companion, and unconditional friend. For example, owners often walk their dog and this is their exercise routine. With the passing of their pet the owner may no longer want to engage in going on walks because it is a painful reminder of what was lost.

Finally, when a pet comes to the end of his or her life the owners may have to make the difficult choice of euthanizing their friend. These actions may come with feelings of guilt, shame, and sadness and it is important to recognize the conflict which comes with ending your pet’s life.

After the loss of a pet give yourself time to heal your heart. With time, you may find yourself willing to open it up to save another life and gain more love.

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