For many of us, life just wouldn’t be the same without our pets. Whether you’re one for cats, dogs, rabbits, or any other pet in between, they all have one thing in common: the love and joy they bring into our lives.
The sad part about pet ownership is the fact that animals almost invariably live shorter lives than us humans, meaning we’re around for 100% of the time they are, but the same isn’t true the other way around. And despite the inevitable hardship of one day losing our pets, we still welcome them into our lives.
So how do you go about dealing with the loss of an animal companion, both near the end of their lives and after they pass? Here are our recommendations.
1. Give yourself and your family as much time as you need to grieve
Not everyone grieves at the same pace, so be sure to be patient with everyone in your family, and resist the urge to move on as soon as the first person is ready. If you take your time, everyone will be able to feel supported and loved as they mourn this loss, and your family can eventually move on together, as a unit.
2. Make your home a safe space for expressing emotions
It should go without saying, but it’s crucial that you make your home as supportive an environment as possible for everyone in your family. Make sure kids and partners know that you’re a safe person to come to with anything they might be feeling, and do your best to be open and non-judgemental no matter what they’re going through.
Above all, remember that you’re all in this together, and everyone will eventually find their way through the challenging process of mourning a lost pet.
3. Don’t rush into ‘replacing’ your lost pet
Some people believe the best way to move past the pain of a pet dying is to simply replace it, but we caution against this practice. Not only does this somewhat discount the role your pet played in your lives, (since it implies they were ‘replaceable’ to begin with) but it also may mean your family, and kids in particular, might not bond with the new pet in the same way.
There’s no rules on how long you should wait before getting a new pet. For some families, they might be ready within months. For others, it could take years before they’re truly ready to welcome a new animal into the family. Again, it’s a good idea to be sensitive to where everyone is at in their own personal mourning process, and wait until everyone is ready before considering adopting a new animal companion.
4. Honour your pet with a small ceremony
Just like with people, a great way for the living to get some closure after the passing of a beloved pet is with some kind of ceremony to honour their memory. This looks different for everyone, but here are a few ideas:
- A more traditional funeral service – gather friends and family that knew and loved your pet, share stories, photos, and love as you come together to collectively say goodbye to your four-legged friend.
- A simple at-home burial – if you have a nice spot to lay your pet to rest, you could bring your family together and have a more intimate ceremony to say goodbye. Consider burying them in a place on your property that they loved to spend time in.
- Pet cremation – many cities have services that offer cremation for pets, which can be a great way to put them to rest without the need for a full burial service. This is ideal for people who don’t own a place to bury their pet, or who simply want to spread their ashes somewhere outside of the house that they love, such as somewhere on the route of their favourite walk.
However you choose to say goodbye, a ceremony of some kind is a great way to put your beloved pet’s memory to rest.
5. Reach out to other people in your life with pets
One final way to help you and your family through the process of mourning your pet is to get in contact with any friends or family who have lost pets as well. Not only do the people closest to us know how to comfort us, but they may also have wisdom, advice, and words of reassurance as you and your family go through this difficult process. We’re stronger together, so don’t be afraid to reach out to those around you for help if you need it.
6. Consider the impact of a pet’s passing on any kids in the family
We all share a special bond with our pets, but kids are perhaps the most attached of all. For younger kids, a pet is a special friend that’s with them through thick and thin, and if they’re too young the thought of losing that companion may not have occurred to them. In fact, the loss of a pet may be the first experience with grief for many children, so keep this in mind in the wake of your pet’s passing.
It’s vital that you’re honest with your child when a pet passes away. Making up a story about the animal running away or being rehomed not only gives them false hope that they’ll see their beloved pet again, but also it means a missed opportunity to help teach them about the realities of life. Be honest and patient with your child, and they too will be able to work through the mourning process in a healthy way.
7. Consider the effects on your other pets
This is one thing that’s sometimes overlooked when a pet passes away. Your other animals doubtlessly had a bond of their own with your deceased pet, so consider how they’re doing as well. You might notice your other pets acting a little more depressed and low-energy. They might also not eat as much, or could be less interested in the things they normally like to do. Make sure to keep a close eye on them, and give them lots of love after a fellow pet has passed.
Dealing with the loss of a pet is an inevitable task, but that doesn’t make it any easier. One way to ensure you’re as well-supported as possible throughout the entirety of your pet’s life is to make sure you’re connected with a trusted veterinarian.
Being pet lovers ourselves, we understand just how difficult it is to say goodbye to a beloved pet after a lifetime of cherished memories. It’s never easy to say goodbye, and things may never feel quite the same without them—but you were better for knowing them, and vice versa. Remember that there’s no wrong way to grieve, so be gentle with yourself, and be sure to give yourself all the time and patience you need to heal.
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