Monthly Doctor’s Blog: Grief Around Losing a Pet

Dr. Cherica Richmond

Losing a pet is always difficult. They are our best friends, loyal companions, fur babies, and most of all, part of our family. Our relationships with animals are profoundly intimate and mutually supportive, as they love us ‘no strings attached,’ hold our secrets, and accept us ‘just as we are.’ Our daily routines include pets and their loss can be undoubtedly disruptive to our sense of home, sense of safety, sense of purpose, and sense of identity.

Grief can be a difficult process to move through, but it is just that: a process and not an event. There is also no specific timeline or trajectory, for that matter, on how to grieve your pet. So, after you make that difficult and devastating decision to let your family go, you are often now faced with the question of how to move through this heartache.

  • If it feels right to you, memorialize your pet. Keep a clay paw print, nose print, or a lock of hair and display it somewhere in your home. Hold a funeral for them with your other family members or friends. You can even make a contribution to a rescue group in their name.
  • Ask for support from others. Speak to people in your life who have either experienced the same situation or who you trust to be there for you to listen and allow you to remember your loved one in a non-judgmental fashion. There are also pet loss support groups available in the DC area.
  • Keep moving and find a new routine. It is very important to focus on self-care when going through such a dramatic change in your day-to-day life. Try to engage in activities that keep you active or spark your creativity. Rearrange your daily habits to avoid “pet related” moments if you can. And of course, if you have other pets in your home, be sure to show them extra love and affection as they are probably grieving too.
  • Whenever you can, try to recount memories of your pet that made your smile or laugh. Embracing these memories can be painful at times, but it can also help you work through your grief.
  • If and when it feels right, bring another pet into your life. This new furry friend could never replace the one you lost. Rather you should try to look at this new little creature as an opportunity for a new experience of bonding and love.

Remember, the veterinarians and staff at AtlasVet are always here to help you make that tough decision when it is time and walk you through the process. But we are also here to help you move through the aftermath of losing your best friend and finding the light on the other side.