Losing a pet is one of the hardest things you may have to go through. Most of us have a strong bond with our animals and when one passes, it feels like we have lost a family member. In fact, research has shown that losing a pet is just as hard as losing a family member.
While it may seem that there’s no way out of the despair and depression, there are some things you can do to get on the path of healing and back to being fully present in your day-to-day life. If you’ve experienced the loss of a beloved pet, here are 20 keys to help you recover and heal.
Allow Yourself to Grieve
Grief is tough to handle. It may seem like the best way to cope is to try and resist it, ignore it, or allow yourself to just shut-down completely. However, repressing and ignoring the event will lead to even more painful feelings in the future.
It’s best to allow yourself to go through the five stages of grief which are denial, anger, depression, bargaining, and acceptance. Despite what other people may tell you, feeling shocked and sad is perfectly acceptable and normal feelings after the loss of a beloved pet.
Don’t Blame Yourself
Many times, pet owners will blame themselves for the loss of their pet. You may be thinking “If only I had gotten my cat to the vet sooner…” or “If only I had double checked the door was shut before my dog got out…” You should expect to feel guilty, however, don’t blame yourself for the loss.
If you feel guilty, try not to think about death as an event as a whole, but individual parts. If you break down what happened step-by-step, you’ll find that you were not responsible. If something could have been done to prevent the death, you would have done it.
Set-up a Memorial
Just like a family member, a pet deserves to be memorialized and honored. Setting up a memorial for a pet is a great way to remember the love they shared during their life and help bring some closure to their passing.
There are many things you can do for a memorial. Humane Goods is proud to have created special Rainbow Bridge Memorial Wind Chimes seen below.
These chimes have a beautiful ring to them and help capture the essence of the beautiful Rainbow Bridge legend about pets that leave us.
You can learn more about them on Amazon.com here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07G2Q1R94
Give Yourself Time to Heal
It’s essential to understand that healing and recovery is an individual process. There isn’t a specific amount of time you need to get over a loss. Some people, for instance, can resume normal activities within a week or two. For others, it may take months for the pain to lessen.
Understand that grieving shouldn’t be rushed and don’t get frustrated at yourself if you’re still mourning weeks or months after the event.
Talk to Your Children About What Happened
Losing a family dog, cat, fish, or another animal can be very painful for young children, especially if this is their first experience with loss. That’s why it’s essential to address the issue directly with them, as well as provide comfort.
Use simple, clear words to describe what happened and try to put their emotions into words. Acknowledge that it’s OK to feel sad and even help them set-up or participate in a memorial. For example, you can find a beautiful poem about the loss of a pet and read it together to help bring closure to the event.
Take Some Time Off
Dealing with loss is a very stressful process both mentally and physically. The pain is often so intense that it may seem that you have no energy for your regular activities and work.
However, it’s important to be proactive with your stress and emotions. Schedule some time away from work and put aside any stressful activities after the loss of a pet.
Don’t be afraid to carry a reduced load for multiple days or weeks. Pushing through the painful feelings and “grinding” on will only negatively impact your work performance and health.
Understand Why it Happened
If you’re unsure how exactly your pet died, don’t be afraid to speak to your trusted veterinarian and have an autopsy done. Knowing what caused the death of your pet, be it from poisoning, illness, disease, or something else can help bring closure to the event.
Also, this can help prevent any future losses and protect your other pets if you understand what happened.
Talk to Someone About It
Don’t try to wrestle with your grief and negative emotions alone.
One of the best ways to heal after the loss of a pet is to speak to others about it. It may seem embarrassing at first, but the truth is almost everyone has experienced the hurt from a loss at some point or another.
Reach out to other pet owners who have gone through the same situation. They may be your friends, neighbors, or even strangers from online pet-loss groups.
People in your support network can help get your life back on track by giving advice or even doing small favors in your time of need.
Schedule a Fun Activity
Although we have already discussed the importance of accepting your pet’s fate and allowing yourself to grieve, continuously dwelling on your lost pet is not healthy.
Think of an activity, especially something outside your home that is fun to do. This can be something as simple as going on a bike ride, getting ice cream, or going bowling. You can do this with a friend, family member, or even alone.
Doing this can help take your mind off your pet for a while and get some endorphins flowing to help uplift your mood.
Go Exercise or Take a Walk
One of the best, scientifically proven ways to feel better and get healthier is to exercise.
When you start exercising, your brain releases something called Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor, or BDNF which helps you feel at ease make makes things mentally clearer.
Your brain also releases endorphins, a chemical known to fight stress and lift your spirits.
The best part is, you don’t need to run a marathon or participate in a triathlon to get the benefits of endorphins and BDNF. A brisk walk can do wonders to lift your mood and help you start feeling better.
Prepare Some Healthy Meals
Chances are, your normal routine will become disrupted after the loss of your pet. This includes what and when you typically eat. When you usually would have prepared a healthy dinner, you might instead grab some fast food because you’re feeling tired and down.
Although the last thing you want to think about is eating healthy, according to many therapists this is the most important time to eat regular, nutritional foods filled with vitamins and minerals.
Eating on a regular schedule can help stabilize your mood, and eating a nutritious, balanced meal will give your body the energy it needs to mentally and physically deal with the situation at hand.
Get Plenty of Sleep
Most people report very disrupted sleep after the loss of a pet. Tossing and turning all night won’t help the situation and will only make you feel worse the day after.
Although you may have trouble falling and staying asleep after the loss of a pet, there are a few things you can do.
Make sure your bedroom is very dark without any lights to disrupt your sleep.
Turn down the temperature so the room is very cool as this improves sleep.
Avoid any blue light caused by computer and phone screens a few hours before bed.
Avoid caffeine or alcohol a few hours before bed.
Consider Setting Up a Calming Practice
After a traumatic event, it’s only natural for your head to be spinning and filled with stressful thoughts. That’s why you should consider taking up a calming practice such as meditation or listening to peaceful music.
Not only have countless studies shown the health benefits of meditation, but it will help put your mind at ease and may lessen the degree of sad, confusing, and hurtful thoughts that rush into your mind throughout the day.
Don’t Forget Your Other Pets
Just because you lost one pet, doesn’t mean you should neglect or forget about your other pets.
Many people who own multiple pets have realized that after one passes, the other pets are emotionally affected as well. Not only should you make sure to keep up with their usual care routine, but consider spending some extra time with them. You both will benefit and help each other cope with the loss.
Don’t Make Any Major Decisions
Sometimes when confronted with emotional turmoil, people may overreact and make poor decisions.
After your pet passes, you should refrain from making any important life decisions while experiencing emotional stress. This includes things like job changes, moving away or saying something to a friend or colleague you may later regret.
If you feel compelled to make significant life-changing decisions, it would be wise to consult with a therapist or trusted family member first.
Establish New Routines and Patterns
Sometimes our habits, routines, and patterns can make it hard to overcome the loss of a pet.
For example, if every day at 12 pm you walked your dog, when 12 pm comes around you’ll be reminded of their passing. If you still have your pets water dishes, beds, or pet toys around the house, just seeing these can trigger painful memories.
That’s why it’s essential to establish new routines and habits. These are not meant to help forget your pet, but instead help yourself continue living a healthy, meaningful life.
Steps you can take include donating your pets paraphernalia to other animals that may need it such as to a local shelter. You can pick new activities to do in place of the ones you usually did with your pet.
Don’t Rush to “Replace” Your Pet
Unfortunately, many people wrongly assume adopting a new, similar pet will help ease the pain and help them get back to their normal routine.
However, it’s important to realize that every pet is unique and irreplaceable. Rushing out to replace your pet will only mask the hurt on top of the stress a new animal brings.
Take some time to acknowledge, grieve, and reflect on your lost pet before adopting a new one.
Don’t Be Afraid to Seek Professional Help
Everyone has their timetable to deal with grief, but if you feel it is significantly interfering with your ability to function, consider seeing a professional therapist or doctor.
There’s nothing wrong with seeking a therapist for losing a loved one is a traumatic and stressful event for anyone.
Also, if you don’t have any friends or family you can talk to about your loss, talking to a therapist is a great idea.
Reflect on the Happy Times with Your Pet
If your pet was close to you, you’ll never be able to forget about them. However, you can influence how you choose to remember them.
Some people only remember the loss, hurt, and anger while others remember the fun, loving, and happy times.
To help remember and preserve the memories of the wonderful times you had together, take some time to reflect on the good moments you shared. Then, when you think view your pet’s memorial or think about them you’ll remember the good times you shared.
Finally, Adopt a Pet in Need
Your pet was one of a kind and can never be replaced. However, just because the loss of your pet was painful, doesn’t mean should never adopt another pet again.
In fact, after speaking with many people who have lost a pet, they commented that one of the best ways to help move on was to honor the lost pet’s memory by adopting a new pet in need.
The truth is, there are millions of homeless cats and dogs that will be put down this year simply because they can’t find a home.
When the healing is done, adopting another from a homeless shelter may be a winning situation for all.