Pet grief is the loss and pain felt after the death of a pet. It is exceedingly normal to grieve the passing of a beloved pet. Don’t let anyone judge you or shame you out of your experience of grief because they don’t understand. If you’re extremely sad after losing your pet, know you’re not alone. Many people are close to their pets and experience deep grief at their passing. This article will discuss the seven stages of grief you might experience after losing a pet and ways to cope.
How Long Does Grief Last After the Death of a Pet?
Everyone’s relationship with grief is different. It’s commonly thought that grief starts to ease a year after a loss, but the timeline for healing will vary from person to person. Your relationship with your pet and their role in your life will influence how long your grief lasts. Many consider their pets beloved family members and friends and look to them for companionship, comfort, and emotional support. Pets also give us stability through a routine that adds structure to each day. The circumstances of your pet’s death will also influence how long you grieve. Losing your dog to a car accident vs. an extended illness or old age will have different impacts.
Stages of Grief After Losing a Pet
The original five stages of grief, discovered by esteemed Swiss-American psychologist, Elisabeth Kϋbler-Ross, have been expanded to seven. While most people will experience these seven stages of grief after losing a pet, it’s also normal to skip steps, experience the steps as a cycle, and bounce around between stages. However, having a label for what you’re feeling and even an idea of what you might expect can be helpful. Here are the seven stages of grief.
- Shock and Denial
Shock is your mind and body’s way of protecting you from a painful loss. This stage is entirely involuntary, and it’s ok if you have a hard time doing things like driving right now. Ask for help if you can. Denial comes next, and it is also a defense mechanism. Denial’s gift is the time to process and understand your loss. Try to connect with loved ones during this stage.
- Pain and Guilt
As you process the loss of your beloved pet, the following steps are pain and guilt. Pain, intense, deep pain over your loss, is normal, and considering how much you love your pet, it’s to be expected. In addition to pain and guilt, you may feel blame, sadness, and regret. A special note for pet owners facing expensive medical procedures that they couldn’t afford: it’s ok, and you did your best.
- Anger and Bargaining
Research has shown that, typically, this stage peaks in intensity between month one and month five after a loss and tends to wind down between five months and twenty-four months after your loss. It’s normal to feel a lot of anger at many things. You might feel abandoned or angry at how deeply you’re feeling pain. Your life has changed hugely—pets create a lot of routine and stability, so almost every part of your life has changed. Bargaining is the sensible next step after feeling so out of control. Reaching this stage means you are starting to come to terms with your loss. Other emotions you might feel during this stage are different forms of anger, like rage, resentment, and frustration. Anxiety and fear might show up, as can hope.
Depression is often considered a type of repressed anger and can manifest unpleasant symptoms like difficulty sleeping or concentrating or even sleeping too much. You might also have physical symptoms like muscle pain, headaches, or digestive upset. Other emotions you might experience during this stage are loneliness, sadness, emptiness, self-pity, and an inability to feel joy. This is another stage where it’s essential to reach out and ask for support.
- The Upward Turn
During this stage, all the work you’ve done so far of feeling your emotions comes to fruition, and you start to adjust to your loss. You’ll feel calmer and a little more together. Any physical symptoms will lighten, and depression will begin to lift. This doesn’t mean that your grief is erased, of course. But you’ll start having more moments of happiness, well-being, and maybe even some hope.
- Reconstruction or Working Through It
This is the stage of rebuilding. You likely feel like you have more control and agency around your life. Overwhelm will lessen, and you can start to move forward and grow. If you pulled away from relationships, this is likely the stage when you’ll feel up to reconnecting. A key facet of this stage is concrete action steps toward healing. You might feel more energy, optimism, peace, hope, and confidence.
- Acceptance and Hope
The final stage of grief is acceptance and hope. You can plan for the future again (it might even involve a new furry friend!) and fully understand how your loss impacted you. You’ve benefited from learning new ways to care for yourself and cope with the loss of your pet. While there’s still pain and sadness, it’s no longer debilitating.
How to Cope with Pet Grief
- Remember that time heals.
It might seem impossible at the moment, but try to take comfort that your grief will eventually ease. If you struggle with daily life, or it’s been months, and the pain hasn’t eased, consider professional counseling for tools and a safe, listening ear.
- Ignore people who don’t understand your grief.
If someone in your life doesn’t understand your grief over losing your pet, politely ignore them and don’t share vulnerably with them. It’s essential to reject their judgments or lack of understanding and allow yourself to feel exactly what you’re feeling.
- Talk to other people who have lost their pets.
Find support from other people who lost their beloved pets. They’ll understand what you’re going through and can offer support. You can find these people in your neighborhood or online. Your vet may also know of support groups for people who lost pets.
- Rituals can help.
Consider performing intentional rituals like burying your pet or scattering their ashes. Other rituals, like cremation keepsake jewelry, can offer comfort and help you remember your pet. Putting together a photo album can also be a loving way to honor your pet.
- Take care.
Remember the basics: feed yourself, groom yourself, do the dishes, and try to sleep. Exercise if you can, though this might seem daunting if your pet was your running or walking companion. Try other kinds of exercise, like group exercise classes or swimming. It takes time to heal and taking care of yourself while grieving will help you shorten this process.
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