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Healthy, Healing Ways to Cope with Pet Loss

Part 3 in our 5-part series on pet loss

After the death of a pet, it’s normal to experience emotions related to the process of grieving, such as guilt, denial, anger, and depression.

It’s important to be honest about how you feel, and allow yourself to grieve and remember your pet.

Rather than attempting to immediately put the loss behind you and “move on,” decide one next step you will take:

  • Find someone who understands pet loss to talk with about how you miss your beloved pet.
  • Be kind to yourself as you move through the grieving process.
  • Plan a way to celebrate your pet’s life (Parts 4 and 5 in this series will discuss this topic in more depth).
  • Take time to adjust to the loss of your pet.
  • Remember your pet through memories.

Part of the adjustment process may include a shift in identity, away from “the person who walked Max every morning” to a former pet parent. This adjustment is an important part of active mourning and healing.

Pet Loss Support Groups

One way to find someone who understands and can help you learn to cope and share pet loss experiences is to connect with a pet loss support group. Many cities have organizations that offer support services in person, online, or over the telephone.

Support for pet loss includes more than emergency health and end-of-life care for pets. Pet parents may seek guidance as they work through the process of losing the companionship of a dear pet.

These groups are often facilitated by other pet parents who have mourned the loss of their pet and are now offering the support they received to others who are now grieving their pet.

Compassion 4 Paws offers a list of pet loss support groups in the Seattle area, as well as information about coping with and grieving the loss of a pet. Resources include a list of books to read to children about the loss of a pet.

The following sites include resources for our local area:

Peaceful Pet Transitions

  • Pet Loss Hotline, with 24/7 grief support
  • Pet Loss Support Groups in Seattle and Bellevue

The Pet Loss Support Page

  • Support groups, counselors, memorial services, cemeteries/crematories

Some pet loss support resources may suggest planning a celebration of your pet’s life. This can provide a way to savor fond memories of your pet and serve as reassurance of the bond you shared.

Celebrating Your Pet’s Life

You will always hold your (former) pet close to your heart. The key is honoring the memory of your pet who has passed, not just moving on to the next pet.

There are several ways you can honor and celebrate a beloved pet’s life.

Memorial Service or Ceremony

Some people have a memorial service or ceremony and invite those who were close to the pet. Photographs and sharing memories are an important part of such services.

As part of a ceremony, or separately, pet parents may choose to create an outdoor memorial. Options include planting a tree, a bush, or flowers in your pet’s honor. If space allows, some pet parents choose a physical memorial, such as a stone or small structure. A combination of natural elements may be used to form a memorial garden.

Photo Display

Another option is to frame a photo or create a photo album and display it indoors to enjoy your fond memories of the pet.

Charitable Contributions

Celebrate the life of a beloved pet by donating (money and/or time) to rescue organizations for specific breeds or to any society that helps animals. An alternative is to donate supplies such as food, treats, toys, and blankets to an organization that helps animals.

Get Creative

It’s also possible to celebrate and honor a pet’s life in other tangible ways. If you can sew, write, paint, or draw, you might create a quilt, children’s book, or other art about your pet—or have someone else create a piece for you.

If you don’t feel very artistic, create a memory box with a few keepsake mementos.

Business owners may choose to incorporate their pet’s name or other qualities in some product or aspect of their business.

Offer Support to Others

As part of celebrating your pet’s life, you may choose to follow some of the suggestions offered here to reach out to other pet parents. You may be ready to offer support to others who are experiencing pet loss. You may choose to donate time to an animal shelter.

Preparing to Adopt a New Pet

Losing a beloved pet is one of the most traumatic events one can experience. It is so hard that many who suffer the loss swear they will never own a pet again. They feel guilty or as if they’re being disloyal to their pet who died if they consider adopting a new pet.

But the human heart has an amazing capacity to love. It can and does expand to love another pet if it is given time to grieve.

Many pet parents say that after some time passes, the wrenching grief diminishes and the cherished memories rise to the forefront. When that happens, be assured that you are past the hardest part of dealing with your loss, and your heart is preparing to receive another pet if you choose to have one.

When you adopt a new pet, you are not “replacing” your pet who passed. No pet can “replace” another.

Rather, view the experience of adopting a new pet as a way to honor your pet who has passed. Choose to form a loving bond in this new relationship because you are ready to move forward as a pet parent.

Your new pet will have a different personality. A different name. You will teach each other new things. It will be unique, just as you are unique. Your new pet will deserve to be loved for itself.

A lot of animals need homes.

Having a new life to care for gets you out of your depression and gives you purpose again. It helps you snap out of your grief more quickly by giving a home to a pet who needs one and by caring for this new pet who will become equally loved in time.

Coming next in our pet loss series:

5 Responses to “Healthy, Healing Ways to Cope with Pet Loss”

  1. Reply Julianne Nason

    I’m 76 and many pets have graced my life. I’ve usually mourned them for several months to a year before getting another – actually being adopted by another, most of the times. But now I have to think of how long I will last and be able to care for one. I lost my cat on his 6th birthday, though, and cried for weeks, but told my sad husband that I was going to have to mourn our beloved with a kitty on my lap. We adopted a “bonded pair,” happy indoorsmen, within a couple of weeks from a rescue agency. They’re Covid cats so rather spoiled in terms of being allowed on tables and spreading their toys around the house. Every cat is unique, never a replacement, but these fellows have slowly filled the terrible hole in my heart. Are you alone, elderly, thinking you’re unable to support a pet any more? Give your love and company to an animal as much in need as you are. You’ll find a way.

  2. Reply Jamie Osborn

    I just had to put my baby girl, Alice to sleep 3 days ago. Her health declined so quickly and we never found out why. I’m heartbroken and grief stricken. I can’t stop crying. She was 11.5 years old. She came into my life as a stray all those years ago and best guess she was 6 months to a year when she came into my life. She bonded with my other kitten who was about a year then and they were inseparable. Loved each other whole heartedly. Alice started to lose weight last November and a month later Sophie became diabetic and her health took over. Alice seemed to have gained weight back and looked really good. I brought her in in May for her yearly check up and she was 5.98 pounds which surprised me, but the vet said she looked good. About 3.5 weeks later I came home from work and she was breathing oddly. I brought her to the vet the next day and they ran blood work and xrays. They said she had bronchitis, gave her an antibiotic shot. She was also 4.8 pounds from her appointment in May. Now, I had noticed this additional weight loss as well, but did not think it was that much. Dr also said they found nodules on her kidney and wanted to do an ultrasound. That couldn’t be done until July 5th which was over 2 weeks later. She then became very lethargic and stopped eating as she normally did. I spoon fed her, tried all sorts of flavors, textures, temperatures of food. I even made food for her. Not a whole lot peaked her interest. Her water intake decreased. By the time the ultrasound was done we had tried 2 steroid shots and I started giving her fluids once a day to keep her hydrated. The ultrasound didn’t show definitive cancer anywhere, but her pancreas was very inflamed, there was some fluid around her kidneys and in her chest and she had fatty liver and she was starting to become jaundiced at this point. They aspirated her liver and sent in for cytology to confirm if her liver had cancer cells. This was last Tuesday. They gave her another steroid injection and I started oral steroids the next day. I also started force feeding her with a syringe as directed by the vet. Wednesday she was even more lethargic and no longer drinking any water on her own. Wasn’t interested in any of the food between syringe feedings and Thursday she could hardly stand on her feet without slumping over. It was then I made the heart wrenching decision that I could no longer make her suffer through whatever was making her sick. I’m devastated beyond belief and feel like nothing but a failure to her. I can’t comprehend why or how this happened and the guilt of putting her health on the back burner because my other cat became diabetic is killing me. How do I make the pain a little less unbearable? How do I mend my broken heart? My other cat is doing rather well now with her diabetes so far and looks much healthier, but I worry about her too. They were so bonded and now she’s lost her sister and soul mate. I’m staying strong enough to care for Sophie, but not myself. I’m lost and need help.

  3. Reply Christina Whittier

    Hello my name is Christina I am suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder because my very precious Hello Kitty passed away in my hands last year from cancer in July 2021 I suffered with my ailments getting worse as I was helpless to see everyday my Hello Kitty was just withering away I am one of Jehovah’s Witnesses and the only thing keeping me here is my faith in Jehovah God and my many tearful weeping prayers to him I know how sad he feels about his animals he hates to see anyone of them suffer and if they pass away it does hurt him very much I am very sorry to the lady that’s in great distress for losing one of her cat’s I can not say that it’s not hard or that it doesn’t hurt because the honest truth is that it is devestating I will pray for you to hopefully bring you some comfort and peace of mind and to lessen your painful broken heart Hello Kitty was a very special beautiful Tabby kitty and she wagged her tail all the time which was very unique Hello Kitty was my very close companion and my very precious family member we were together for 6 1/2 yrs together!!! She passed away at the age of 11 yrs old she was to young and could have had many more wonderful full of love yrs. to live if wasn’t for one of the worst ailments to hit her cancer Hello Kitty use to be a patient here ! I never ever went thru anything like the atrocities I went thru with Hello Kitty I miss her everyday and I take comfort in the creator who loves me and wants to give me his empathy and comfort without knowing him or the hope I have for the future I would not be here!!! It’s a real struggle to be here everyday but I have my God Jehovah grasping my right hand and saying I will really help you I have to remember how hurt he felt when hello kitty drew her last breath Hello Kitty was my very first pet as an adult and the very first animal I ever got extremely close to I will always love her

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Atlantic Veterinary Hospital in Seattle serves the following neighborhoods: Mt. Baker, Columbia City, Beacon Hill, Rainier Valley, Seward Park, Capitol Hill, Leschi, Central District, Madison Valley, International District, and Georgetown.