The human-to-animal bond is a special relationship because pets provide their owners with unconditional love, loyalty and acceptance throughout their lives. So when a pet dies, the loss of that sacred bond is devastating and the grief can be long-lasting.
Pet grief has been a growing area of study over the past 30 years, but there is still a universal lack of resources to help people through their bereavement. It is comforting though, that specialised pet loss counseling, online support services and phone hotlines have become more accessible in recent years.
The death of a pet can be extremely difficult. The loss can cause the bereaved to feel alone and isolated. For some, the trauma can even have lasting effects. But bereavement after the death of a pet is often not fully recognised by society.
Studies have found that grief is more intensely felt when a person isn’t supported emotionally. This disenfranchisement can cause complicated, or unresolved grief. So it’s important not to dismiss the grief a person feels after the death of their pet.
Support from family and friends is adequate for most people. But for some, professional counselling is needed to help them cope with complex persistent grief reaction.
It’s important that family, friends and the wider community recognise what can be helpful and hurtful when navigating a person’s grief after the death of a pet. The bereaved may feel too embarrassed to express their feelings if they fear the loss isn’t recognised as a legitimate reason for experiencing grief. Consequently, suffering through unvalidated grief can cause a person to feel further isolated in their mourning.
After the death of a pet, it’s common for bereaved pet owners to be told to replace their animal companion to fill the void. But statements like “He was just a cat” or “You can always get another dog” are hurtful and only add to their isolation and distress. In contrast, it would be considered inappropriate to tell a widow to “Find another husband” immediately after her loss.
Unfortunately, society generally doesn’t validate the death of a pet as a significant loss. This only further alienates the bereaved. If their loss isn’t properly acknowledged, individuals will fear rejection or ridicule. They will be reluctant to speak to family and friends about the intensity of their grief - and this only alienates the bereaved even more.
Instead, grieving pet owners should be encouraged to talk to their support networks about their feelings, memories and any continuing bond they still feel with their pet. If you’re comforting a friend or family member after the death of their beloved pet, it can be helpful to invite them to talk about a fond memory. Acknowledging their experiences will help the bereaved to feel their grief is ‘normal’ and acceptable. Research into pet grief suggests some individuals are not necessarily seeking validation, but simply a safe place to share memories of their pets with others.
You can also encourage them to seek out a range of support services. There are many formalised options available, like pet loss counseling and online support sessions, as well as specialised phone hotlines. Some people have also found pet grief community groups beneficial, both online and in person, to receive the quality and type of support they deserve.
Attending pet loss support group sessions, or participating in online discussions, can be helpful because the bereaved will learn they are not alone in their grief experiences. Sharing their thoughts, feelings and experiences with others, in a safe and supported space, can help individuals learn to manage their grief. Being part of these communities also allows the bereaved to share their coping strategies to support others grieving the loss of a pet.
Bereavement following the death of a pet is slowly becoming more recognised in society, but there’s still a far way to come for pet grief to be properly validated. If an individual feels their grief is not adequately accepted, it can only impede their ability to cope after a significant loss. So it’s important that the death of a pet is acknowledged as a legitimate experience for grief.
Our article Coping with pet grief offers some more practical tips.
Don’t wait until the very end. It’s important to consider your pet’s end-of-life journey early, so that you, your family and your pet are all supported through the process.
When the time comes, we’re here for you. Goodbye Good Boy provides a range of end-of-life services to make the difficult process of saying goodbye a little easier. We offer quality of life assessments from qualified vets, specialist grief counselling, at home euthanasia from dedicated end of life veterinarian's as well as cremation services and memorial options to help remember your pet for their unique character. We are with you at every step of the journey.
To find out more, visit the Goodbye Good Boy website here, or chat with our team of passionate pet lovers on 1800 953 619.