How to cope with the loss of a pet

Dog walk by church

This week is National Grief Awareness Week, a time to raise awareness of all aspects of the grieving process around the loss of a loved one, and that of course includes our pets.

Pets are considered to be our greatest companions as they are always there for us... greeting us at the door with an enthusiastic welcome, for playing with after work, getting us out and about on long playful walks, being around for a cuddle and affection, and there for us in times of our own need.

The positive benefits pets provide us with in terms of health and happiness are constantly emerging and are proven to have a positive effect on both our mental and physical wellbeing. It comes as no surprise that the loss of a pet can be extremely painful and traumatic.

Canagan the grain-free pet food experts share their advice for coping with the loss of a pet, and the best and most thoughtful ways you can remember your greatest companion by.

The different stages of grieving

Everybody copes with grief in a different way, it really is highly individualistic. Some people will experience floods of anger and guilt, whereas others may experience feelings of depression and severe distress. Others may find that they are numb in the beginning and will experience feelings of loss in waves of highs and lows as time goes by. Some go through a combination of all of these emotions.

Acknowledging grief will help you to come to terms with the loss of your pet in the first instance, and this will help the healing process so that feelings of grief become less intense over time. The different emotions, in more details, can include:

  • Denial - Owners will feel in denial that their pet has departed. It takes time and a sudden realisation that they will no longer be with us. It is natural for the home to feel lonely and quiet in their absence and this can take time to get used to
  • Anger - It is natural to feel angry towards the loss of a pet. You may experience feelings of what they must have been going through if they were unwell for a period of time. During this time, seek the support of your friends and family, who will be able to listen to you, offer their thoughts and advice, where appropriate
  • Questioning - Asking yourself questions such as `Did I do the right thing?’ or ‘Could I have done anything to prevent it?’, can bring up feelings of guilt, but this is a natural process as human beings to question our decisions
  • Depression - One of the most commonly felt feelings of grief is depression. Many people will feel immense sadness and cry more often. Sleep and diet can also be affected. You may have more disrupted night’s sleep, as well as a change in appetite where you don’t feel the need to eat as often. Feeling withdrawn from normal activities, and general conversation, around you can also be signs of depression. If you’re particularly worried about these feelings then you can speak with a medical professional or seek counselling support to stop the feelings becoming too overwhelming
  • Acceptance - This is the final stage of grief and the understanding of your loss. You’ll still feel sadness but will be able to look back on your pet’s life, remembering the good times you shared together. Acceptance isn’t forgetting, it is about achieving a healthy state of mind

Coping with the grief of pet loss

Often, the most effective coping mechanism is to speak with a close friend or family about your loss. The people who know you best, and who are aware of the relationship you shared with your pet, can offer their support and reassurance.

Additionally, having an outlet and speaking to someone that you trust can make it easier to talk to about your true feelings. This can be easy to conceal when you’re feeling particularly vulnerable or exposed.

Here are some suggestions to help you cope:

  • Speak to someone who has lost their pet
    Speaking to somebody you know who has already been through a similar situation, can help you to feel that you’re not alone and that other people have experienced pet bereavement. Often in this situation you can try out the strategies they used to help them grieve the loss of their pet and you can talk to someone who better understands what you are going through.
  • Arrange a funeral
    This may seem odd for people who do not own pets, but pets do play a huge part in the family. Organising a ritual, burial or funeral can be a really thoughtful way of remembering all of the good times you had together and can make you feel reassured that you have put them to rest in a place which holds special meaning to you and your family. This could be their favourite walking route, their spot in the garden or a place you visited together.
    Arranging this can help you to feel a sense of closure and a final sendoff can leave you feeling as though you have done the best by your pet.
  • Look after yourself
    Emotional grief and stress can take its toll on your physical and mental wellbeing. It is important to address these feelings so that you can get through the difficult time. Some people will often feel better surrounding themselves with people whereas others fund they cope better by having that time to themselves to come to terms with what has happened. Eating a healthy diet, exercising and maintaining a good level of sleep will release endorphins into your body, helping to boost your mood.
  • Seek professional support
    Everyone has a different way of coping and you cannot compare your grief and how you cope with it to someone else’s. If you’re experiencing particularly overwhelming feelings this could interfere with your work and home life, and that’s something you want to try and prevent sooner rather than later. Never feel ashamed or embarrassed to seek the support of a mental health professional or a counsellor who can advise you on the best ways to cope and channel your grief.

The best ways to remember your pet

According to a recent study by OnePoll, pets bring laughter to six in 10 owners, and seven in 10 feel more relaxed in their company. Pets bring so much joy to our lives that honouring their memory can be a good way to reminisce and remember all of the funny and meaningful times you shared with one another. So it's important we remember our dogs in the best way possible after they have passed away and, fortunately, there are many special ways you can celebrate their lives.

  • Commission a piece of art
    Having a painting or drawing created in memory of your pet can be a really nice way of remembering them. Having a piece of art commission in their memory provides you with creative freedom. You can provide the artist with a photograph of them sitting still in their favourite spot, or with a photograph that shows their cheeky side, either displaying a special habit of theirs or of them up to no good! This way you can remember everything about them that you loved. Hanging the artwork up in your favourite room of the house will make you feel like they are right there with you.
  • Create a photo album
    Creating a photo album dedicated to your pet is a really nice way to remember them by. Chances are you probably have so many photographs of them stored away on your phone, by printing these into an album you can ensure they are safely stowed in one place in case your phone is ever lost or stolen. Additionally, having something tangible means that you can open the album and look through the photographs at any time you feel like you need to and you can also add notes into the album which provide more detail on the story behind the photos.
  • Plant a tree
    Planting a tree, or a shrub in your garden, is a memorable way of honouring your pet. Tree’s symbolise life and need care and attention in order to grow. Having a plant is something tangible to look after, that you can tend to, and can always remind you of your pet. If you do not have garden space then you can etch their name into a stone and place it on the route of their walk in their favourite spot.
  • Compile a memory box
    Creating a memory box is a cost effective way to remember all of the things your pet loved, and it keeps these safe in one place. You can store away your favourite photographs of them, a special toy that they loved and even any collars or blankets they used to own. Memory boxes are something that you can revisit time and time again to remember all of your pets favourite, most loved possessions.

Mourning the loss of your pet will always be a difficult time, but understanding how you can cope with the feelings you are experiencing can help you to take active steps to celebrating their life and all of the time that you spent together. Although they may not be with you physically, you can feel safe in the knowledge that the memories you created together will be irreplaceable and will last a lifetime.