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Dealing with the Loss of a Pet

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Dealing with the Loss of a Pet

Losing a beloved pet to illness, injury or old age can be an emotionally traumatic experience. Whether your cherished companion was a dog, cat, bird, fish or guinea pig, the special bond you shared was deep and irreplaceable.

For some people, the grief and sorrow associated with losing a pet can be equally as intense as the emotions experienced when a human loved one dies. Even if the death was expected, the loss of the pet's daily presence can leave a huge hole in the heart that feels irreparable.

Bethesda Gardens in Fort Worth, Texas, offers residents a warm, homelike atmosphere and a close-knit assisted living community that welcomes companion animals. We know how vital pets are for helping our residents stay physically, emotionally, socially and spiritually healthy.

We also know how painful it can be when the time comes to say "goodbye" to four-legged (or other) family members. The following are some coping strategies to help you navigate the death of a dearly loved pet should you find yourself in this difficult situation.

1. Seek support from people who understand.

Connecting with others who understand, sympathize and empathize with what you're going through is an invaluable way to deal with grief. It lets you share memories, process thoughts and feelings and celebrate your pet as you try to integrate the meaning of your loss. Ideas include:

  • Joining a pet-loss support group online
  • Attending a pet-owner bereavement group at a local veterinarian clinic or animal shelter
  • Seeking out grief therapy from a mental health professional
  • Talking with your pastor

2. Safeguard your feelings from people who don't understand.

Many people can't understand how painful it is to lose a pet. Maybe they never had a childhood pet and haven't formed strong attachments to animals in adult life. Others might think that it's silly to grieve over the loss of a pet and unintentionally hurt you with comments that can add to your sadness.

Don't compound your grief by sharing your emotional pain with such people. If they've never experienced the unconditional love and affection that only an animal can provide, they can't validate what you're going through.

3. Make changes to your assisted living apartment based on how you feel.

Seeing your dog's empty food bowl on the floor and leash hanging by the door might be very distressing for you. If so, put them somewhere out of sight for a while. Don't throw them away just yet, but there's no need to have constant visual reminders of your loss in your living space. If you find comfort and solace in seeing your pet's things in their normal places, leave them there for as long as you like.

4. Find a meaningful way to memorialize your pet.

Honoring your dearly departed companion animal can offer a degree of closure. You might have a small funeral or wake, create a poster collage of photos or assemble a scrapbook with photos and letters to your pet. Consider donating to a local animal rescue group in your pet's honor. Many pet parents find great comfort in choosing a special memorial urn for their pet's ashes and displaying it in a prominent location.

5. Let go of any feelings of guilt you may have.

If you had to euthanize your pet, you may struggle with a host of questions. Did you do the best thing for your pet? Was the timing too early or too late? Deciding when to end another being's life is a heavy burden to bear, and feelings of guilt are perfectly natural.

Try to keep in mind that you ended your pet's life because you love them and wanted to spare them further pain or distress. You likely decided in consultation with your trusted veterinarian, who no doubt confirmed that there was no hope for recovery or any further treatment that would provide both quantity and quality of life for your pet.

6. Read pet bereavement materials.

Many people find great consolation in searching for online articles and books that address pet loss. If you don't feel up to face-to-face support from a bereavement group, reading about how others coped in similar situations can be very therapeutic.

7. Know there is no timeline for recovering.

On average, symptoms of acute grief after the loss of a pet can last from one to two months, with symptoms of grief persisting up to a full year, according to Scientific American. You're not just saying "goodbye" to an animal, you're losing a reliable source of non-judgmental, unconditional love. It can be devastating.

Your daily routine is probably significantly different without a dog to walk in the evening or a cat to feed in the morning. It's normal to feel lost and aimless in the weeks and months following a pet's death.

8. Grieve your pet fully before welcoming a new one into your home.

While some people find adopting a new pet shortly after a previous pet dies to be important for healing, others need a lot more time to process the loss. In general, it's best to work through your grief sufficiently so that you can look forward to a new relationship with a pet rather than looking backward at your loss. A win-win solution in the interim is to volunteer to walk dogs or socialize cats at your local Fort Worth shelter or foster companion animals in need.

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