Every pet owner will at some point experience the loss of their beloved pet. It is, unfortunately, part of life. The question is, how long will the pain and grief last?
Grief and pain is most intense in the days and weeks following the loss of a pet. Most grief will last 1 to 2 months. Grief typically dissipates gradually over the course of a few months to a year.
Grieving the loss of a pet is normal and you can’t rush through it or make the pain go away. The grieving period will take as long as it needs to, and over time, it will go away on its own.
When I lost my dogs, I was heartbroken. I had raised them since they were 8-week old puppies and they were with me every day for 15 years.
Below, you will find a few of the lessons I’ve learned to make the pain of losing a pet a little more tolerable.
Why is grieving a pet so hard?
Nobody will understand the pain of losing a pet like another pet owner who has gone through it themselves.
We don’t notice it, but living with a pet is a big part of our lives. We interact with them on a daily basis. Whether it’s petting them, playing with them, feeding them, bathing them, grooming and brushing them. The list goes on and on.
Not only do we become attached to the daily activities that create our daily routine, such as going for walks and interacting with other pet owners. But our pets also give us a great deal of emotional support.
Our pets are always there when we need them. Having a bad day at work and coming home to a loving pet can completely change how you feel.
Every day, our bond with our pets get stronger. We live. We cry. And we laugh together.
When it’s finally time for them to cross the rainbow bridge, it can feel like your heart is being crushed.
“Why did they have to die?”
“Why is life so unfair?”
“What could I have done to prevent this?”
These type of questions often start coming up after losing a pet, and they all lead to this simple fact; the life you once lived with your pet is now over.
It can be heartbreaking for pet owners to accept that they will never again see their beloved pet. That they will never again be able to give them a treat.
Life has changed.
There’s also a lot of guilt that comes with losing a pet. Our pets are like our children, and as pet owners, we feel like we have to protect our pets from the dangers of the world.
And it’s very difficult to accept that there was nothing that could have been done to save our pet’s life.
Nature works in mysterious ways, and death, is unfortunately a part of life. There’s absolutely nothing we can do to prevent it. It happens when it’s meant to happen.
How do you get over the grief?
Although losing a pet can feel like the end of the world, it isn’t. It’s important to feel the grief and the loss of your pet.
Here are some tips to help you get through it.
One of the hardest part after losing a pet is coming home to an empty, quiet home. Everything will remind you of your pet and how they are no longer with you.
If you’ve had your pet for years, you will immediately feel the difference. Your pet will no longer be in their usual spot where they sleep, eat, drink and play. And every item that belonged to your pet will now become an “emotional anchor.”
It will take some time to adjust and get used to your new, quieter life in your home.
One of the things that really helped me when I lost my dogs was to put all of my dog’s belongings in a large cardboard box, and then put the box out of sight.
For example, every time I walked passed my dog’s empty crate or their dog bed, I would get tear-eyed and it would make me sad.
The same thing happened with their food bowl.
And their toys.
By putting all of their belongings out of sight, I was able to handle their loss a lot better. I wasn’t constantly triggered by things in my environment.
The first step towards acceptance is to realize that your life has changed and your pet will no longer be part it.
This is a lot easier said than done.
When I made the decision to put my dog Chase down after she lost the ability to walk, I had an enormous amount of guilt within me. I was always second guessing my decision.
“What if I made the wrong decision?”
“What if I had gotten her a wheelchair?”
“What if I had brought her to the veterinarian earlier?”
These “what if’s” questions are terrible for our psyche. I’m sure if you’re going through the loss of a pet, that you’re asking yourself similar questions right now.
The problem is these questions are all hypothetical. The answer may or may not have prevented your dog’s death. And thinking about them will only pull you down an emotional spiral, where each question makes you feel worse and worse.
A better way is to simply ask better questions. Questions that lead with you feeling positive about the passing of your pet.
“Did my pet have a good life?”
“What was my pet’s favorite thing to do when they were alive?”
“What will I loved and will always remember about my pet?”
These types of questions will help you think about the life your pet had rather than their tragic death.
If you can get to a point where you feel good about the life you’ve given your pet. About the love you’ve given them. About the care and dedication you’ve given them. Then you’ll feel a lot better.
For me, one of the things that really helped me emotionally was thinking about how my dogs were now completely free of pain.
Both of my dogs died when they were older (13 and 15) and it was tough for them dealing with old age. One of them had arthritis in her hind legs where it was difficult to even go to the bathroom.
I would sit on the couch, close my eyes, and visualize my dogs playing together in a field. Running and being care-free, like they did when they were younger.
This image in my mind or belief made me feel so much better.
Moving On With Life
One of the hardest things after losing a pet is getting back to a normal daily routine.
Things will be different. You will no longer have to feed your pet in the morning, or go for your morning walk around the block.
It will take some time to adjust.
This is going to sound strange. But one of the things that helped me a lot moving on with my life was thinking about what kind of life my dogs would want me to have.
They loved me unconditionally and I know they would only want the best for me. And if I were go guess, they probably wouldn’t want me feeling sad and mourning their passing all of the time.
Instead, they would want me to be happy. To be involved in the world and to do things that made others happy.
In the end, it is as they say – time heals all wounds. It applies to the loss of a pet as well. To some degree, you will always feel like you miss your pet and wish they were still around. But with time, the grief, pain and guilt will fade away. Whether that’s a week, a month, or a year from now.
The key is to one day feel grateful that they were able to share their life with yours. Remember your pet for the love you shared and the memories you created. As long as you remember them, they will never be forgotten.