Other people and your grief
Sadly, pet loss can be a disenfranchised grief (Vitak et al., 2017) – this is a grief that is not recognised by society. However, the death of a pet, as you’ll know if you’ve experienced it can be as severe as that of a human Lee, Sherman A. (2020 cited by Hawkins and Tip, 2021). If you describe your pet as a family member you’re not alone: some individuals describe their pets as ‘children’, and ‘best friends’ (Bouma, 2020).
As it’s a disenfranchised grief, it can make it hard to share your feelings as you may feel you cannot speak to family members, or work colleagues as you feel they will think you’re being trivial.
You may feel you cannot sleep, that you’re crying, a sense of great guilt and off your food. Whatever the circumstance, it can be stressful and upsetting loosing a pet, whether that be from age, illness, or because of a behavioural challenges that result in you having to say goodbye to them. Over my career, starting in pet care, there have been many animals I have had to say goodbye to, because of illness, because they have not settled in a home and needed to be rehomed to a friend, family member or rescue centre and it’s upsetting every time. It’s important to feel how you feel and not bury your feelings. You may have had great visions about how a life would have been with your pet but the reality is very different and they may have complex behavioural challenges.
If you’re experiencing behavioural challenges with your pet
It may be that you’re worried about your pets behaviour and are thinking you may not be able to live with it because it’s stressful and challenging. Many adolescent dogs are rehomed to a shelter because of their behaviour during this period.
It’s important to talk to your vet and a trained behaviourist or trainer depending on the challenge you’re facing. Here is a good diagram from Renee Rhoades from R Plus dogs when you’re trying to determine what person you need to work with.
Ways you can remember your pet following a loss
This is a very personal choice. You may find a memory box comforting. You can place photo’s of your pet there, their collar and their favourite toys.
You could plant a tree or plant in their favourite walking spot or in the garden. If you don’t have a garden you could get a house plant in memory of them.
You could get a plaque with their name and place it on a bench in their favourite walking spot.
Getting someone to paint a photo of your pet can be a wonderful way of memorialising them during their life or after. This can be done from a photograph. Rebecca offers dog portraits.
You could get some professional photos of your pet to treasure forever or get a cast of their paw print.
Where can your pet go, when they pass away?
Dignity Pet Crematorium has lots of information, and they’ve been personally recommended by a vet nurse to me.
There are pet cemeteries available if you would like to bury your pet. The grave plot can be visited and the coffin can be available in wood, cardboard and willow.
During the burial and funeral can take place for you to share memories. If you’d like to be buried with your pet this is an option in some cemeteries as some have a human license.
There are also crematorium options that offer urns so your pet can stay in your home with you.
Your vet will also be able to provide options to you.
Further support following a loss:
The Ralph Site has a lot of resources following pet loss including advice for children.
The Blue Cross, also provides support via email or phone. I used to volunteer on this line and it is managed by trained volunteers.
They are even open on Christmas Day.
Speaking to someone about your feelings , such as a trained counsellor can be a way of processing grief and seeking support. Pets are members of the family and pet loss can be as great, and often even more upsetting than loosing a friend or family member. There is nothing embarrassing or trivial about seeking support for the loss of an animal who has been a huge part of your life and one that you have seen everyday.
If you’re reading this and have experiences pet loss, of any kind, I’m sorry for your loss and I wish you peace and comfort.
Bouma, E.M.C., Reijgwart, M.L. and Dijkstra, A. (2022) “Family member, best friend, child or ‘just’ a pet, owners’ relationship perceptions and consequences for their cats,” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 19(1).
Hawkins, R.D., Hawkins, E.L. and Tip, L. (2021) “‘I Can’t Give Up When I Have Them to Care for’: People’s Experiences of Pets and Their Mental Health,” Anthrozoos, 34(4), pp. 543–562.
Lee, S.A. (2020) “Does the DSM-5 grief disorder apply to owners of deceased pets? A psychometric study of impairment during pet loss,” Psychiatry Research, 285(October 2019), p. 112-800.
Vitak, J., Wisniewski, P., Ashktorab, Z., & Badillo-Urquiola, K. (2017). “Benefits and drawbacks of using social media to grieve following the loss of pet” Proceedings of the 8th International Conference on Social Media & Society.