Coping with Pet Loss

For many pet parents, losing a pet is like losing a best friend, a family member, and a trusted companion all at once.

Those of us who love our pets realize our pet is not "just a dog" or "just a cat", but a beloved member of the family.  When they come to the end of life, you feel a significant, even traumatic loss. The level of grief depends on factors such as your age and personality, the age of your pet, and the circumstances of their death.   The more significant the loss, the more intense the grief you’ll feel.  If, for example, you lived alone and the pet was your only companion, coming to terms with his loss can be even harder.  Or, if you were unable to afford veterinary treatment to prolong the life of your pet, you may even feel a profound sense of guilt. 

One aspect that can make grieving for the loss of a pet so difficult is that pet loss is not appreciated by everyone. Friends and family may ask "What’s the big deal?  It’s just a pet!" Some people assume that pet loss shouldn’t hurt as much as human loss, or that it is somehow inappropriate to grieve for a pet. They may not understand because they don’t have a pet of their own, or because they are unable to appreciate the companionship and love that a pet can provide.   Seeking out others who have lost pets; those who can appreciate the magnitude of your loss, and can suggest ways of getting through the grieving process is what a Pet Loss Support Group can offer.  Pet Angel's Virtual Pet Loss Support Group may be able to help.


These days, fewer and fewer of us grow up surrounded by extended family and friends and unfortunately, our contact with death and the long-standing tradition of attending services has been dramatically reduced.  When a loss occurs, we often have little, if any, preparation toward accepting it.   Grieving has become less ritualized, however, grieving is still a very important part of dealing with any type of loss, including the loss of a beloved pet.    Death often brings to the surface unresolved feelings and can bring on unexpected emotions.  Understanding and dealing with your emotions is important;  emotions that are not faced, experienced, and dealt with, can become a destructive force in a person's life.


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Grief is a difficult topic for many people to discuss because it touches each and every one of us.  Talking, sharing and even reading about grief and our reactions to it are ways in which we can heal ourselves. There are three generally recognized stages of grief that a person encounters after a loss, whether it be a human loss or a pet loss; the intensity of grief often relates to the circumstances surrounding the death:

1.  Shock and Denial -- The numbness that many people experience following the loss of a pet is created by the shock and denial one feels when first facing the news of the death. A sense of unreality may prevent the tears and other outward forms of expression that we expect with grief.

2. Anger and Depression -- Tears and anger often begin as a person reaches the second stage of grief. The loss now seems real and it is painful. Grief begins to affect you physically as well as emotionally. You may feel a loss of appetite, an inability to sleep, upset stomach, and other physical reactions. These are all normal reactions that need to be addressed. However, turning to alcohol or drugs only makes the pain more difficult.

3. Understanding and Acceptance -- The third and final stage of grief is understanding and acceptance. While no one can ever fully understand the loss of your beloved pet, reconciling ourselves to that loss is a necessary part of recovery. By living one day at a time and taking positive steps each day, you'll find you are beginning to cope again. Your active participation in this process will speed the time of healing.


Feelings of panic and confusion often follow the death of a pet.  These feelings can cause us to run from life, to avoid family and friends, and to refuse to try new things. While these feelings are a normal part of grief, our willingness to accept the loss can help us to overcome panic and confusion. At times during the grieving process, we find that familiar and necessary activities are difficult. We prefer to drift in our memories and daydreams. This stage will pass.

Many people blame themselves after the death.   It's important to realize that everyone has regrets, but focusing on guilt can prevent recovery. Talking with friends or attending a Pet Loss Support Group can aid us in confronting and dealing with feelings of guilt. Grief changes but it doesn't have to destroy a person's life. It can be a time of real personal growth as you discover new things about yourself and the strength you have now developed through the grief experience. 

Stay focused on the small daily steps that can help in your healing:  

1. Give yourself permission to grieve.

2. Don't be afraid to cry.

3. Be patient with yourself - grieving takes time and feelings of sadness and despair don’t just disappear.

4. Find a compassionate listener.

5. Postpone making major decisions until you feel you are ready to handle them.

6. Focus on your responsibilities like your family, your job, and your friends to rally your inner strength.

7. Attend Pet Angel Memorial Center's Pet Loss Support Group. 

8. Knowledge is power. Learn more about grief through books and videos.

9. Realize that it's O.K. to be angry about your loss.

10. Don’t panic when you have a setback. Grief has its own individual timetable.

Pet Angel Memorial Center’s Pet Loss Support Group is held virtually on the first and third Tuesday of each month from 7:00 pm - 8:00 pm, making it convenient and easy to attend in the comfort of your own home.  The group is open to any one located within Georgia and is suffering the loss of a beloved furry family member. 

To join us and share your story, or just listen and receive support from others who understand what it means to lose a pet, be sure to sign up through our website here. 

Questions regarding the Pet Loss Support Group may be directed to Pet Angel Memorial Center at (770) 457-7659 or you can email us.