How to cope with the loss of a pet

For many, grieving a pet is just as challenging as mourning a family member.

A sad or depressed teenage girl hugging a small dog
© sjhuls / Adobe Stock

Coping with the loss of a pet can be a difficult process for families, especially for those who view their pet as one of their own.

An estimated 84 percent of owners consider their pets a member of the family, says Falls Church-based grief counselor Cindy Walls, who adds that 99 percent of pet owners talk to their pets every day, and more than half celebrate pet anniversaries like the day a pet was born or welcomed into their home.

Whether a pet battles health complications or faces a tragic event, death is an outcome that must be dealt with, and Walls says talking about pet loss is crucial.

Even though parents may want to keep themselves or their children busy to forget the loss, distractions are only temporary, Walls says. “Pet loss is such a teachable moment. For a large amount of children, this is their first entry into the grieving process that they will experience several times throughout their life.”

Although it can be a heavy topic for everyone in the family, Walls says embracing the feeling of sadness is imperative. Sharing your favorite memories with your beloved pet over family dinner is a great way to process feelings, as is incorporating creativity by making a pet scrapbook. Concrete objects such as pictures or collars, which Walls calls “linking objects,” are a great way to remember pets and keep a part of them with the family.

Before bringing in another family pet, be sure that everyone has processed their feelings about the loss. A home initially may feel empty without a pet, but rushing to get another one is not the answer. “Running out and getting another pet stops the natural grieving process,” Walls says.

And for further insights into recovery, Walls suggests When Your Pet Dies: A Guide to Mourning, Remembering and Healing by Alan D. Wolfelt.