Losing a pet is a distressing time and for many it can be immensely difficult to discuss and share grief, even with your nearest and dearest. Many pet owners know how it feels to lose an animal; however, it is common to feel more than one type of emotion during the grieving period. 

What is grief?

Everyone responds to grief differently. The levels of grief we all experience will depend on age, personality, age of the pet and the circumstances of their loss. 

The five stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. 

All professionals in the veterinary industry will listen and try to help in our approach to helping you with your loss

If you are struggling with the grief of your loved pet, we will remain positive but sympathetic. When you are discussing the loss of your pet, we will make sure that you have enough time to do so. The important thing to remember is that grief cannot be rushed. And each person is different to how they deal with grief. 

Would memorials help?

A positive way to help you move forward and to keep good memories of your pet is to have a memorial.
Memories are important for the grieving, and it is important to share these memories. The grieving process can take time but completing this process, in my experience, can be done by scattering ashes, planting a shrub as a memorial, or creating a memory box with photographs and even a paw print. 

What should I do if I am not coping?

Some owners prefer not to talk to a member of veterinary staff for the fear of being judged or for them to feel that their grief is not important. However, there is always help there if you feel that you are not coping. 

Cats Protection League 

Run a confidential phone line service called Paws to Listen, a service for any cat owner suffering from grief or bereavement. 

The Blue Cross 

Offer an excellent pet bereavement service which is confidential, offering emotional support and information to anyone experiencing the loss of a pet.
All the volunteers have been fully trained and have experienced the loss of a pet. The support line is open every day on 0800 096 6606. They also offer email support for those who prefer to put their feelings in writing pbssmail@bluecross.org.uk.

How do children act with pet loss?

Pets are an important part of the family, and many children form strong and valuable bonds with their pets. The age of the child and their concept of death may influence how they react to the loss of a pet. The way that we deal with pet loss can lay the foundation now for how they cope with their losses later in life.

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There are many ways in which a child can be supported, including:

  • Never underestimate a child’s feelings. It is important that a child is encouraged to talk about their pet and express their feeling. This can be done by drafting a story or a drawing.
  • Use language in which the child will understand and not be confused.
  • Always be honest about the circumstances. Ensure that the child is not told anything other than the pet has died. 
  • You should share your own experience of feelings and sadness; the child will then see that it is completely normal to be sad. 

Will my other pet grieve too?

This is a common question which can be difficult to answer, as every animal is different.

Some pets will notice a change and grieve, whereas other pets will not seem to notice and continue as normal. The death or an absence may change an established pet or human social structure as well as being an absence of a familiar companion. This sudden absence of another pet or human can distress many pets. 

If the pet was sociable then the surviving pet may search, cry out and even pine for their missing friend. Other changes can include sleep pattern changes, loss of interest in a favourite activity, withdrawal from activities, separation anxiety, depression and even the eating pattern can change. 

During this challenging time stress hormones are secreted which can cause physical effects, such as an upset digestive system, hair loss (this is often down to over grooming as over grooming is a comforting activity for cats and dogs), and inappropriate toileting. 

Using Pheromone Therapy has been shown to be beneficial 

It can help cats and dogs to surround themselves with reassuring signals to make them feel happy, safe, and secure in their own environment. 

You can try and help your pet through the grieving process by:

  1. Keeping to your own routine – pets like routine; any changes can be disturbing with the loss of a companion having a huge change on the pet. This stress can be eased by keeping to regular feeding times and keeping routine normal. 
  2. It is important to let the pet grieve in their own way – the pet may become more affectionate or clingy, or they may not be their normal self. 
  3. Talking to the grieving pet may help as they will find your voice soothing and comforting. Likewise, talking to a pet is also of comfort to them, as a pet will listen without any judgement.
  4. Monitoring your pet’s overall well-being. A grieving pet may have a reduced appetite and stop eating. This could lead to them becoming unwell. 

When is the right time to introduce another pet?

It is advisable not to get another pet immediately added to the household as you and the remaining pet need time to work through your grief. It is your own personal choice and do what is right for you. 

Remember that there is no time limit on grief, and it is different for each of us, however if you feel you need some extra support, please contact your veterinary practice for guidance and reassurance. 

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