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Coping With the Loss of a Pet


The human-animal bond is often regarded as a special relationship. I grew up with dogs. Currently, our Pembroke Welsh corgi, Bullet, is an integral member of our family, offering unconditional love and support.

Anyone who has a household pet knows how painful it is when your beloved companion dies. The loss can be devastating and is often associated with profound grief.

In recent weeks, a friend decided to euthanize her French bulldog, who suffered from an aggressive form of cancer. The decision-making, as you might expect, was difficult, if not agonizing. As a dog lover, I found the sadness of moment to be profound and took time to reflect on the following question: How can we best deal with the grief that accompanies the loss of a cherished pet? In today's article, I offer five tips for coping with the loss of a pet.

1. Understand that your grief is valid.

Grieving the loss of a pet is an important process, not just a "situation" to "get over." We cannot simply cope and move on. The grieving process is important and cannot be dictated by anyone. Furthermore, grief does not have a timestamp. While some people may grieve the loss for a pet for six months to one year, others may grieve for two, three or even five years. Take the time you need to grieve, to experience cherished memories of your pet and to acknowledge feelings of sadness.

While euthanasia is often the best decision for a pet who is gravely ill and hurting, such a decision can exacerbate feelings of guilt and grief. It's important to consult your veterinarian when making such a decision to minimize the risk for second-guessing yourself. Lap of Love is a family-centered veterinary hospice and in-home animal euthanasia service that operates in 34 states. Lap of Love can support your individual grief journey and sponsors a free pet loss support group.

2. Join a pet bereavement support group.

You may also want to seek support from other people who are also going through a similar grieving process. There are pet bereavement support groups throughout the United States that provide a safe and structured environment for sharing. Ask your veterinarian's office to recommend an in-person and/or virtual pet loss support group.

If you need ongoing one-on-one support, there are pet loss counselors and pet loss grief specialists available in many areas and online who specialize in the loss of a pet.


3. Create a gratitude list.

Consider the things that you are grateful for as relates to your pet and make a list. You can include such things as: Companionship. Unconditional love. Daily walks. Special outings. Save your list and reflect upon it in the days and years to come. A gratitude list can help to preserve cherished memories of your pet.

4. Have a memorial service.

Consider gathering people together who knew your pet to celebrate their life. This can be a helpful part of the healing process. Alternatively, the Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement can host an online memorial for your pet. People may write and share their memories of your pet in an online forum.

5. Create a physical memorial.

Physical memorials are an easy way to remember a pet. Consider putting together a memorial photo book. Plant a commemorative tree in your backyard. Build a memorial garden. Write a letter or poem to your beloved pet and frame it as a keepsake. The bottom line -- your pet memorial is deeply personal. Create a physical memorial that speaks to you and supports your healing process.


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