Go ahead and cry

Q: Why do I feel so sad my pet hamster died?

photo of small furry petIt's OK and normal to feel sadness, grief, and a sense of loss whenever any pet you've cared for has died. Your grief for the death of your pet hampster or rabbit or lizard may be more intense than another person's grief for the death of their cat, dog, or horse. The depth of your sadness is highly individual and may be different from someone else's sadness. It may be more difficult, actually, because society generally doesn't understand the loss you may be feeling over the death of a more unusual pet.

Q: Is it possible to love my cat more and grieve over her death more than my relative who died recently?

photo of catThe death of a deeply loved pet is probably more stressful than the death of a relative not living with you. Your emotions are not silly and you are not overreacting. The popular perception is that a death of a pet is not as important as the death of a human, but this is slowly changing. Many feel it is not proper to take time off from work after a pet dies. You may know deep down that you need a day or two off to deal with the shock and pain of your loss. Give yourself permission to feel sad.

Q: Are some people trying to be cruel when they say things like "It was just an animal", or "Why not just get another dog"?

photo of dogPeople who say things about your loss that you perceive to be cruel are just not getting it. They don't mean to be insensitive, but can't comprehend how you feel. Our society also has a difficult time talking about death, so many people may be truly uncomfortable talking to you about the death of your pet. Don't try to talk to those people. Rather, find other pet lovers who will understand what you are feeling. You could talk to family, friends or get involved in a pet loss support group. It may help to call a phone hot-line. This web site allows you to exchange e-mail with others who have lost a pet. You will find when you talk to other pet lovers that it's normal to feel the deep sadness.

Q: How can we as a family cope with our grief?

photo of bunnyIt's vital for each family member to give themselves and the others in their family permission to grieve in their own way. Often, pets are treated as family members with Mom, Dad, and each kid having a different relationship with the pet. People, especially children, grieve differently, and have different ways of coping with feelings. Don't be upset if someone, especially a child doesn't show their feelings the way you expect them to.

Talking about the pet may help. But someone shouldn't be forced to talk about their memories of the pet if they don't want to. Looking at pictures can be a good way of dealing with mutual loss. Planning a memorial which may include a funeral service and a burial provides comfort for many people. Discuss the different memorial options as a family.

Q: What are the stages of grief?

The stages of grief are roughly as follows:

  • shock, disbelief and acute grief
  • anger
  • denial
  • guilt and bereavement
  • depression
  • acceptance and resolution.

photo of dogYou may go through some or all of these stages. The shock, disbelief and acute grief you will feel immediately after your pet has died will pass quickly as you become angry at yourself and others.

Being angry is understandable, but it is irrational. You did everything you could to save your pet's life. It's a fact of life that people are going to outlive their pets. The veterinarian did everything medically possible under the circumstances to keep your pet alive. If you had your pet euthanized, that was your decision — the best decision for your pet and yourself under the circumstances. You may even lash out at others in your anger.

The denial stage will also pass quickly and move into the guilt and bereavement stage. You were the one solely responsible for your pet's every need and you feel you failed your pet. People often experience feelings of intense guilt. Depression sets in and this may last several months. Some people actually fear they may be going crazy.

Within a year, acceptance and a resolution of the death is possible. With this stage, you can happily remember the wonderful times you had with your pet.

Q: How can I help myself get through the grief?

Remember, it's OK to feel the way you do after your pet has died. You can't hurry up the process, but there are certain things you can do to console yourself and your family.

photo of catFind someone, another pet lover or a counselor, to talk to. There are several excellent books on the subject of pet death that are very helpful for children and adults to read. A special burial site may help, especially if you can visit the site. Some people choose an area of their backyard or a pet cemetery.

Memorializing your pet by donating money to an animal shelter or a center that cares for stray animals can help. Write a poem or a story about your beloved pet and share it with others who would understand. Planting a tree or special plant is another way some people commemorate the life of their deceased friend. A special memorial service or funeral can be very consoling. It needn't be fancy. Pet cemeteries will usually arrange a simple or elaborate ceremony prior to the burial. Accept the grief. It will get better.

Q: Should I have my pet euthanized?

photo of dogWhether or not to have a pet euthanized is a highly personal decision. You must decide if euthanasia is the best decision for your pet and yourself. Don't let anyone influence you either way. If a pet is old and suffering with little hope for a happy life again, euthanasia may be best. If you can't care for your sick pet any more, don't feel guilty about euthanasia, you've done everything you could to help your pet. Sometimes an expensive operation is the only way to save a pet. Again, don't feel guilty if you just cannot afford it. It may be better to euthanize an animal rather than have them endure a painful and unhappy life, especially if they're toward the end of their natural life.

You must make the choice and you will probably suffer feelings of guilt, frustration that you couldn't save your pet, anger at yourself and a feeling of loss. It's a very difficult decision to make, even if euthanasia is the most humane thing to do.

Q: How should I tell my kids about our pet's death?

photo of catChildren need to be told the truth. Just tell them "The cat died." Don't elaborate and give any gruesome details. Don't tell them the "The cat got sick and died" or "The cat went to the hospital and died." Don't tell them "The veterinarian put the cat to sleep".

Children will understand as much as they are capable, according to their age. Don't tell the child the cat ran away or was stolen, thinking of sparing them pain. Also avoid euphemisms such as "went to sleep forever" or "passed away" or "passed on." Children can be very literal and they may be confused or frightened by these phrases.

If they want to know more about death, tell them all living things die while reassuring them that you expect to live for a very long time.

Q: Will my pet go to heaven?

Nobody knows where beings go after they die. In some cultures and religions, there is a belief that animals don't have souls, so they can't go to heaven. Others believe in reincarnation. For many, it's very comforting to believe that your pet is waiting for you in heaven for a happy and joyous reunion

Q: When should I get a new pet?

photo of dogTrust your gut instinct to tell you when it's the right time to get another pet. It probably won't be right away.

There's no replsacement for the deceased pet, even if you get the same species and breed. Don't let anyone force you into it if you're not ready. But don't put it off, if you really want a new pet, for fear of disloyalty to the pet you loved so much. When you think you are ready, visit an animal shelter and just look around. Don't adopt an animal the first time there. If your feelings are strong about taking another pet into your home and heart, go back. If you still feel strongly, that may be the time to bring a new pet home.

More information about pet loss and grief

The Pet Loss Grief Support Website
Pet Loss Grief Support is the first place to visit when a beloved pet passes on. Here are personal support resources, Monday Candle Ceremony, healing poetry including Rainbow Bridge and much more.

Pet loss information to help when a beloved pet dies, numerous links to resources and helpful sites — and free pet sympathy email cards.

Angel Animals: Exploring Our Spiritual Connection with Animals
Inspiring messages people receive from furry, fuzzy, flowing, and flying creatures. Stories from around the world about how animals make people healthier, wealthier, and wiser and help them in amazizng ways. How to subscribe to the Angel Animals Newsletter,read Angel Animals books, attend workshops, schedule interviews, buy toys and products, and enjoy televised and filmed stories.

Pet Loss
Pet loss resources from the American Veterinary Medical Association.

Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement
The Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement, Inc. (APLB) is the only Internet clearing house dealing with the loss of a pet.  It is a nonprofit international alliance of bereavers and counselors, dedicated to helping others.  The APLB offers all possible assistance to anyone involved or interested in pet bereavement.  It provides a wide range of directories of services, books, chat rooms, newsletters and personal Email assistance, among many other free services.

Books on Pet Loss and Grief
Order Books on Pet Loss and Grief, over 1000 screen saver and wallpaper photos, free download.

You will find many more web sites to visit by going to the google Web site and searching "pet loss" or "pet loss + grief".