How to cope with losing a pet
We all know about the special bond that exists between humans and their pets. In fact, enjoying the companionship of a pet can have tangible positive benefits for our wellbeing, according to the Mental Health Foundation – including reducing anxiety and encouraging us to increase our physical activity.
People can lose pets for a number of reasons – not only due to them dying. It can also happen following the breakdown of a relationship, or because someone realises they can’t look after their pet properly any more and decides to give them up. As an owner, we sometimes have to make difficult decisions about our pets, particularly if they become seriously ill. This can add stress and heartache to what is already a painful experience.
It’s no wonder that when we lose a pet, or we’re faced with the prospect of losing a pet, we can feel a wide range of different emotions. We may feel distraught, sad or lost. We might also feel a sense of relief, depending on the circumstances, if the animal has been suffering and is now at peace. Guilt can also play a part, particularly if you’ve had to come to a decision to have your pet put to sleep.
Ways to cope
Talk about how you feel – and acknowledge that it’s okay. Whatever you’re feeling, remember that your emotions are real and valid. Loss of any kind can lead to low mood or depression, while experiencing a traumatic situation can lead to anxiety – so these experiences are not trivial by any means.
Seek support from others who understand. Not everyone will understand what it can feel like to love and lose a pet, and they may say unhelpful things as a result. Remember that you know what your pet meant to you, so if possible choose to talk to friends and family members who truly understand.
Look for expert advice and help online. The RSPCA has some useful advice and support around pet bereavement, while Blue Cross has its own free Pet Bereavement Support Service. You might also find our blog on coping with grief and loss helpful in understanding more about how bereavement works.
Think about how you want to remember your pet. What’s the best way to celebrate and honour their life, and remind you of the good times you enjoyed together? This could be making a collage of favourite photos, having a portrait painted of them, planting a tree, donating to an animal shelter, or getting a memorial plaque made, to name just a few ideas.
If you’re feeling particularly low after losing a pet, or you feel down for longer than you expected to, CBT can help you to get back on track. Find out more about how CBT is used to treat depression here.