Dealing with the loss of a pet is, without a doubt, one of the hardest things a pet owner will ever have to do. No matter how many times you experience losing a pet, it never gets any easier. And unfortunately, it’s inevitable.
Eventually you will need to say goodbye to your pet. Very seldom do our pets outlive us. When they do, that opens up a whole different host of issues.
How do you deal with the loss? Recognize that it is normal to grieve. For most of us, our pets are our family members. How can you not grieve over the loss of a beloved family member?
Everybody experiences grief in a different way and everyone heals at a different rate also. Give yourself time to move through the different stages of grief. Take some time away from work if you need to. Talk to people who understand. Though it may be difficult to articulate your feelings, talking can sometimes be a big help. If necessary, locate a counselor or pet loss group in your community. Your veterinarian should be able to help you find these resources if you need help.
Don’t downplay your grief. It’s not unusual to hear comments like, "It was only a cat," from non-pet people. These people probably mean well but they often don’t understand the bond that develops between a cat and cat owner. Don’t take it personally. Try not to be offended. But don’t buy into the perception that the feeling of grief should somehow be lessened because your lost one is a pet instead of a person. Many of us are just as close to our pets as we are to our human family members.
If at any time during the grieving process you start thinking about harming yourself, seek professional assistance. Your physician or even your veterinarian can help you locate a trained professional that can help you move through your grief. Hurting yourself is never an answer and will not bring your pet back.
Should you get another pet? And, if so, when should you adopt that pet? That’s a purely personal decision and will depend on many factors. For some people, a new pet may actually help speed the grieving process and help them move on more quickly. These people may be ready for a new pet almost immediately. Others may need time to grieve before being able to welcome a new pet into their home and into their lives. A few may never reach the point of being able to accept another pet. There’s no right or wrong answer. Do what feels right for you.
If you do decide to adopt another pet, it will never replace your lost pet, nor should it. However, your new pet will make its own place in your heart.
Dr. Lorie Huston