Why is Losing a Pet so Hard?

June 9th is World Pet Memorial Day.  It is a day created by the AVMA to remember all our pet’s who have crossed over the Rainbows Bridge. Pet owners understand the intense pain and emptiness of losing a pet.

Saying Goodbye is Personal

The Woof Club team have had to say “goodbye” to our fair share of four-legged family members over the years. The loss does not get any easier, whatever the circumstances of their passing.

At first the loss is a continuous ache, they, and their final hours, are all we can think about. Later, as time moves on, we still think about them regularly but now with fewer tears and we can remember the good times we had together. When we are ready, we create a memorial for them- each in our own way. I plant a rose for each one, Anya and Alain make videos of their favourite clips and photos for us all to share…….

There is no “right” way to grieve and to remember our pet, we all need to work through the process in our own way, because we have each had our own unique journey together.

But Why is Losing a Pet so Hard?

Some people think that it is silly to grieve over the loss of a pet. Those people either never had much of an attachment to any pet, never had one growing up, or never really experienced the unconditional love and affection that only an animal can give.

Today pets are increasingly humanised. They often replace a child, best friend, or long-term companion. Dogs and cats live an average of 13 years—enough time to truly enter into our hearts. They become a part of our family and our daily lives.

So, it is no surprise that the death of a pet can hurt as much as the loss of a close relative or friend. It is common for humans to argue with family members over religion, money etc, creating emotional distance

Humans and pets do not have these types of conflicts. Your dog loves you unconditionally and even if your dog chews your couch, scratches your doors, and manages to eat every sock you own, you still figure out a way to live together and to forgive them.

Owning a pet is a gift that will completely change your life. They teach us responsibility, patience, kindness, discipline, playfulness and, most importantly, unconditional love.

The 5 Stages of Grief

In her book, On Death & DyingElisabeth Kübler-Ross identified five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. People do not pass through these stages necessarily in the same order or at the same pace. A person’s depth of grief may depend on their age and personality, their pet’s age and personality, and the circumstances of their pet’s death, as well as the relationship between the person and their dog. Often, people who live alone, take longer to grieve because their companion played such an important role in their lives. The same is true for disabled people who lose a therapy or seeing-eye dog, because the animal was not just a companion but also a vital part of their daily livers.

  1. Denial is a normal part of the grieving process. Make sure you don’t deny your grief. Allow yourself to express your feelings in any way that makes you feel better. Expressing your feelings can be truly cathartic.
  2. Anger is a normal stage of grieving and it is common for pet owners to be angry at the “why” and “how” their pet died. Was it a terrible accident? Was it an incurable disease or illness?
  3. Bargaining. You might say things to yourself such as: “If only I could have three more days with Fido.” The constant “what ifs” and “if onlys” can be extremely stressful and unsettling.
  4. Depression or sadness is a further stage in the process and, for many, the longest stage. Some people will always hold a small amount of sadness in their hearts for their beloved pets.
  5. Acceptance is the final stage. Accepting the loss does not mean forgetting the memories. At this stage, you may feel like your life is becoming normal again and you may even consider adopting another pet.

Why is it Particularly Hard if Your Pet is Euthanised?

It appears that having to euthanise our beloved pet brings special difficulties. Research has shown that individuals experienced the greatest levels of distress and extreme grief in this situation.

Feelings of guilt often accompany euthanasia. It is extremely difficult to bear the burden of deciding when to end another living being’s life. These feelings are perfectly natural. You will however have made the right decision despite your misgivings. You will eventually be able to accept that your decision was the right one and for the right reasons and was in fact a final act of love for your friend.

On the other hand, being actively involved in the decision process can sometimes be helpful and allow the owner to take comfort in the fact that they took an active part in ending their friends suffering.

You need to know that your pet appreciated all that you did for them. The best thing to be able to say to yourself and to others, in my opinion, is that your pet got as much as they gave, and lived their life full knowing that they were loved and appreciated every day.

What Can You Do to Feel Better After losing a Pet?

There are so many things that you can do to mark the loss of your pet that will give you comfort as well.

While some people report becoming distressed by reminders of their pet — such as cat/dog toys, bowls, and leads — others take comfort in them. If they are causing you additional distress, put them away somewhere out of sight for a time. You don’t have to get rid of them just yet, but there’s no point in letting them remind you of your sadness.

The idea that your pet has crossed the Rainbow Bridge is a popular theme in pet loss because it suggests that we will all meet again in the afterlife. This is a source of great comfort to many people, knowing that we will be able to meet again when we too die.

Many owners find comfort in memorialisation of their pet. These kinds of activities can include having a funeral or wake (either privately, or with close, trusted friends and family). Some people like to create an online photo gallery, print photos, or even create a scrapbook or photo collage. Some find comfort in cremating their pet and keeping their ashes in a memorial box with the engraving of their pet’s name on top.

Grief coping strategies for pet loss often start with reading pet loss bereavement articles (whether it be a book or online).

Additional coping strategies include;

  • writing letters or blogs to your pet
  • interacting with other animals (such as at shelters)
  • joining a pet loss support group online
  • keeping busy with routines
  • seeing friends and volunteering.
  • In extreme cases of loss, a person may seek out a grief councillor.

How Long Will My Grief Last?

 Nobody can say for certain how long your grief will last. The feelings of loss and sadness are very individual, and so can vary widely. In one small study of 82 people who had lost their pet, “25% took between 3 and 12 months to accept the loss of their pet, 50% between 12 and 19 months, and 25% took between 2 and 6 years, to recover” (Messam & Hart, 2019).

As you can see, there is a wide range of time it can take to fully recover from losing your pet. Grief takes as long as it takes! There is nothing you can do to speed up the process or feel it more fully. It comes when it comes and lasts as long as it needs to.

You will get over the loss of your pet. But you will never forget the love and times you shared together. Sooner or later you may feel ready to open your heart up again to another furry friend. Our hearts are large enough to cope with the extremes of sadness and depth of love that a beloved pet brings with it into our homes.


How Can the Woof Club Help You?

We know that losing a pet is always a hard thing to go through. Hopefully, this article may have given you some support, answered a question or given you an idea of how you can deal with your grief. We would love to see pictures of the wonderful pets that you have loved and lost! Please do send them to us via our contact us page or by  emailing us at woof@thewoofclub.ch