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Coping With Pet Loss

Eric Bittman

Americans are proud pet parents to 78 million dogs and 86 million cats, according to the Humane Society of the U.S. They estimate that almost 50 percent of U.S. families have at least one dog and 39 percent have at least one cat. Imagine all the joy these families get from their furry friends—but with that must eventually come the sadness of losing the family pet. Pet-loss grief is real and can be as intense as the loss of a family member. Here's help for when it happens.

The Process of Grieving

The grieving process is different for everybody. Some may grieve for days, while others experience a measure of grief for years. Even after several years, people may get triggered by seeing another animal that looks like their pet.

You may feel sadness, anger and even guilt as part of the grieving process, and you can even cycle through these feelings several times in one day. Depression and withdrawal from others can occur if the grief becomes intense. Learn ways to cope with the grief to help you move through it and into a state of acceptance.

Coping with the Grief

Find others to be around with similar attitudes about pet loss. There are many places where you can find support; many cities have pet cemeteries and sponsor pet loss support groups. There are support hotlines and even entire organizations devoted to pet grief, such as the Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement (APLB).

Another way to cope is to channel your the grief into some type of memorial project. Make a scrapbook with photos of family members with the beloved pet, and include short stories or thoughts about them and perhaps a collar or small toy. Keep any sympathy cards you received in the scrapbook, too. Page through the scrapbook when you're sad, recalling your happy moments with your pet—this can help you move through the grief.

You can hold a funeral service for the pet and invite friends and family members to participate. Bring some of your pet’s favorite toys, buy flowers and share some photos with those in attendance. If your pet will be cremated, you can still hold a memorial service outside, and plant some flowers in their honor somewhere in the yard.

If children are dealing with the loss of a pet, get them involved in the process. APLB recommends children draw pictures of their pet playing with them. Allow children to help decide where to have a memorial service and where to plant flowers. They may want to keep one of their pictures or one of the pet’s toys in their room to feel closer to the pet.

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