The passing of a pet can be a traumatic event for loving pet parents. Pets are frequently so much more than “just a dog or cat.” Over the years, our pets take on important roles in our every day lives. To many pet parents, pets provide meaning and significant comfort and structure to their daily routines. As our pets grow, our feelings towards them intensify as well, and they often become invaluable members of our family.
With such an intense bond, when a pet passes it is not surprising that pet parents may experience the same stages of grief as they would if a human family member passes. The exact amount of grief and emotional turmoil is dependent upon many factors, including the circumstances surrounding your pet’s passing. However, regardless of the circumstances, after the loss of a cherished pet, most pet parents find themselves navigating the highly recognized five stages of grief.
Stage 1: Denial of a Pet Loss
Denial is the first stage in the grieving process, and it plays an important role in surviving a loss. When a beloved pet passes, the feelings of pain and shock can become overwhelming to pet parents. Through denial, we are able to set aside these intense feelings and let the reality of our loss set in at a pace our mind and body can comprehend. Denial may be especially prevalent if your pet’s loss was extremely unexpected. Eventually, as you are able to comprehend your loss, the feelings of denial will start to fade away. As the reality of the loss settles in, intense emotions are exposed that denial can no longer hide.
Stage 2: Anger that Your Pet is Gone
Once your mind and body understand the reality of your pet’s passing, you will likely enter the second stage of grief: anger. Although anger is generally perceived negatively, it is actually an important part of your grief healing. The anger pet parents feel over the loss of their pet may take many forms. You may feel angry at the situation and ask yourself, “Why me? Why my pet?” It is important to recognize that underneath the feelings of anger are deeper feelings of pain and loss.
Stage 3: Bargaining and Questioning Yourself
After the anger subsides, many pet parents start to question the situation surrounding the loss of their pet and offer up hypothetical “if only” type of scenarios. For example, you many think to yourself “If only I had noticed the illness sooner,” or “If only my beloved dog had not gotten loose outside.” In the bargaining stage of grief, we start to make promises to ourselves to do better in hopes that it will erase the pain we are experiencing.
Stage 4: Depression from Grieving a Pet
Just like grieving the loss of a family member, the loss of a cherished pet often settles into depression for pet parents. Once the phases of anger and questioning have subsided, the true feelings of loss creep in, leading to an overwhelming sense of sadness. It is important to recognize that this is a normal part of the grieving process, and depression is an integral step towards accepting the loss and moving forward. If you feel, however, that your feelings of depression are overwhelming or preventing you from daily activities, please consider getting professional pet grief counseling.
Stage 5: Acceptance of the Situation
The final stage of grief healing, acceptance, is often misunderstood. When a pet parent reaches a level of acceptance, it does not mean they necessarily feel “all right” with the situation. Instead, entering a level of acceptance simply means pet parents understand the loss they experienced is real, and they are learning to live with this new reality. It is normal to still have occasional feelings of sadness, and during the acceptance phase pet parents may have both bad and good days. However, truly accepting the situation means that parents recognize their circumstances have forever changed, and they are willing to move forward and enjoy life.
At Loving Hearts, we understand that grief from losing a pet is completely normal, and we strive to educate pet parents on what to expect when coping with a beloved pet loss. One way to lessen the pain is by creating a pet memorial keepsakethat you and your family can treasure forever. If you have any questions about the loss of your pet, creating a keepsake, or any other aspect of honoring your pet, please don’t hesitate to reach out.