Pet loss is never easy for anybody, and losing a pet after many years of sharing the home can be extremely difficult. If you know a person who has experienced pet loss and is in desperate need for pet loss support, put on your boots and get over there.
Animals that live with people have traditionally been called ‘pets’. They now tend to be referred to as ‘companions’ and rightly so. They love us unconditionally and are always waiting at home for us. They ask nothing in return except affection.
Loss of your “companion” can come from many situations. Perhaps there was an illness or injury that required you to do the kindest thing and “put it to sleep”. Perhaps, after many years, the body just naturally gave out. Perhaps the pet loss is due to an accident. All of these losses are bad enough, but sometimes pet loss is due to a missing animal. This can be the most difficult loss of all as there are no answers as to what has happened to the pet. And there never may be an answer.
Death is part of the lifecycle. Pet loss cannot be avoided, but understanding and compassion can help you, your family, and your friends manage the grief associated with it. Young school age children may discuss pet loss in morbid detail with friends and possibly make up elaborate stories to embellish the experience. Death is a reversible feat that cartoons like the roadrunner and coyote enact. Although they may not understand that their pet is dead, explaining death concretely now will help them understand it better later.
For children, feelings of pet loss may include confusion, fear, sadness, anger, pain, distress, separation anxiety (clinging), and guilt, especially if the pet loss was a result of the child’s real or imagined neglect. As they search for ways to understand and master the loss, children will express feelings through play. With adults, feelings of depression can be a cue that you need to slow down and allow yourself to feel the pet loss. You also need to find a way, when it is time, to move on with life.
Children and the elderly often require special compassion and support during this time of pet loss. In households with more than one pet, surviving animals also go through a grieving process and may need special care. Children have a great sense of loss that tends to be more short term. Adults can find themselves grieving from pet loss even after the introduction of a new pet into the household and sometimes even years after the death.