The Littlest Feet Make The Biggest Footprints In Our Hearts

Coping with grief after the loss of a family pet

For some people, losing a pet can feel like losing a close family member and can trigger grief and sorrow in the same way. Pets provide companionship, emotional support and unconditional love during the time they share with you and losing this can cause great sadness, especially if you are someone who has a strong bond with animals or for whom your pet is a key companion.

Owning a dog guarantees you’ll get some of the best days of your life with your four-legged friend by your side but it also guarantees one of your worst days. -When the time comes to say goodbye.

Losing my best friend was the hardest thing I’ve had to do. I found that talking about grief and learning about the stages of grief helped me understand my emotions better.

Some people don’t have pets or see this type of loss as very different to losing a person. However, the significance of a loss is very personal and varies according to context and the meaning that the particular relationship had for us, and so it is important not to make assumptions about what is ‘normal’ when supporting someone who has lost a pet.

How can I help myself?

Coping with the loss of a loved one is always difficult, even more so if it is a well loved pet that has been with you through everything. It can take time to understand your feelings and adjust after the loss has happened, but there are things you can do help yourself cope. For example, it can help to Understand the grief process.

Grief can be painful and exhausting but most people find that in time things become easier. Understanding the grief process and the common stages of the grief cycle can be really helpful – so it can be a good idea to familiarise yourself with these and keep them in mind during the periods when difficult feelings come up.

It can be particularly helpful to:

  • Take each day at a time. There might be good days and bad days. Try to focus on each day at a time and set yourself small, achievable goals.
  • Develop coping strategies that work for you. Self-help resources can help you to work through difficult feelings and learn coping skills.
  • Make a memory box. You might find it helpful to fill a box with items which prompt happy memories of the pet that died, as these can to help lift your mood, when you feel down. The box can contain anything that is meaningful and helpful to you, for example: a favourite book, quotes, photos, letters, poems, notes to yourself, a cuddly toy, a perfume, or a smell that’s important to you.
  • Learn your triggers. It is normal for certain things to trigger difficult feelings or painful memories about the loss. By taking note of what causes your mood to change, you can gradually learn how best to cope with triggers when they happen. You can try tracking your feelings using an online mood diary (there are many freely available, such as MoodPanda).
  • Let others know how you’re feeling. Tell people what you find helpful and let them know when you are finding things difficult. It’s okay to ask others to be with you if you need them.
  • Seek support. If you’re not already receiving support or don’t feel the support you have is helpful, take a look at our contact page for a list of organisations who might be able to help.
  • Try peer support. It can be helpful to talk with others who are also currently coping with a loss or have experienced grief in the past. Contact Carlisle Eden Mind.

If you are supporting a friend that is struggling to come to terms with the loss of a beloved pet, you can read our blog post on how to better support them through this tough time.

Talking to a specialist grief counsellor may be appropriate and could help you with:

  • understanding the grieving process
  • identifying and expressing your feelings relating to the loss
  • exploring ways of coping
  • moving towards acceptance
  • coping with birthdays and anniversaries of the loss.

Please check the Blue Cross website for information on their pet bereavement support service.