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Coping with the Loss of a Pet

The death of a pet, whether sudden or a long-time coming, begins a painful, grievous process for pet owners. A dog or cat often grows to become an integral if not wholly irreplaceable part of the family unit. They bring trust, joy, laughter and belonging to a person’s life. Coping with the loss of a pet seems unimaginable to owners with pets in the prime of their life – but try to consider the following reflections. They may give you some comfort when your beloved dog or cat passes away.

It is not shameful, strange or overly-sentimental to grieve. No one can fully articulate or experience your emotions other than yourself. Feeling sad, frustrated, angry, or lonely are valid, ordinary responses to such a devastating event. Although you may have people in your life who don’t own pets and can’t quite grasp the emotional loss, many, many individuals have weathered the passing of a treasured pet and emerged renewed.

Be honest with yourself and others about the grief. Talk to a friend or a family member about your feelings as you are processing them so they can listen, understand your perspective and help if need be. Denying entry to your heart, whether with others or yourself, will ultimately make the hurt and pain linger longer. Myriad individuals find a creative outlet to be a healthy, therapeutic remedy for tackling their emotions head-on. Write a poem; paint a picture; make a photo collage with pictures of your pet; pen a letter to your dog or cat; come up with a song to sing and play. These are fun, memorable ways to memorialize your animal and reflect on joyous times together.

If you have young children, do not distort or hide the loss. This goes back to being forthright with your emotional response to the situation. You, as the parent, are the best judge of your child’s maturity and ability to handle the news of a loss like this. Children can be quite perceptive though, even at a young age; share your feelings with them and let them know it is okay to feel sad too. Comfort them and take the opportunity to dispel possible misunderstandings they have regarding death. Let them know that your pet will not be coming back, but that it is happy and free of pain now.

Give yourself some time to cope and heal before getting a new pet. While there are exceptions, generally speaking it is going to complicate and weigh down the road of healing by picking a new pet too soon. For some, this waiting period might be three months; for others six months or a year. Hastily choosing a new dog or cat could make you unfairly expect them to be like your last, and then resent them when they turn out differently. If you do have children, it would make their grieving process much more trying as well.

When you and your family are ready to welcome a new addition, strive to differentiate it by giving it a unique name and nickname(s). Give the animal a chance to show and grow its own personality – you will be thrilled by the new joy it brings to your life.

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