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Mourning a Pet:  Understanding the Stages of Grief and Acceptance

When faced with the loss of a pet, we grieve.  It doesn’t matter what our pet’s age, the cause of death, or how long he or she was a member of our family.

Bereavement of a pet is experienced much like the loss of a close family member.  This is not surprising, since pets often fill important family roles as loyal companions who provide us with unconditional love.   And, although we may experience this type of loss multiple times in our lives, saying goodbye to a pet never gets easier.  It signifies that a strong bond has been severed and it will take time and effort to work through the grief.

Grieving is a process with different phases and a range of other emotions, including:

Shock and Confusion - At the initial time of the pets’ death, we may be unable to accept or deal with what has happened.  Whether the animal was young and in good health or older and ill, there will be a time of bewilderment for the pet owner when the pet dies.  This phase of shock is a temporary state but it may last up to a few weeks.

Guilt and Anger - Once the initial shock of the pet loss is over, a combination of sadness, irritability and anger may take over.  We find ourselves missing the pet and trying to cope with the void in our lives.  Some of us will be easily distracted with thoughts of the pet and have reoccurring dreams about it.  Many pet owners experience guilt and anger toward themselves, a family member or even the veterinarian in an effort to figure out what could have been done differently. 

Depression - As people continue their lives without their pet, feelings of depression and despair arise.  During this time of regret most of us are trying to learn how to manage life without our beloved pet’s presence.  Rely on strong, positive friends and relatives who understand your loss who will share the burden with you.

Acceptance - Although it may take time, a stage of calmness, acceptance and healing will eventually evolve.  Pet owners will be able to remember their pet with fondness and treasure the happy memories.  A new lifestyle or routine will be in place as a substitute for the relationship with the lost pet.  Some may even begin to consider what life may be like with a new pet and explore another furry friend.

While the stages of grief can be defined, everyone experiences them in different ways.  Some get through the phases sooner than others, while some never reach full closure of the loss of their pet.   The depth and amount of mourning will depend on individual personalities, the bond with the pet and the circumstances of its death. 

It takes strength and patience, but working through the feelings of loss will allow the pet owner to eventually treasure the shared bond and possibly move on to experience a new animal relationship.