5 Strategies for Surviving the Loss of a Pet

Pet Graveyard
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After more than 30 years as a practicing veterinarian, and many, many personal losses, I’ve learned some strategies that can help pet owners who are dealing with the loss of a beloved companion. While we veterinarians do everything we can to keep your pet healthy and happy, euthanasia is often a necessary — and very difficult — part of our job. But we are all proud of this part of our work; we not only ease suffering, but we are almost alone in the medical field in actively ending pain, often at great emotional toll to ourselves.

My professional familiarity with death means I also know a great deal about grief — my own, of course, and also that of the families whose pets I have looked after throughout their lives. Helping those who remain behind is also part of my work, and over the years, I have learned a few useful strategies for coping with this loss.

Give Yourself Time — and Permission — to Grieve

In general, grown-ups don’t like to cry in public, and we don’t like to share how much we’re hurting. But it’s extremely important to remind yourself that love is love and that loving a pet is no different from loving a person — and when you lose your pet, you will feel like crying. Your feelings are not wrong, and you need time to work through your grief. Don’t try to minimize the bond you and your pet shared. No matter what anyone else says or thinks or what you were raised to believe, I am confident that your pet loved you, truly. Let yourself believe this, too, and don’t rush to “get over it.” You can’t hurry grief, so be kind to yourself and let yourself feel what’s in your heart.

Take Care of Yourself

Losing someone we love can be exhausting, emotionally and physically. While you are grieving, it's important that you eat well and get enough sleep. You’ll do better in the short run — and certainly in the long run — if you look after your own health right now. Stick to healthy, good foods, and resist the impulse to go for the junk because it’s there and it’s easy. Comfort food can be good food, too, of course — but again, try to stick with healthy choices and appropriate portions. And don't be afraid to touch base with your doctor if you feel yourself struggling to get back to normal. Don’t try to “gut it out” — experts say you’ll just prolong your grief.

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