WebMD BlogsMental Health

When You Are Grieving the Loss of Your Beloved Pet

650x350_pet-grief
Susan J. O'Grady, PhD - Blogs
By Susan J. O'Grady, PhDClinical psychologistAugust 10, 2018

For many of us, our relationships with our pets are like no other. There’s an emotional attachment that is pure, genuine, and steady, no matter the changes in our lives. Pets give us their devotion without asking for anything in return. Their love is unconditional.

So when a beloved pet dies, the sense of loss can be overwhelming. We may even feel the same degree of grief as we would for a human member of the family, though we may not feel comfortable admitting it. Many of my clients feel ashamed of their grief following the death of a pet because it’s “only” a dog or a cat (or bird, fish, rabbit…), but there’s no shame in deeply grieving the loss of a pet.

We form strong bonds with our pets; the stronger our attachment, the more profound our grief. When a pet dies, many experience depression and often a significant disruption in their day-to-day lives. The grief process is similar to that when we lose a significant person: numbness and disbelief, sadness, and depression. Many people will feel guilt, especially if they had to make the difficult decision to euthanize their pet due to illness or age. We can also feel anger at family members, or a vet who we think didn’t show enough care or concern.

Grief can take different courses for each person. People who live alone, or who have limited social support, may have more difficulty adjusting to their loss. For older adults who live alone, the bond with a pet can be the most significant relationship they have and form a big part of their day, making them especially vulnerable to grief. For parents whose children have not been exposed to death before, losing a pet may prompt inevitable questions about what happened, where the pet went, and whether the pet is coming back. Each family has their own way of thinking about death; be prepared to share what you believe with your child. Our instinct is to avoid talking about death, but kids have a wonderful way of making sense of things that adults have trouble expressing.

Other factors affect grief also, such as how our pet died. Was it sudden, such as a burst spleen, or violent, as in being hit by a car? Death following a long illness where a pet is on many medications and has had painful medical treatment may initially bring relief because we know our pet is out of pain, but can also leave us feeling deep sadness for the suffering we know our pet experienced.

Just as you would talk with a therapist about the loss of a friend or family member, you can use therapy to discuss your feelings about your pet’s death. Give yourself the opportunity to express your sadness and to share your memories. Consider a grief ritual such as placing a stone in a special place in your home or garden. Don’t feel like you have to minimize the importance of your animal companion. Our attachment to our pet is a real relationship that may have spanned years and provided us with security, affection, and love. Don’t shortchange your need to grieve.

WebMD Blog
© 2018 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.
Blog Topics:
About the Author
Susan J. O'Grady, PhD

Dr. Susan J. O’Grady is a clinical psychologist in the San Francisco Bay Area providing psychotherapy and consultation for adults, couples, and teenagers. She has advanced training in marriage counseling and sex therapy and is credentialed in mindfulness-based interventions focusing on anxiety, depression, sleep problems, and emotional balance. In addition to her clinical practice, Dr. O’Grady writes on topics related to the psychology of living well at www.drsusanogrady.com.

More from the Mental Health Blog

  • woman yelling at man

    How to Handle an Adult Bully

    Many of us dealt with bullies growing up. My own experience with bullying started in first grade when the class bully pushed me into ...

  • eyes closed smiling woman in city

    How to Become a Less Anxious Person

    If you deal with anxiety on a regular basis, you’ve probably developed some skills for managing your anxious feelings in the moment ...

View all posts on Mental Health

Latest Blog Posts on WebMD

View all blog posts

Important: The opinions expressed in WebMD Blogs are solely those of the User, who may or may not have medical or scientific training. These opinions do not represent the opinions of WebMD. Blogs are not reviewed by a WebMD physician or any member of the WebMD editorial staff for accuracy, balance, objectivity, or any other reason except for compliance with our Terms and Conditions. Some of these opinions may contain information about treatments or uses of drug products that have not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. WebMD does not endorse any specific product, service or treatment.

Do not consider WebMD Blogs as medical advice. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice from your doctor or other qualified healthcare provider because of something you have read on WebMD. You should always speak with your doctor before you start, stop, or change any prescribed part of your care plan or treatment. WebMD understands that reading individual, real-life experiences can be a helpful resource, but it is never a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from a qualified health care provider. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or dial 911 immediately.

Read More