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Easing Grief after Losing a Pet

Counseling for grief Fayetteville NC, counseling for loss of a pet, pet grief, counseling for grief from loss of pet, counseling for death of a pet, grief counseling Fayetteville NC

Easing Grief after Losing a Pet


For many people, pets are just animals. For others, however, pets are treated as a member of the family with many purposes and functions. A pet can be a companion, a guard, a playmate, and even a helper. An intense love and bond often develop between the master and the pet, so when a beloved pet dies or disappears, it can break the heart of the owner and the grief can be overwhelming.

Losing a pet can trigger all sorts of painful and difficult emotions. You may experience devastating feelings of grief and the depth of your sadness may not be understood by some people. Know that it is natural to grieve and feel the same pain or sadness as when you lose a person you love. There is absolutely nothing to be ashamed about.


Feeling the Pain of Losing a Pet

Grief is a natural response and an important process to go through following a loss. It is not, however, reserved for the loss of human loved ones. In fact, you may be blindsided by far more grief when you lose a pet.

The response to pet loss varies from person to person. The level of grief depends on a number of factors, including your age and personality, the age of the pet, and the circumstances leading to death. The role played by the pet in your life also counts. For example, if the pet used to be a service or therapy animal, your grief is not only about the loss of a companion, but a significant part of yourself, which may include your joy, independence or emotional support. You may also feel guilty if the pet died without veterinary treatment. The loss may even be more difficult to come to terms with if the pet was your sole companion in life.

In some cases, losing a pet may involve a traumatic component, such as euthanasia, accidental death, or unknown whereabouts. Symptoms of PTSD, including nightmares, panic, and obsessive thoughts may result in some pet owners. If the traumatic reactions persist over weeks or months, it may be beneficial to seek counseling to find new perspectives and liberation from complicated grief response.

Regardless of the circumstances surrounding your loss, the grief you feel is personal to you. Losing a pet is an inevitable part of owning one and it may take a while to get used to living without the pet that used to be an everyday part of your life. As you take the grieving process seriously, you may find yourself instinctively preparing for the usual tasks only to remember your pet is gone. Little things or items, such as scratch marks on furniture, bowls, collars, etc. can trigger an emotional response. Getting rid of all the obvious reminders is not necessarily the way to take away the pain.


Common Reactions to Pet Grief

As a pet owner grieving over your loss, you may begin to question if your overwhelming feelings and reactions are appropriate or are you just overreacting. It is important to remember that the reactions and symptoms of pet grief are not the same for each pet owner, but there are noticeable common signs. They include:


  • Feelings: shock, guilt, fear, yearning, sorrow, relief, despair, irritability, anger, etc.
  • Physical Symptoms: chest pains, muscle weakness, flu-like symptoms, dry mouth, fatigue and lethargy, oversensitivity to touch and/or sound, shortness of breath, hyperactivity, withdrawal
  • Cognitive Symptoms: lack of concentration, confusion, disbelief, anxiety, depression
  • Behavioral Symptoms: sleep trouble, eating disorders leading to weight gain or loss, crying, looking and calling out for the pet, treasuring or getting rid of all pet things, vivid dreams about the pet, revisiting old places, inability to perform day to day activities, oversensitivity


Exhibiting these reactions does not mean you are eccentric, weak, or melodramatic. It just means you are mourning the loss of a beloved friend, so you should not be ashamed to show your feelings. You may experience grief in stages or in cycles. It can come in waves or a series of highs and lows. At times, the difficult feelings can be more intense and longer, then gradually become slighter and shorter as the days go by. Still, even after a long time, a sight, a sound, or an occasion can freshen memories to awaken your grief.


A Different Kind of Grief

Losing a pet is a sorrowful time. You may be compelled to find strategies to quell the pain or your longings, but it may only worsen your feelings in the long run. What causes it to be more painful is the seemingly less social support when a pet dies. Grieving for a family or friend is socially acceptable and ritualized, a practice ostracized when the same is done for a pet. Instead, people are quick to tell you to “just get over it” or find a new pet and move on.

You may also feel the bite of guilt within you. Instead of focusing on all the love and quality time spent with your animal companion, you are guilt-ridden for feeling too tired to take your pet for that last walk, for going on a vacation and leaving your furry friend behind, or for refusing to let go of your money for a potentially life-saving treatment. This is a frequent and understandable feeling, given the degree of your grief. Unfortunately, there is little you can do to put an abrupt end to your grief, which is an appropriate response after a significant loss.

Grief takes time. It has no timetable. As you go through it, you will always miss your companion. In the beginning, you may find it difficult to make it through the “bad days.” Then, things will become better and you will have more good than bad days. Soon, it will be easier to dwell on the happy memories than to wallow in the sad ones. Your pet will always be a bittersweet memory for you. 

Letting go of grief can be misinterpreted as a betrayal and trying to come to terms with your loss may be equated with trying to forget. That is not what grieving intends to process. Grieving is getting through the pain of your loss, not over it. To achieve real healing, it is important to confront your grief and find the means to resolve it. By talking about or expressing your grief, you are more likely to need less time to heal than if you suppress or hide your feelings.


Acceptance and Surrender with a Smile

Precisely because some people still think of pets as “just animals,” you may not feel comfortable expressing your feelings with others. While you hurt, you may want to share what you feel only to be dismissed because people do not understand your feelings. It only adds to your pain being told to “get over it.”

Why not find a good therapist who can help you work through your pain? An experienced and trained counselor can help in transforming your grief into motivation. If you feel you need some counseling, by all means contact Carolina Counseling Services – North Fayetteville Office – Fayetteville, NC to request an appointment.

It may feel intolerable now, but with the help of the right fit therapist independently contracted with CCS – North Fayetteville Office – Fayetteville, NC you will be able to work through your pain. The day will come when you can accept and surrender to the experience of sharing life with your beloved pet and remember him or her with sweet memories. Make the call now!

Serving Areas: Carolina Counseling Services – Fayetteville, NC (North)

Counties: Cumberland, Bladen and Sampson Counties, NC

Areas: Fayetteville NC, Ft Bragg NC, Pope Field NC, Sliver City NC, Linden NC, Bunnlevel NC, Erwin NC, Dundarrach NC, Rex NC,and Wade, NC

Zip Codes: 28311, 28395, 28390, 28356

Related Articles:

Healing from Grief as a Family

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FayettevilleNC 28311

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  • Becky Clark, MSW, LCSW

    Specializes in: (Ages 18+) Anxiety, Depression, Individuals, Couples, Geriatrics, Criminal Justice, Stress Management, Loss and Grief related to death, disability, divorce, deployment, “empty nest”, retirement and other major life transitions
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