Navigating the Emotional Rollercoaster of Coping with Pet Loss


Having recently losing lost my 14 year old cat, I found myself experiencing grief in a way that had its own personality. A friend of mine who recently lost his dog told me “grief is a bully”. This was the fourth time I had to say goodbye to a feline friend and it is still something I can hardly bare. Losing a pet can be a profound loss, and as a therapist who has experienced it firsthand, I wanted to share my thoughts on this topic and offer some guidance for those who may be going through a similar experience.

Our pets are often more than just animals. They are our companions, confidants, and members of the family. They offer us love, support, and a sense of purpose, and their loss can leave a significant hole in our lives. When my cat passed away, I felt a deep sense of sadness and emptiness. I had once again lost a friend who had been with me through many of life’s events, and it was difficult to imagine life without her.

One of the most challenging aspects of pet loss is the feeling of isolation that can come with it. Many people do not understand the depth of emotion that can accompany the loss of a pet, and it can be hard to find support from others who do not share our experiences. As a therapist, I understand the importance of having a safe space to process grief and loss. I encourage anyone who has lost a pet to seek out support from friends, family, or a therapist who can offer empathy and understanding.

When grieving the loss of a pet, it is essential to remember that there is no “right” way to grieve. Everyone experiences grief differently, and there is no timeline for when you should start to feel better. It is essential to allow yourself to feel whatever emotions come up and to give yourself time to process the loss. Please do not feel shame if you feel intense grief.  All it means is, you honored your friend and you are caring person who can feel and appreciate love.

One of the most helpful things I did in my own grief process was to create a ritual to honor my cat’s memory. When I got  her ashes back in an urn and I placed her favorite toy next to it. For others it can be something as simple as lighting a candle or creating a small altar with pictures and mementos. Creating a ritual can provide a sense of closure and help us to honor the bond we shared with our pets.

Self-care is also crucial during the grieving process. Grief can be physically and emotionally exhausting, and it is essential to take care of ourselves during this difficult time. This may mean taking time off work, engaging in self-care activities like exercise or meditation, or seeking support from loved ones.

As a therapist, I often work with clients to help them navigate the stages of grief. The stages of grief, as outlined by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, include denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. While not everyone will experience all of these stages or in the same order, they can provide a framework for understanding the emotions that come with grief.

In the case of pet loss, it is common for people to experience feelings of guilt or regret. We may wonder if we did enough for our pets or if we missed signs that they were in pain or getting sick. It is important to remember that these feelings are normal and to be gentle with ourselves. Guilt sometimes is a way of trying to control a situation where we feel powerless. If it’s our fault we don’t have to feel powerless. It can be helpful to focus on the positive memories we shared with our pets and to remind ourselves that we did the best we could.

When a pet is no longer with us, it can be difficult to adjust to the changes in our daily lives. For example, we may miss the routine of feeding our pets or taking them for walks. It can be helpful to create new routines or to find ways to honor our pets’ memory in our daily lives. For example, we may volunteer at an animal shelter or make a donation in our pet’s name to a local animal rescue.

People who have not experienced the loss of a pet may not understand the depth of grief we are experiencing. They may offer well-intentioned but dismissive comments like “it was just a pet” or “you can always get another one.” It is important to remember that the grief we feel is valid and that our pets were much more than just animals to us. It can be helpful to seek out support from others who understand our experience, such as a pet loss support group or online community.

It is also important to remember that grief does not necessarily end with acceptance. While we may eventually come to accept the loss of our pet, the memory of them will always be a part of our lives. It is common to experience waves of grief even years after our pets have passed away, particularly during anniversaries or special occasions. This is normal and does not mean that we have not processed our grief effectively.

In some cases, the grief we experience after losing a pet may be complicated by other factors, such as trauma or unresolved grief from previous losses. In these cases, it can be helpful to seek out professional support from a therapist who specializes in grief and loss. EMDR a form of trauma therapy, can also help in dealing with complicated grief.

Again, it is important to remember that the grief we experience after losing a pet is a reflection of the deep love and connection we shared with them. Our pets bring so much joy and meaning to our lives, and their loss can be devastating. With time, support, and self-care, it is possible to find a sense of peace and healing after the loss of a beloved pet.