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How to Cope With the Loss of a Pet

How to Cope With the Loss of a Pet
By Laurie Saloman
Reviewed by QualityHealth’s Medical Advisory Board

For many of us, a pet is a valued member of the family. In honor of the love, support, companionship and acceptance they show us, we celebrate their birthdays, buy them gifts, and provide top-notch medical care. We brag about their accomplishments, keep photos of them on our desks, and add their names to the holiday cards we send. Some people even consider their pets their children.

What happens, then, when we lose our beloved animal companions? Not surprisingly, the grief we feel may be intense. A study conducted at the University of Hawaii’s animal science department of 106 pet owners found that almost a third experienced grief that lasted six months or more after their pet’s death. Twelve percent reported that their grief caused major disruptions in their lives.

For older people, losing a pet may hit particularly hard. Seniors who live alone can feel lost and empty without a cuddly cat to curl up with or a frisky dog who gets them out of the house every morning. Since most elderly people have experienced some form of loss, the death of a pet can be a painful reminder of the passing of other loved ones. It can also be a reminder of one’s own mortality. While for many younger people, the decision to get another pet to fill the void is a given, for older people the situation is more complicated. Should an 80-year-old adopt an animal that may well outlive her by several years? Is that 80-year-old equipped to care for a new animal physically and financially?

If you’ve lost your animal companion and are having a hard time dealing with it, it’s important to take steps to help yourself. Here are some things you can do:

  • Make a special effort to reach out to friends and family. You need to feel connected to other living beings the way you were connected to your pet.
  • Call a pet-loss hotline. Staffers are trained to deal with grieving animal owners.
  • Volunteer at a local shelter or humane society. It may give you a boost to realize there are other animals who need you and can give you affection.
  • Allow yourself time to grieve. Cry if you want to, and let others know you’re hurting. Talk about your pet with understanding friends. If you feel your grief is paralyzing or going on for too long, talk to a mental-health professional.

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