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How to Deal with the Loss of a Beloved Pet

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Our furry loved ones, such as a cat or dog, frequently become part of our families. When we lose a cherished pet, the grief can be insurmountable. To see an empty bed that a pet recently occupied, to discover their favorite toy behind the couch after they are gone, or to no longer have a waggly tail greet you at the door can pull at our heartstrings and cause us to relive the pain that stems from our loss. The truth is, there is no magic wand to feel better after losing a pet. But some healing can come, in baby steps and with time.

Loss of a pet affects people differently. We react uniquely, often depending upon the dynamics and level of closeness we had with our pet. Some people feel better when they “reminisce” about when Fido stole shoes and left them out in the yard or the time Kitty climbed on the rooftop. Other folks find it tougher to express their feelings. Some simply prefer not to discuss the loss while it is still raw. With time, it may become easier to share memories of a special pet. No matter what, there is no right or wrong way to handle the loss of a pet.

Occasionally, it’s difficult for non-pet owners to relate to another person’s loss of a beloved dog or cat. Anyone who uses the expressions, “It’s just a dog” or “It’s just a cat” does not likely comprehend what the loss of a treasured pet feels like. They may not be able to wrap their head around the special love and relationship a pet family member has for a pet. Instead of growing upset with someone who lacks understanding, surround yourself with others who can relate to your experience and can offer sympathy and support.

Most pet lovers can undeniably state that the loss of a pet results in a lifelong void. But there are several ways people can help themselves to grieve and regain hope and joy. This may include asking your vet for references to pet loss support. With COVID-19 still prevalent, consider an online group where people connect to support one another through similar experiences. Or a licensed professional counselor may offer private therapy if needed.

Creating special keepsakes of your dog or cat or memorializing him or her in a special photo may help keep their memory alive and soften the blow. Keeping busy is another thing that works for some people. For example, helping others is known to make people feel better. It may also temporarily divert attention away from grief. Perhaps volunteering at a food pantry, garden, clean closets, writing poems, and doing whatever it takes to feel better. For some, the void one feels from the loss of a pet can be partially helped by the presence of a new pet. However, since owning a pet is a big commitment, the decision to replace a pet is best done with a clear heart and mind.

Being good to yourself at this difficult time is important. Feeling sad and depressed, per WebMD, can cause negative effects. They expound, “Depression doesn’t just cause physical symptoms; it can also increase your risk for –or may worsen—certain physical illnesses or conditions.” Thus, taking care of your health after the loss of a much-loved pet is essential. This includes getting adequate sleep, exercising, eating right, and following up with a doctor are all important to promote healing. Do simple things for yourself that spark joy, such as taking a bubble bath, reading a good book, enjoying a hot cup of tea, taking a walk on the beach, visiting a cheerful friend, or listening to soft music. Caring for oneself and keeping a positive mindset are essential to recovery.

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