Grief Management Advice

Author: DVM cVMA Dana Hogg

Whether furry, feathered, or scaled, our pets are integral to our daily lives and routines. They are there for us through life changes and the ups and downs, providing consistent unconditional love. Pets have this amazing ability to put a smile on our faces and provide a sense of unspoken support that cannot be found anywhere else. They see us at our best and our worst and yet they pass no judgment. They are always there when we need them. They give us purpose.  

Watching our pets age can be such an emotional journey. We try our best to advocate and provide the best support for them as they age despite them being unable to tell us what and if anything is bothering them. When the time comes, making those end-of-life decisions is so tough. Losing a pet can feel like losing a family member. It is normal to experience an array of emotions during this time, which can be overwhelming. There is no “right” amount of time to process this grief. 

It can take weeks to months to fully heal. You may find that grief comes in waves. There is often a feeling of emptiness following the loss of a pet. You may find yourself looking for them just around the corner, planning to do your scheduled walk, or perhaps “helping” you in the kitchen in hopes a treat will fall. Adjusting to a new normal without your pet takes time. In these times, it is important to remind yourself to be kind to yourself and work through your emotions rather than ignore them. Many years went into developing a strong bond with your pet, and that is not something that easily goes away. It is a bond that will never break – their love and memory will always be in our hearts.

Tips for Coping 

Honoring your pet and their memory can be a wonderful way to cope with grief. Here are just a few ways to consider honoring the memory of your pet. 

  • Create a memorial: Pick a special place in your yard to create a memorial. You could also add a fountain or art that reminds you of your beloved companion. Another option is to add a bench or place to sit that will give you space for solitude and reflection.
  • Hang a picture of your pet in the house: Choosing a favorite picture or having a portrait of your pet made to hang in a special place can help remind you of the love you shared. You could even spice it up and make a shadow box with their picture and some of their belongings such as a collar, tags, or favorite toy. Seeing their picture can provide some comfort. Initially, it may make you sad to see your pet, but with time, seeing your lost pet will allow you to smile as you reflect on their memory.
  • Donate to a cause: To honor their memory, consider donating to a cause near and dear to your heart, perhaps one that may improve the future of animal health. For example, if your pet suffered from some type of cancer, finding a place that accepts donations toward the advancement of research in that field can help improve the lives of animals in the future.
  • Sponsor a pet or volunteer your time to pets in need: If you are feeling up to the challenge, volunteering at a local shelter can help with the healing process. Not only can it help us heal, but the animals in need also benefit from the love and attention provided. If volunteering is too much, you can consider sponsoring a pet in need. This generally provides monetary support for the animals that goes toward their daily costs and veterinary bills.
  • Consider journaling or writing a story: Writing can provide a release of emotions. Reflection on your favorite memories and the antics of your pet’s day-to-day not only allows you to process your emotion but it will also serve as a great memory of your pet for the years to come. 
  • Create art: Whether it is a painting, drawing, felted animal, or clay figurine – whatever your artistic taste may be, expressing your emotions in the form of art provides a great outlet for emotions and a snazzy piece of new décor inspired by your beloved pet. 

Whatever your talent or coping mechanisms may be, finding ways to honor your pets places you one step closer to healing. Rather than fight the emotions, embrace them daily. With time and patience, you will heal and soon reflect on your memories with a smile rather than tears. 

Dr. Dana Hogg graduated in 2015 from North Carolina State University. She grew up in Wilson, North Carolina. Growing up with several animals, Dr. Hogg was drawn to the field of veterinary medicine at a young age. She completed her undergraduate degree at NCSU in 2009 and her master's degree in 2011.

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