Grief, whatever the intensity, over the loss of a pet is completely normal. Pets become significant and constant parts of our lives. They offer comfort and companionship, unconditional love and acceptance, as well as genuine happiness. No one should be surprised if they are devastated by the loss of such a relationship. The most important thing is how you feel. Don't let others dictate your feelings; not everyone understands a pet/owner relationship. Your feelings over a lost pet are completely valid, and may be extremely painful. But no one grieving over a lost pet is alone: A multitude of pet owners experience the same feelings. Some Stages of Grief: Denial: The refusal to accept that your pet is really gone. It's hard to imagine that your pet isn't going to be there for its usual activities. In extreme cases, some pet owners fear their pet is still alive and suffering somewhere. Others find it hard to get a new pet for fear of being "disloyal" to the previous pet. Guilt: Sometimes people feel responsible for their pet's death. However, it is pointless and unnecessary to take on the burden of guilt for an accident or illness that claimed your pet's life. It will only make it more difficult to resolve grief. Anger: You may be tempted to direct your anger at an illness, the driver of the speeding car, or the veterinarian who was unable to save its life in order to justify your pain. When carried to extremes, it can distract you from dealing with and resolving the grief at hand. Depression: While this is a natural consequence of grief, it can make it difficult to deal with your feelings. It can deprive you of motivation and energy, leaving you to dwell on your grief. Remember, not everyone follows these basic stages of grief. Some people may skip or repeat a stage, while others may experience the stages in a different order. What Can You Do? 1. Be honest about your feelings. Don't deny your pain, or succumb to anger and guilt. Only by examining and coming to terms with your feelings can you begin to work through them. 2. Find someone you can talk to and feel comfortable with who can empathize with your grief. Consistent interaction and sharing your feelings around people can be very beneficial. If you don't have family or friends who understand, or if you need more help, ask your veterinarian or humane association to recommend a pet loss counselor or support group. 3. Take care of your body. Your body has a strong connection with your mind, which feels the intense emotions of losing a pet. Eat healthy (despite if you have a reduction in appetite.) Get Sleep (at least 5-8 hours) Exercise (this will improve your mood.) 4. Continue with the structural activities you did before the loss, with the exception of those you did with or for your pet. Structure will help your regain your bearings. 5. Perform a ritual when you feel the time is right. Funerals at a pet cemetery, memorials with friends and family, or making a small shrine for a brief time are some options. 6. After some time, consider getting another pet. Nothing can ever replace your pet, but another pet can become another companion to make you happy. What Should I Tell My Children? While you are the best judge of how much information your children can handle about death and the loss of their pet, here are some tips: Be honest: Try to avoid saying "put to sleep." If you have to, make sure your children understand the difference between death and regular sleep. They could develop fear of sleep. Never say the pet "went away," or your child may wonder what he or she did to make it leave, and wait in anguish for its return. This also makes accepting a new pet more difficult for the child. Clarify that the pet will not come back, but that it is happy and not suffering. Never Criticize: Let your children grieve. Be honest about your own sorrow; don't try to hide it, or children may feel required to hide their grief as well. Discuss the issue with them. Encourage: Allow your child to talk freely about the pet. Be sure to give the child plenty of hugs and reassurance. Take the opportunity to discuss death, dying and grief honestly. Will My Other Pets Grieve? Pets are observant, and are bound to notice the absence of a companion. Pets often form strong attachments to one another, and the survivor of such a pair may seem to grieve for its companion. Cats and dogs can grieve for each other. Even pets that outwardly seem to barely get along can exhibit signs of stress when separated. Signs: Restlessness, anxiety and depression. Other signs of grief may include sighing or sleep and eating disturbances. Sometimes pets will search for their missing companions and crave more attention from their owners. As a result, you may need to give your surviving pets a lot of extra attention and love to help them through this period. Remember that if you are going to introduce a new pet, your surviving pets may not accept it right away, however; new bonds will grow in time. Meanwhile, the love of your surviving pets can be wonderfully healing for your own grief. Tips: 1. Keep the surviving pet(s) routines as normal as possible. 2. Try not to unintentionally reinforce the behavior changes. if the pet's appetite is picky, don't keep changing the food. This will create a finicky pet. Giving too much attention can lead to separation anxiety. 3. Allow the surviving animals to work out the new dominance hierarchy themselves. The animals may fight for this status. 4. Don't get a new pet just to help the grieving one unless you are ready. Should the owner let the surviving animals see and smell their dead companion? There is no evidence that doing so will help the surviving pet(s), though some people claim that it does. Usually, all it accomplishes is to make the owner feel better. Therefore, if the owner wants to have the surviving pets say their good-byes, then it should be permitted.