7 Coping Strategies When Grieving for a Pet

Wags to Wiskers Pet Grieving

Losing a pet is hard. If you’ve been there, you know what those days feel like, and they’re just hard. They hurt. They’re gray. They’re empty. Losing a pet is losing a family member, and it hurts regardless of what species they are. As a pet supplies store, we grieve for our lost family and our lost customers. We know our humans hurt.

We all grieve for pets in different ways and it’s a highly individual, personalized process that can be influenced by a number of factors such as culture, social groups, family and friends, other pets, and more. With the help of some outside research, our team at Wags to Wiskers Pet Supplies have put together some helpful self-care steps and advice you can take to help you through a difficult time. Nonetheless, remember that most of these tips are generalizations and as stated, everybody grieves differently - what works for some may not work for you, or what works for you may not work for others.

Block out some time for yourself

For some of us, the busy lives we live are both a blessing and a curse. We live in a time where our to-do lists are maximized, where there’s always a million things to do, and in a culture where working hard is a type of competition among ourselves. When you’ve lost a pet and you’re grieving, it can be aggravating that it seems like life is moving on all around you, but you’re stuck in an emotional storm. Research says that giving yourself some time to experience those feelings and properly grieving by releasing those emotions regularly will help you on your way to some semblance of recovery. Bottling up your emotions or burying them under work, errands, or distractions can cause further pain down the road.

Reflect on the love you shared

Again, we all process this event and reflect on it in different ways. Some of us might write, tell stories, paint, craft, make collages, create video or slideshows, or any other creative pursuit. Some of us might just want to sit and think. Reflecting can be a difficult process in and of itself, even without experiencing the grief of losing a loved one. Research recommends that you take some time to actively reflect through whatever form of expression brings you comfort. It will be hard, but these activities will help you with the previous recommendation as well by discouraging stifling your emotions. It’s okay to be sad.

By focusing on the positive memories you and your pet shared, you can eventually grow from this deep pain and transform it into gratitude for the time you shared together. It won’t be easy at the start, but nobody said it would be.

Don’t forget about your basic needs

One of the most common responses to deep grief is to immediately lose sight of your body’s basic mental and physical needs. This can come in a lack of appetite, disruption of sleep (either too much, or too little) that can be draining on your mind and body. Grieving is extremely taxing on both your mentality and your physical energy levels, so eating appropriately (healthy, life-giving foods) is extra important at this time. Feelings of guilt can also play a role on these basic needs - try to keep things in perspective and don’t forget to take care of yourself in this time period.

Choose a calming practice

It can be hard when the rest of the world seems to have moved on moments or days after we’ve lost our pets, and we seem to be stuck in this cycle. Unfortunately, most jobs won’t give us time off for this loss of our beloved fur family. Everybody will have their own individual means of calming themselves down when specific moments or memories come flooding back and the present gets exceptionally difficult to handle. Here are some suggestions from our team at Wags to Wiskers Pet Supplies that can be used to calm yourself down:

  • At work:

    • Meditation

    • Reading (take a moment to read a blog, or a few pages from a favorite book)

    • Mindful breathing

    • Affirmations and mantras

  • Not at work

    • Physical activity or sport

    • Go to the movies (better than being at home due to the immersive ability of theaters, plus it’s good to get out of the house)

    • Be with friends

  • Others

    • Stay present, focus on your current, direct experience of life

    • Decide whether a thought is helpful or not

    • Get up and get going

These calming practices are meant to release tension and anxiety from in the moment. It’s important to consider these as temporary reprieves - the long term growth and acceptance comes from allowing yourself proper time to grieve and release your emotions.

Maintain your routines

Our pets get very used to their routines and daily structures (where is your dog stationed around dinner time?). We aren’t going to tell you to remember your other animals during your grievance period because we don’t believe you’d do that. Research recommends that maintaining similar routines and timing for your other animals can help assist in both of your grieving processes. Dogs and cats will be wondering where their companions are and as a result their behavior can change - they may hide more, be more subdued, lose their own appetite, or they could be drawn closer to you. Maintaining their own routines of feeding, walking, and sleeping can help them adjust quicker. Be sure to keep a close eye on them as obviously they are not going to be telling you explicitly how they are feeling.

Memorialize your pet

This is a hard topic to write about. Sometimes we lose our pets without the chance to say goodbye, or “see you later.” The lack of closure can be an unwanted cherry on top. There are a number of ways to memorialize your pet, and these may help give you some form of closure. Our team at Wags to Wiskers Pet Supplies gave these ideas:

  • Write a letter

  • Have a funeral or service

  • Create a paw imprint

  • Keep their tags or collar on your keys

  • Spread their ashes in their favorite places

  • Celebrate their life

  • Spend time in their favorite places remembering them

  • Have a necklace or pendant made

  • Create a collage, slideshow, or other piece to put on your wall or dresser

These are just some ideas. Our experience says that most people will want some way to do this, although it will likely come in a highly personalized, individual method. Whatever works for you.

Reach out

Don’t hesitate to reach out to the communities around you. Your family, your friends, your pet’s friends, and even the wonderful community we’ve created at your local Wags to Wiskers Pet Supplies stores in Ann Arbor (2425 W. Stadium Blvd, Ann Arbor, MI, 48103) or Chelsea (1192 S. Main St, Chelsea, MI, 48118). Although your grieving process will be yours, you don’t have to go through it alone. We know a lot of our southeast Michigan pet owners have been through the process before, and we trust our community well enough to think they would accept your invitation for a walk, a cup of coffee, or an ice cream.

You can also utilize your online assets and find online communities through social media platforms that provide safe spaces for you to grieve and share memories of your pet. It’s important to remember you don’t have to do it all alone.

Well, yeah. Tough topic to write about. Unfortunately, we don’t get to spend our entire lives with the pets that we have grown so close to. So hug them closely, cherish every walk, every scrap of food you feed them, every head scratch, every cuddle. Make the most of it!