Grieving Pets: Just like Family
Approximately 67% of American households own pets. Whether it's a dog, cat, gecko, gerbil, or pet fish - many of us went through the process of making friends and growing up with our favorite beloved animals. Owning pets is known to be great for kids’ development, and can help us cope as we go through life's difficulties.
Pets are really terrific for mental health. Unfortunately, there is one part of having a pet that may require a coping process of its own: the eventual passing away of our little friends. It’s a part of life. Many of us experience it first as children and it can really help us understand the grieving process.
But grief for lost pets doesn't just happen when we are young. For anyone, at any stage of life, losing an animal friend is quite difficult. Pets offer unconditional love that transcends our daily hardships. Pets don’t care about your money, your relationships, or human trivialities. We form emotional bonds with pets and when they pass away, the grief can be as deep as losing any other loved one.
A crying matter
But just like with losing any loved one, there are ways to pick ourselves up and work through the grief in a healthy way that allows us to continue with our lives. Firstly, we have to acknowledge and let ourselves experience it. Sometimes that means having a good cry.
Crying stimulates endorphins and gives us a physical way to express the pain of grief. A lot of people think of crying as taboo but this would be a mistake. It might be just what the doctor ordered so we can let go and take the edge off.
Processing emotions after losing a pet
The way our pets die can also affect the grieving process. If they died from natural causes the pain of grief can be strong but it may be easier to come to terms with. By knowing about a medical condition or general old age we can prepare ourselves for what’s to come. But if they passed away due to a tragic event, for example, it’s common for the pet’s owner to feel a sense of guilt. “Did I cause this? Could I have prevented this?”
It’s important to remember this is a normal occurrence in the context of grief. These are the phases of grief: shock, denial, bargaining, guilt, anger, depression, and acceptance. When we frame it as an expected phase in our grief cycle, we can make peace with it more easily. It’s also a good idea to express how we feel by doing something productive and positive in the pet’s memory.
How soon is too soon?
What about getting a new dog, cat, etc? Is it a good idea to get a new pet right away? Maybe, maybe not. This really depends on the individual and their mourning process. Some people may need the affection and comfort from a new pet friend, while others may need time to heal.
The really troublesome issues with mental wellness start to take hold when our grief won’t go away. When it’s hard to shake the pain of grief and it begins to interfere in our daily life please don’t hesitate to reach out for professional mental health guidance.
Bregman Medical Group has decades of experience treating grief, depression, anxiety, and a variety of other disorders. We offer treatment both online straight to your device, or in our South Florida office. Simply schedule an appointment at www.bregmanmd.com or call 305-740-3340.