How to grieve the loss of a pet

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Losing a pet is never easy. Whether they have been ill for a long time or it’s a sudden death, a pet is part of your family.

It might seem strange to some that grief over a pet can have as much impact as that of losing a loved one, but it’s true, experts agree. An animal is a companion, part of your tribe, and their going is a shock and takes some time to get used to.

Read more: How to choose the companion dog for you

It’s something many people in the public eye have shared, too, with Gardener’s World host Monty Don telling followers his beloved golden retriever Nigel had died recently.

TV presenter Holly Willoughby also alluded to the pain of losing a pet on This Morning recently, saying to a viewer whose beloved cat had died: “‘They’re a member of your family. They have been through everything with you. They’re by your side all the time. I totally get it.”

Acknowledging the loss
Dr Nat Scroggie is a small animal veterinary surgeon based in Nottingham, UK, and says: “On top of the feelings that come with grieving the loss of any loved one, the loss of a pet often brings feelings of guilt. For some reason, people often feel they shouldn’t be as affected as they are, or that others around them won’t understand. As a result, grieving for a lost pet can feel very lonely.

“Our pets offer us love and companionship, and looking after them also gives us a daily routine. We form incredible bonds with them, and they are treasured members of our families – in fact, as they live so closely alongside us, we often spend more time with our pets than we do close friends and family members.

“So, their loss leaves a huge hole in our daily lives and we often grieve just as much as we would the loss of a friend or family member.”

“My own dog, Milly, is 12 years old,” adds Dr Scroggie. “She has been at my side during my days as a vet student, travelling across the country on placements, through to the challenges of my first job and beyond. She pre-dates my fiance – I can’t imagine our life together without her. I know one day we will have to.”

Read more: Do dogs really feel empathy, guilt, grief?

Making it matter
Catherine Joyce, Cats Protection’s ‘Paws to Listen’ team leader, said: “Sadly, the loss of a pet isn’t always seen in our society as significant. In the current climate, people may even feel an added guilt to be mourning the loss of an animal during a human pandemic. But grief is grief, and it’s important to allow yourself to feel the loss.

“Keep in mind also that there is no right or wrong way to grieve – it’s a deeply personal process and everyone experiences it differently.”

Read more: The five stages of grief are different for everyone

Talking it through
Lisa Winkle, veterinary nurse for Joii Pet Care, which has pet bereavement counsellors, says: “The thing to remember is that everyone’s grief looks different. There is no right or wrong, it’s a personal journey.”

Dr Scroggie adds: “When you are ready, it can really help to share your feelings with someone who understands how upsetting losing a pet can be. This might be a friend or family member.”

Practical ways of remembering
“Keepsakes can bring comfort to some, yet others may not be able to bear it,” advises Ms Winkle. “Some owners prefer an altogether different route of remembrance – planting a tree or a flower, having a plot in a place of rest that they can sit by, a portrait that depicts their departed friend in a favourite spot or a paw print forever immortalised in plaster.”

“It may be too hard to talk, so it can also help to write things down, or create something to help you remember your pet,” adds Dr Scroggie. “This could be something creative, a special plant, printing a photograph, or even buying a necklace that reminds you of them when you wear it.

“It may also help to keep something that reminds you of your pet, like a collar or a special toy. Your vets will also be able to take some fur and a paw print for you, to help.

“If your pet is cremated, there may be an option to have their ashes returned to scatter or keep. There are also companies who can turn a small amount of the ashes into a piece of jewellery,” adds Dr Scroggie.

And most of all, remember that now your pet is at peace, and you gave them a wonderful, loving life.

Had you experienced the loss of a pet? How did you get through it?

– With PA

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