Coping with Loss Pt. 3: Recovery and Grieving
Cat in Sunshine: Getty Images
Grieving and recovery from the loss of a pet applies to the entire family: adults, children and other pets. Pet loss is not easy on anyone.
"A pet's death hurts so much because pets are a source of unconditional love and appreciation. When a pet dies, we lose a part of ourselves," says Enid Traisman,M.S.W., C.T, C.F.S., and Director, DoveLewis Pet Loss Support Group.
Making pet loss a healthy experience:
The main task is to make the pet loss a healthy experience through understanding, grieving and memorializing. Traisman says, "Normal reactions include crying, dry mouth, inability to concentrate, no appetite or overeating, sleep disturbance, lack of motivation and an empty, hollow feeling."
With children, directness is important. Explain that your pet died, instead of using confusing terms "gone away" or "put to sleep." Then, share your beliefs about the soul or spirit of pets. For example, "The spirit of our pet is with God," or "Our pet's spirit is a warm feeling in our hearts." Expect that everything may remind your child of the pet, and your child may worry about others they love dying.
Grieving is important. Draw, write, or talk together about your pet. Memorialize your pet making a memory box with mementos. Plant a tree or write a goodbye letter. Traisman reminds us that children process thoughts and feelings by "doing." "Helping your child say goodbye to a pet is giving him an important life tool - a model for dealing with death or other significant losses."
What we know about animals' ability to grieve is not extensive. Jacqueline Neilson, DVM, DACVB is one of 46 U.S. veterinarians also holding a degree from the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists. Neilson says she usually receives calls for an appointment within a day or two of one pet's death. Within two or three days, the survivor pet is adjusting. After a three-week interval, the survivor is himself again.
Dr. Merry Crimi says survivor pets' behavior depends on the bond with the deceased animal. "Pets often appear to search for the absent pet. The remaining pet may mope, look un-well, or be less active for a month or so."
Neilson adds, "Dogs are a highly social species. When they lose part of their group, they notice. Whether they grieve in the same way people grieve, it's hard to know."
"Without a doubt, there is a sense of loss," Neilson says. "The absent pet filled a role in the dog's life. If the absent pet initiated eating, play and the voyage outside through the dog door, the remaining pet is rudderless. He needs time to learn to initiate these activities on his own. This change in the remaining pet's behavior can look like what we see in depressed people."
What's a companion to do?
The owner can provide much beneficial guidance to the remaining pet. Initiating the activities the companion used to initiate will comfort the survivor. In addition, be sure your pet is not isolated. Initiate play. Take your dog outside. Be present in the room while your dog eats.
"Dogs are highly adaptive creatures," Neilson says. "It is unlikely that dogs dwell on yesterday or tomorrow. This serves them well when their pack members die.
Coping with Pet Death
All members of the will adapt. Important is to keep active, to talk about your absent pet and to talk with others who have suffered a similar loss. To find a pet loss group in your area, contact your local humane society or consult The Argus Institute.
Share your story:
Saying goodbye to your pet is one of the hardest things to do. Do you have advice you can give to help others? Do you have a personal story you would like to share? Comment below.
To read the next part of our "Coping with Loss" series, click on the links below.
Get more information on pet health in our Pet Vet section