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How to cope when a pet dies (and how soon is too soon to get another one?)

Losing a beloved pet can cause deep feelings of grief, especially if your companion had been with you for a long time. Our guide to pet bereavement will help you cope with your loss.

Owning a pet can be an intensely rewarding experience for many seniors. Pets offer companionship and affection, reduce stress and anxiety, provide a sense of purpose and can even improve physical health.

When your cherished pet dies, the feelings of grief and pain can be as intense as those you experience when losing a family member. If your pet was by your side through major life changes, providing a sense of security and routine, it can feel like you’ve lost your best friend.

Some people close to you may expect you to “get over” the loss of your pet quickly, but it’s important to process your grief on your own terms. Here are five ways to navigate the bereavement of a pet.

Give yourself time to grieve

There’s no timeline for grief and no correct way to grieve. While it used to be believed that people went through five predictable stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance – we now know that each person’s experience is different.

Try not to put pressure on yourself to get over the death of your pet within a certain timeframe. The pain generally diminishes over time, but the truth is that grief doesn’t have an end point. If your loved ones don’t understand your sorrow, gently ask them to respect your grieving process.

Connect with support groups

Talking about your loss with people who understand what you’re going through can go a long way towards easing your sadness. Check with your vet or humane society to find out if there are any local pet-loss support groups you can attend.

National not-for-profit organisation Griefline offers a Pet Bereavement Online Forum and a free helpline you can call on 1300 845 745 to speak to a volunteer. You can also book a free 20-minute support call with a specially trained Griefline support person.

Honour your pet’s memory

Experts agree that mourning rituals play an important role in helping us cope with death. You could have a ceremony to honour your pet’s life, display a photo collage of your pet in your home or plant a tree in your garden in their memory.

There are also several companies that create customised portraits or pieces of jewellery to memorialise your pet. An online search on websites such as Etsy for “pet memorial products” will turn up many beautiful ideas.

Write about your pet

Research has repeatedly demonstrated the power of writing as a tool for healing. A 2019 study found that people who wrote about traumatic events for six weeks showed increased resilience, fewer depressive symptoms and less perceived stress.

You could try journaling about your feelings or writing a story about your pet. There are no rules and it doesn’t need to be perfect. The simple act of writing – even if it’s for a short period every day – can help you process your loss.

Consider getting another pet

Just like the grieving process, deciding whether (and when) to get another pet is extremely personal. Some people choose to never own another pet again to avoid the pain of losing them while others are ready for a new companion within weeks.

Take some time to think it over to ensure you’re truly ready and won’t feel resentful towards your new pet because they’re not like your old one. You should also consider which type of pet will suit your current circumstances. If your mobility is limited, an energetic puppy or kitten might not be the best choice and you may be better off with an older dog or cat.

Losing a beloved pet can be heart-breaking and overwhelming, but allowing yourself to grieve in your own way will help you process your difficult emotions.

If you’ve recently had a major life change, we can assist you in ensuring you have the appropriate support to live life comfortably at home. Get in touch with our expert team on 1300 090 256 or request a calback by clicking here.

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