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A Time Of Mourning After Losing A Pet

Updated on October 26, 2009

You Have A Right To Grieve

It’s hard to recover from the loss of a beloved pet. Nonetheless, there are still people who will try to tell you that it is nothing, and you can always just get another one.  People who believe this have simply never had a close relationship with a pet.  Don’t let anyone make you feel foolish or steal your right to grieve.  

These Days Pets Live To Be Old & Gray

TIRED EYES Photographer: Stevie-B: Attribution License:
TIRED EYES Photographer: Stevie-B: Attribution License:

There's Lots To Consider When Recovering From The Loss Of A Pet

In the old days, people thought that the best thing to do after the loss of a pet was to go right out and get another one. Of course, back then, pets did not live as long as they do now thanks to dietary and veterinary advances. These days, our relationships with our pets may last a very long time, and we are beginning to realize that these are important relationships not to be taken lightly. It takes time to get over the loss of a pet, especially when your relationship was close. A general rule of thumb for recovering from any lost relationship is that it takes half the amount of time that the relationship lasted. So if your pet lived to be twenty, you may still be feeling some symptoms of loss for years to come.

The loss of a pet can be as devastating as the loss of a human loved one. The grieving process is the same, no matter who or what we grieve. The same sorts of things you would do when losing a human friend are the steps that will help get you through the loss of an animal friend. You should feel free to cry, talk your loss over with a friend, family member or counselor, have a memorial service, give your friend a proper burial, do whatever you need to do to get past your acute grief and move on with your life. When you have completed the grieving process, you will be ready to approach the notion of finding just the right pet to share your life with. As mentioned before, it may take years to stop missing your former pet, but this does not mean that you cannot or should not move forward with a new pet. On the contrary. Selecting and learning to love a new pet is part of the process.

But at what point in the grieving process should this take place? It is really hard to say. Ideally, it is best to wait until your acute grief is completely resolved and you feel eager to make a new friend and care for a new pet. If you are still mourning and actively missing your old pet, you may not be ready to take on a new pet. There is no set period of time for this. Some people are ready for a new pet within a few days. Others may not be ready for years.

We all have different ways of handling grief, and we all have different needs when it comes to grief. In some ways, an empty house can make grief worse, so it might be a good idea to get another pet right away to fill the void left by the one who has passed over the Rainbow Bridge. On the other hand, a new pet might end up being resented simply because it is not the old pet. It’s a hard call to make, and it is one only you can make.

If you are not ready right away, don’t allow others to push you into a decision. If you are not quite ready to select a new pet, but you feel lonely for the company of a pet, you might want to volunteer at a shelter. If your kids are ready for a new pet, but you aren’t, talk it over and wait awhile. If your well-meaning friend, relative, or co-worker, surprises you with a puppy, kitten, or whatever, and you aren’t ready, exercise your right to say “no”. Remember, there are two beings involved in this situation, you and the pet. If you make a wrong decision for your self, you will also be making a wrong decision for the pet, who really has no say in the matter.

If you have kids and/or a spouse, don’t just rush out and get a pet without consulting anyone else. Your former pet was a member of your family, and all of your other family members have grief to work out, too. Be sure that everyone is ready for a new pet and get their input and participation in selecting a new pet. In this way, the pet is more likely to be welcomed into your family rather than resented as trying to “take the place” of the pet who has gone.

Surviving Pets May Miss The Pet Who Has Gone

GERIATRIC BEDFELLOWS Photographer: Compromised Exposure: Attribution License:
GERIATRIC BEDFELLOWS Photographer: Compromised Exposure: Attribution License:

Take Care When Choosing A New Pet

Do your other pets miss the pet who has gone? You may find that your surviving pets grieve so much that you need to get another pet to help them recover from their loss. Remember that they will need time to adjust, too. Realize that a new pet may cause an existing pet to feel threatened and jealous. Be sure everyone gets plenty of attention as you introduce the newcomer. Another option in this situation might be to foster pets waiting for placement. In this way you could try a few pets on for size, and perhaps you would find the perfect new friend for yourself, your family, and your grieving pet.

A very popular and wise option for choosing a pet is to go to a shelter. I hope that you will consider this option. You will be saving a life! Before you go to the shelter, take some time to decide exactly what kind of pet you really want and what kinds of qualities that pet should have. Don’t just pick out the cutest one. Make yourself a list of the qualities you are seeking as far as size, age, breed, sex, temperament, and so on. Take your lifestyle into account and choose a pet that will match with the amount of time and attention you are able to give it. Also, consider your resources. Be sure to select a pet you can afford to keep. When you arrive at the shelter, let the people who work there know what you are looking for and ask them to help you select animals that will suit your criteria. By doing this, you will avoid the confusion of looking at every single animal in the place!

Understand that, cruel as it may sound, a lot of those pets are there for a reason. Some of them actually were problem pets, so be sure you spend a good amount of time with the pet you are considering. Have a few other people (including your vet) visit with it, to get a clear idea of its personality and level of intelligence, training, and trainability.

Avoid getting a replacement pet. It may be best to actively seek a pet that is not like your old pet. Your new pet will be different from your old pet, even if they look like identical twins. It is essential that you see your new pet as an individual in its own right. It may be a good idea to get a different breed or a different sex or even a completely different kind of pet. You may really miss the looks and feel of your old pet, but no matter how much the new one looks like him or her, it will be different, and you will be disappointed. This is an unfair burden to place on your new pet. Also, be sure to give your new pet its very own name. Don’t name it after your old pet. Don’t name it a similar name. This will just cause you to make comparisons every time you call your pet. That is unnecessary and counterproductive. This pet will absolutely not be like the pet who has gone. It will not do the same things or react the same way. If you expect it to, you will miss your opportunity to love your pet for itself. You will cheat yourself out of the delight of making a new friend.

If you do find yourself comparing your new pet to your old pet, make a point of doing so in age appropriate increments. In other words, if you are frustrated with your new pet, try to remember what your old pet was like at that age. All puppies and kittens tear things up, make messes, and are noisy and demanding at times - just like children. If you can remember the time when your old pet behaved in these ways, it may help you to integrate your new pet into your life.

Copyright: SuzanneBennett: December 1, 2008 

RAINBOW BRIDGE ENHANCED Photographer: LifeHouseDesign: Attribution License:
RAINBOW BRIDGE ENHANCED Photographer: LifeHouseDesign: Attribution License:

In closing, I would like to share a summary of the Seven Stages of Grief as outlined by Elizabeth Kubler Ross.  To read the full version, click the link above.

(Source: Recover From Grief.Com)

1. Shock and Denial. - Numbed disbelief & Denial of the event. This may last for weeks.

2. Pain and Guild - Pain that must be experienced - not submerged or set aside. Guilt regarding things you feel you might have done differently.

3. Anger and Bargaining. - Anger and Blame directed at self and others. The sense that you should be able to do something to change reality.

4. Depression, Reflection, and Loneliness - Nostalgia, sorrow, and loneliness for the missing loved one. Again, this must be experienced. Don’t let people try to jolly you out of it.

5. The Upward Turn - You begin to adjust and life becomes calmer and more organized.

6. Reconstruction and Working Through - You will begin to seek realistic solutions to life without your loved one.

7. Acceptance and Hope - You begin to accept the reality of your situation. You regain the ability to look forward and make plans. You still think of your loved one with sadness occasionally, but not with acute grief and feelings of depression.


Submit a Comment
  • profile image


    7 years ago

    I say it time and time again - pets are so important in the lives of many, part of the family. The grief that we feel over losing them is very similar to the grief we feel when we lose any member of the family. It hurts and it takes time and patience to heal.

  • justmesuzanne profile imageAUTHOR


    7 years ago from Texas

    Many thanks! :)

  • toknowinfo profile image


    7 years ago

    Excellent article. I like that you include the loss we feel, as well as the other pets. This is a sensitively written hub and a great source of comfort. Each pet I have loved and lost will always hold a special place in my heart. As you say, there is a lot to consider when you lose a pet. This is a very valuable article. Rated up, awesome and shared on stumbleupon.

  • justmesuzanne profile imageAUTHOR


    9 years ago from Texas

    Thank you for your comment! Horses are very special critters!

  • profile image


    9 years ago

    Feel exactly the same way as you do and it took me ages to get over the loss of my horse who I had shared every single day with for over 18 years.

  • justmesuzanne profile imageAUTHOR


    10 years ago from Texas

    My pleasure. I am sorry for your loss.

  • profile image

    Latrelle Ross 

    10 years ago

    Wonderful! I received the Rainbow Bridge with my Ms. Kitty's ashes. It was so comforting. Thanks for this informative and useful Hub :)

  • justmesuzanne profile imageAUTHOR


    10 years ago from Texas

    Yes, I always believe that mine are there with friends an family. My vet did not send me that poem when I had my Freckles put to sleep. He sent a card. I do like the poem, though, and it has helped me get through several losses.

  • Mary Tinkler profile image

    Mary Tinkler 

    10 years ago from Gresham

    What a simpatico hub! After losing our beloved Maggie which I wrote a hub about over a year ago....I did take James Herriot's advice to find a pet to fill the empty space, but not to replace Maggie. Our Rose is quite different in personality and looks...and she is a gem. If a bit high strung and nervous compared to the bold-hearted, wise and fearless Maggie.

    I gotta tell you though....that Rainbow Bridge poem that is routinely sent out by vets to the bereaved pet usually comes a few days after the fact of death. JUST when I'm starting to get the tears and breast beating under control, and it sets me off all over again. I was unable to work for 10 days after feeble for an adult woman who knows how to handle pressure, and roll with the punches.

    It is a lovely thought, though. All meeting up again. But then I worry about all of my other dear critter friends waiting will I be able to divide my affections? So many in my 57 years. Will they be lonely waiting for me there? Or will they know my human loved ones who've passed and the other animals I've lost....even though they lived in different eraas of MY life? It is nice to think they may be all up there content and romping together, sharing a nap in a patch of warm sunlight.

  • justmesuzanne profile imageAUTHOR


    10 years ago from Texas

    Yes, I always have so many cats that it is usually not so hard to lose a cat. I have had several "ginger toms" that were almost human and were quite difficult to lose. My dogs and I are very close, and I miss them a great deal when their time to cross the Rainbow Bridge has arrived.

  • RGraf profile image

    Rebecca Graf 

    10 years ago from Wisconsin

    I was lucky in the fact that when my most precious cat died, I had her offspring left to cherish and love. When the last one died, we had already gotten in two other cats so I was never without. It is hard. They are close to you and I know I viewed mine as children and companions.


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