Dealing with the loss of a loved one is never easy, and the same goes for our pets. Our dogs are our best beds. They’re our favorite companions, our playmates, our couch buddies, and the ones we often share our joys and sorrows with.
So, when the time comes to say goodbye to our furry friends forever, it can be one of the most heartbreaking and devastating experiences you will ever experience. When your dog passes on, no matter how many times you say “I miss my dog,” you know that there’s no bringing them back.
You have to carry on and continue living without your four-legged buddy who loved you unconditionally. So, how do you deal with this grief? To help you cope with your loss, here are some coping strategies you can use to process your grief while respecting your pet’s memory.
7 Ways to Cope with Dog Loss
1. Remember that Your Feelings Are Valid
Your bond with your pet will always be unique. And not everyone will share or even be able to understand the extent of your loss when your dog passes away. So, you will have to accept that not everyone in your life will understand the depth of what you’re going through.
And since others didn’t have the same deep bond with your pet, you may receive comments about how you need to move on or that it was “just a dog.”
Don’t let these dismissive comments get to you. Grieving after the loss of a loved one, including a pet, is important and completely normal. Embrace your emotions, and don’t let anyone make you feel bad about feeling sad about your dog’s death.
Never let anybody, even family, tell you how to feel and cope with your loss. You don’t need to justify to other people why you are feeling so much pain or make any explanations about how important your dog was and still is to you. It is your grief to respect and process.
Like most people who see their dog as their anchor, you have every right to process the difficult loss at your own pace. The pace of grieving, coping, and moving on is entirely up to you.
Never feel guilty about keeping your dog’s favorite toys or even sleeping with its blanket, because sometimes that lingering feeling can also bring you comfort and peace.
2. Be Vocal About Your Needs
When you experience a loss of a loved one, human or not, you may have noticed that almost everyone in your life starts walking on eggshells around you. They don’t know how to talk to you, comfort you, or offer you help.
Even people who genuinely care about you cannot fully comprehend your loss, so they have no idea how to support you despite their desire to be there for you. Don’t hold this against them.
So, if you feel like you’re struggling, ask for help. It’s up to you to let them know what you need. You can tell them it’s okay to bring up your pet’s name or share good stories and silly antics of your old boy. You can also tell them that you’d appreciate having some time alone but that they can check up on you by texting instead.
Or you can ask your friends and family to help take your mind off things by going for a walk or having brunch in your favorite restaurant.
Your friends and family would appreciate knowing what to do instead of trying to second-guess your needs.
3. Be Kind To Yourself
Grief is a complex process. You may feel better one day and worse the next as the loss of your pet comes back in full force. This is normal, so don’t be impatient with yourself.
Go through the process at your own pace.
Every room in your home may remind you of your furry friend, but when the time is right and your heart has healed, you can move forward and look forward to better days. Rest assured that you can bounce back into your routine and that the intensity of your pet’s loss will alleviate in time.
Be kind to yourself and remind yourself that you can’t force yourself to forget to move past this grief with a snap of your fingers. Returning to a sense of normalcy cannot be rushed.
Don’t repress your feelings or use indifference to cope with your grief. Let yourself go through the entire process — denial, anger, despair, negotiation, and finally, acceptance.
4. Keep Your Pet’s Memory Alive
Your dog will always have a special place in your heart and your life, and losing them shouldn’t mean you get rid of all their memories. There’s nothing stopping you from keeping your furry friend’s memory alive for however long you want.
The good news is there are plenty of ways to celebrate the life of your pet and create a unique legacy for them. Here are some ideas to get you started:
Commemorate the life of your beloved pet
Sometimes, closure is necessary for you to heal after a loss. For example, holding a memorial service can give you a sense of finality while allowing you to commemorate your dog. You can turn it into a little get-together to bury your dog’s body or scatter the ashes and say a beautiful goodbye to your pet.
Turn their ashes or dog tag into jewelry
You can use your dog’s tag, favorite blanket, or even their ashes to create a wearable piece that will allow you to always have your pet with you. Consider using some of its ashes in a necklace, bracelet, charm, or pendant that you can incorporate into your current jewelry collection.
Print photos for memories
Scrolling through your mobile gallery and looking at hundreds of photos of your dog can be comforting. But you can also have these photos printed and placed in a frame that you can hang around your home — commemorating the special memories you had together.
Seeing that familiar, loving face can provide you with a sense of comfort. Or you can print all the pictures you like, create a physical photo album or scrapbook dedicated to your dog, and put in snippets of your thoughts, gratitude, and beautiful memories.
Create a legacy
Your dog made a huge difference in your life. Pay forward that unconditional loyalty and love through an act of kindness for another person or for your chosen advocacy. You can support your local animal shelter’s run for a cause, plant a tree in your dog’s favorite park, name a star after your dog, or advocate for pet toys and blankets.
You can even consider starting a new tradition on your dog’s birthday by volunteering at your local rescue center or feeding the stray animals around your community.
Customized stuffed animal or key chain
This is a great idea if you like cute little trinkets or stuffed animals. You can have a custom-made stuffed toy or a keychain made in the likeness of your beloved pet.
Having a stuffed animal or a small keychain you can carry around everywhere that looks just like your dog can offer you some comfort.
5. Be Open to Joining Pet Loss Support Groups
If none of your friends or family have pets or have experienced the loss of a pet, they can never truly fathom the level of your loss and grief. And talking to people who have gone through something similar can provide you with a support system and help you cope with this difficult situation.
This is where pet loss support groups can be very beneficial because you get to talk to people who have gone through or are currently going through the same situation. They can empathize and understand your feelings better than others.
You can find plenty of online and private groups through social media. An example is the AKC Pet Loss Support Group on Facebook. Joining online or in-person support groups will remind you that you are not alone in your grief.
There are even groups that incorporate support hotlines and therapy for their members.
6. Take Some Time Off
Resuming work and getting back to your daily tasks and routines can feel overwhelming for a while. Consider giving yourself some time off, as dealing with the loss can be emotionally, mentally, and physically stressful.
Even if you force yourself, you might not be functioning at your full capacity. So, it’s best to request some time off from work and proactively create a plan to manage your emotions and stress better. Start by reducing your workload for the first few weeks and then gradually create a new pace and routine.
Pushing yourself to get back to “normal” amidst the painful emotions can take a toll on your mental well-being as well as physical health.
7. The Rainbow Bridge Story
You can take comfort in the fact that your pet is indeed in a better place now. This is especially true if your dog was sick and in pain during the last few months of its life.
The Rainbow Bridge is a story worth reading and keeping close to your heart as you process your grief. As the name suggests, the story is about a mythical or magical overpass that connects heaven and Earth, and pets who die cross over into a beautiful place where they wait to be reunited with their owners.
Dealing With the Loss of Your Pet: Additional Steps
Losing a dog is difficult and you can take time to process your grief. But you also have to move forward while considering some fundamental aspects that you may not have thought of:
1. Helping Children Grieve
When you lose your dog, the pain and sadness you feel are indescribable. This is true for children, too. Losing a family dog is equally painful for the little ones, especially if this is the first time they have experienced losing someone close to them.
This is why it’s crucial that you take the time to talk to your child or children and answer any questions they may have. Use clear and simple words when explaining what happened to their furry friend and assure them that it’s normal and okay for them to feel sad.
Healing together as a family and supporting each other is better than going through the process alone. Involve the children in your preparations, like picking the photos of your dog to be printed. You can also read the Rainbow Bridge story together.
#2. Focus On Your Other Pets, If You Have Any
It’s easy to get absorbed in the pain of losing a pet, but if you have other dogs or cats at home, remember that they still rely on you. Sadly, many pet owners, in their grief, tend to neglect their other pets. Don’t make the same mistake because the guilt will make you feel worse in the coming days.
If you live in a multi-pet household, you should also know that when one pet passes away, the other pets are also impacted emotionally. So, take this time to give them extra TLC and try to stick to the routine that you’ve always followed with them.
#3. Don’t Let Your Emotions Take Over
Grief can be overwhelming and lead to poor decisions. Try to steer clear or delay making any significant decisions or changes after your dog dies. Emotional stress is not a positive element when making major life decisions because you may end up with drastic, illogical, and abrupt choices that you’ll regret later.
If the decision can’t wait, consult someone you trust to help you get a different perspective.
#4. Take Your Time Getting Another Pet
Many dog owners tend to adopt a new pet to help them cope with the loss. This can be helpful, but more often than not, it can be overwhelming as you’re just trying to distract yourself from the pain of losing your dog.
If you haven’t fully processed your grief and jumped into getting another pet, you might become an unhappy and irresponsible pet owner. Rushing to adopt a new dog can hurt you more than heal.
“Dogs come into our lives to teach us about love. They depart to teach us about loss. A new dog never replaces an old dog; it merely expands the heart. If you have loved many dogs, your heart is very big.” — Erica Jong.
Losing your dog and the grief that comes with it is a painful process. The loss is painful, but you have to acknowledge and deal with it. And although difficult, find comfort in the fact that you were lucky enough to experience your dog’s unconditional love and give it a happy, healthy life.
Embrace the loss and know that it’s okay to say, “I miss my dog.”