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[UPDATED JANUARY 2021]
It’s inevitable when you become a dog owner, you know that one day your dog is going to pass away and no longer be by your side. Losing a dog is extremely painful, and can take quite a long time to overcome. To many, it’s just as painful as losing a child.
If you’ve landed here, chances are you have recently suffered the loss of your faithful companion, or you know someone who has, and you are wondering how to grieve the loss of a dog.
First of all, I would like to offer my deepest condolences. I know just how strong the relationship is between a dog and his/her owner, and for some people to say “it’s just a dog”, is one of the worst things anyone can say to a dog owner.
Everyone grieves in their own way, and at their own pace. There is no amount of time that it takes to overcome the loss of a dog, but there are certain tips to help you or someone you know to get through this pain.
Why Is Losing A Dog So Painful?
A Dog’s Love Is Unconditional
When you become a dog owner, you are blessed with a beautiful relationship that compares to no other. Your dog loves you unconditionally, cheers you up when you are sad, always greets you with a wagging tail and excitement, and is faithfully by your side.
Dogs Are Family
Dogs quickly become part of our family, and we often treat them like our children. Losing a dog is extremely painful, and is often just as painful, if not more painful than losing a human loved one.
The Bond With Your Dog Is Strong
There is a certain bond that you have with your dog that you just don’t have with anyone else! Your dog doesn’t judge you or care what you look like, your dog is a great listener and companion, and is always happy to see you and spend time with you.
Losing that companionship and best friend that has always been with you and has given you support is especially devastating.
Your Routine Is Changed
The loss of a dog suddenly changes your whole life. Your daily routine is no longer the same, and your house feels empty.
When you own a dog you are their caretaker, you feed them, walk them, play with them, and essentially you are their parent. You are responsible for their well being, and you create a daily schedule and routine around your dog, and suddenly all of that changes and you feel lost.
A Dog’s Death Is Not Treated The Same As A Human’s
The death of a dog is not treated the same way as when a human dies. There are no elaborate funeral ceremonies for dogs, you are not entitled to take time off work, and you are often alone saying goodbye to your loving dog.
You Are Faced With A Difficult Decision
Most dog owners are faced with the difficult decision of putting their dog down due to illness, or old age, and that adds to the pain.
The feelings of guilt that accompany that decision are painful, and many owners second guess themselves wondering if there was anything they could have done, or if their dog could have recovered, or if there were other medical options.
How Long Does It Take To Grieve A Dog?
Grieving the loss of a dog might take one person a few weeks, and another person a few years. There is no right or wrong amount of time for grieving, it is a very individual experience.
When you suffer the loss of a dog you will experience the different stages of grief, and not necessarily in any order. The stages of grief are:
- Shock: This is usually the first stage, and can apply to any dog owner that had their dog taken away from them too soon, especially if their dog was feeling fine without any symptoms, and then suddenly they passed away. Even if your dog’s death was expected due to old age, you will still have feelings of shock that they are suddenly gone.
- Anger: You may feel angry at yourself or others that your dog passed away too soon, or that he/she was hit by a car, or that people close to you are being insensitive to your loss.
- Bargaining/Guilt: This is usually the “what if” stage. You are playing out different scenarios in your head and envisioning a different outcome that would have prevented your dog’s death. Feelings of guilt are often accompanied by the bargaining stage.
- Depression: This is usually the longest and hardest stage to overcome. During this stage, you are faced with feelings of sadness and you may even feel like you will never get over this loss. Many people will isolate themselves and shut out the world around them.
- Acceptance: The final stage of grief. You are able to accept the loss of your dog and come to terms with it. By accepting your dog’s death, it doesn’t mean you are forgetting your dog or betraying your dog in any way. During this stage, you are able to remember all of the wonderful memories you shared with your dog. The memories will fill you with happy thoughts and smiles, more so than tears.
How To Grieve The Loss Of A Dog – Tips To Help You Cope
Unfortunately, every dog owner must go through the pain of losing their dog. Grieving is a natural and normal response to death, and it isn’t something that can be rushed or forced.
There is no normal way to grieve or no set amount of time that it takes. The pain that you feel is very individual.
The following are some tips that will help you or someone you know cope with the pain, and come to terms with the loss of a dog.
Allow Yourself Time To Grieve
Your dog was a significant member of your family, and losing your dog is a traumatic experience. Overcoming this loss takes time, and you need to allow yourself time to grieve. No one should tell you that you need to move on, only you will know how much time you need to grieve.
Express Your Emotions
Don’t be afraid or embarrassed to express your emotions. Go ahead and cry, get angry, feel guilty, be sad, and show any emotion that you are feeling. Chances are you’ll be feeling a roller coaster of emotions as you go through the grieving process. It’s important to let your emotions out instead of hiding them, as this will help you begin to heal. Some people find comfort in writing in a journal.
Honour Your Dog’s Life With A Ceremony
A great way to give yourself closure is by celebrating your dog’s life by holding a memorial service or funeral. Your friends and family can gather around and share their sentiments and say their goodbyes.
Find A Support Group
Losing a dog makes you feel isolated and alone because all of a sudden you are without your one companion that was always there giving you comfort and support.
You shouldn’t feel like you are alone, being able to talk to friends, family, or support groups will help you get through this difficult time.
Talk to others who have suffered the loss of a dog, because they know what you are going through. Ask your vet or local pet shelter for pet support groups in your area. You can also search for pet loss support groups online.
Look After Yourself
During the grieving process, you may feel like never getting out of bed, never going outside, and you may lose your appetite. It is important to take care of yourself so that you can remain healthy and get through this difficult time.
Try to get some sleep, get outside to enjoy the fresh air, and eat regular and healthy meals.
Keep Other Pets On Their Schedule
If you have other pets in your household, it is important to keep them on their regular routines. Feed them and walk them at the same time that you normally would. Animals feel safe and secure when they have structure and routine.
Your other pets will grieve the loss of their companion as well. To help them through the grieving process, here are some helpful tips from PetMD. Everyone will need time to adjust and heal.
Be sure to check out my latest article, Do Dogs Show Grief? to find out the common signs of grief in dogs, and how long you can expect the grieving process to last in your dog.
Don’t Be Afraid To Seek Professional Help
If you simply cannot deal with all of the grief you are experiencing, or it has taken over your ability to function, then it is important to seek professional help. Talk to your doctor, or find a therapist that will help you work through your feelings, and find ways to help you cope with your loss.
Moving Forward After The Loss Of Your Dog
Getting through the grieving process is difficult, and you will never truly get over the loss of your dog, but as time passes the loss gets easier. You will reach a point when you will be able to have memories of your dog and they will bring you happiness instead of tears.
Memorializing your dog is a great way to remember your dog and to feel like your dog is always with you.
- You may wish to plant a tree in your dog’s memory.
- Create a photo album or scrapbook filled with pictures of your dog. Frame your favourite photo in a memorial frame.
- Place a pet memorial stone in your garden.
- Create a memory box filled with your dog’s collar, ID tag, leash, and favourite toys.
- Scatter your dog’s ashes by their favourite tree, or keep their ashes in a beautiful urn.
- Donate to an animal charity in your dog’s name.
If you are looking for more ideas to remember your beloved dog and celebrate their life with you, please visit my post on personalized dog memorial gifts.
Should You Get Another Dog?
Many dog owners vow to never get another dog after suffering such a tremendous loss because the pain is just too much to go through again.
For others, bringing home another dog is a way for them to heal. Deciding when, or if you should bring home another dog is an individual process. Only you will know if and when you are ready to love another dog.
Allow yourself the time to grieve the loss of a dog before bringing home another one. Remember that no other dog will be able to replace the one you lost.
I remember speaking to a lady who lost her Golden Retriever, and after a while got another one. She resented her new dog at first because he was very different from the one she had lost.
There is no doubt that the hardest part of being a dog owner is having to say goodbye to your best friend who stood by you, supported you, allowed you to share your deepest secrets, and shared your joys.
Losing a dog might seem like your whole world has come crashing down, and that you will never be able to move on. Feeling like that is completely normal and part of the grieving process, but in time the memories of your dog will leave you with a smile, instead of sadness.
I will leave you with some of my favourite dog loss quotes:
“If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went.” – Will Rogers.
“Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.” – Roger Caras.
“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.” – Anatole France.
“Dogs have a way of finding the people who need them, and filling an emptiness we didn’t ever know we had.” – Thom Jones.
“The bond with a dog is as lasting as the ties of this earth can ever be.” – Konrad Lorenz.
Have you suffered the loss of a dog? How did you cope with the loss of your dog?
Please share your thoughts and comments below. I would love to hear from you.