Grieving for animals
By Dorothée Pâris Pasturel • 10 July 2020
The Relationship Between Animals and Humans
Whether it is due to an illness, a fatal accident or a sudden incident, losing a pet is very difficult. Our animals are an integral part of our daily lives and bring us a lot of warmth.
Everybody experiences grief differently, and its meaning will depend on the age of the bereaved person and on the relationship they had with their pet. Unfortunately, our society often trivializes the death of animals. People around us sometimes look down on us when we are saddened by the death of a pet. In our grief, we should surround ourselves with people who will listen to and comfort us.
The Stages of Grief
Grieving for an animal is very similar to grieving for a human. Even if some people find it absurd to compare the pain felt after the loss of a loved one and that of an animal, the stages of grief are practically the same, namely denial, emotions, acceptance and reinvestment.
Following our pet’s passing, it is often difficult to believe that they will no longer be part of our life. Some people cannot come to terms with the loss of their pet. This stage can last anywhere from a few minutes to a few years.
Once the denial has passed, several emotions will surface. We can identify three of them specifically: grief, anger and guilt. Many people will be angry with the veterinarian for not having saved their animal, angry with their spouse for letting the cat go outside, feel guilty for not having brought the animal to the veterinarian earlier, etc. Again, each person will experience their emotions differently, with more or less intensity, short or long term.
Although the pain is still present, this step makes it possible to realize that the animal will not come back and that nothing could have changed its fate. It is a return to reality, and it is often at this stage that a person thinks of adopting another animal.
The owner is ready to get emotionally invested in another pet. Unfortunately, this step is often taken too quickly, and people get a new pet before having fully mourned the last one. The risk of quickly adopting is hoping to find in the new companion the same characteristics than those of the pet who was lost. This often leads to disappointment.
Grief and Children
As for children, the golden rule is to not lie to them. Avoid saying that the animal was lost or that you gave it to someone. It is possibly the first experience with grief that the child will live through, and it is important to guide them in their emotions. Again, talking to children is a good way to find out about their feelings.
The feelings felt are completely natural and must be expressed. Everybody experiences grief differently, and it is important to be understanding. Never judge a person expressing deep sadness after the loss of a pet, because said animal can be much more important in the life of its owner than we think. As for all griefs, time and the support of loved ones help to heal.
If you want to know more about grieving for animals, we recommend France Carlos’ book, Deuil Animalier. As for children, there exist many books that explain death to toddlers.