How to Deal With the Loss of Your Dog

The loss of a dog is a painful experience that requires self-care, self-love, and time to heal.
How to Deal With the Loss of Your Dog

Last update: 08 November, 2022

If you’ve recently lost your dog, it’s only natural that you’ll feel sad. It isn’t an easy process. Furthermore, mourning for the death of a dog (or another kind of pet) often tends to be overlooked. However, you have the right to mourn this really significant loss in your life. But how do you do it?

As we mentioned above, it’s no easy task. In fact, the death of a dog (or a cat, or another animal that we love) can be as hard as the loss of a relative. A study conducted by Harris Interactive found that 90 percent of dog and cat owners in the United States consider their dog to be a member of the family. Therefore, real pain is experienced in the face of a loss like this. How do you deal with it?

The pain of losing a pet

Although when we talk about grief, we tend to associate it with the death of a loved one, the truth is that the concept of grief is broad and it can refer to any type of significant loss in our lives. This includes the death of an animal. Indeed, we mourn our animals because we’ve loved them and, when they die, it represents a significant loss for us.

Although it’s not talked about much, it’s important to recognize this type of mourning, talk about it, and make it visible. After all, it can shake your emotional world, and it’s important that you find validation for your emotions of sadness and anger. You also need to know how to navigate the path of grief and obtain any necessary help.

Sad girl with cognitive immobility
The loss of a pet can be one of the most difficult times in a person’s life.

Keys for overcoming the loss of a dog

As we’ve already mentioned, it really isn’t easy to deal with this situation. After all, a dog is a member of the family, a friend, and a partner for life. In 2015, a group of Japanese researchers conducted a study that was published in the journal, Science. They defined the close connection between humans and dogs as a perpetual infatuation. This helps us understand the magnitude of a loss of a dog.

Here, we want to share with you some small strategies to overcome the death of a dog. Although each case is different, these tips will help you get through the first moments after your loss.

1. What matters is what you feel, not what others say

In the face of the death of your dog, it might seem that your mourning isn’t as validated and is largely made invisible. You might even feel as if you don’t have as much ‘right’ to mourn the loss of your dog as much as in other types of loss.

You may also receive the kinds of comments that invalidate your emotions, such as “It’s no big deal”, “It was only a dog”, etc. Unsurprisingly, these comments don’t help at all. In fact, they hurt and make your negative emotions even more overpowering in your current emotional state. Remember, you have the right to feel the way you feel.

2. Understand the phases of grief

The phases of grief proposed by the psychiatrist, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross are well known. They also occur in mourning the death of a dog. That said, they don’t necessarily appear linearly or in the same order, nor do you have to experience all of them. However, it’s important to know what they are so you can recognize them.

  • Denial.
  • Anger.
  • Bargaining.
  • Depression.
  • Acceptance.

Understanding how you feel can help you channel these emotions. For example, understanding that shock (denial) usually appears at first. In this state, you don’t really believe that your dog is gone and that you’ll never see them again. You even expect them to come and greet you when you get home. It’s normal. Give yourself time.

3. Let go of guilt

Guilt also often appears alongside grief. If your dog was ill or had a problem that you didn’t detect in time (or even if this wasn’t the case) guilt usually appears. That’s because guilt, in a certain way, is independent of what’s happened and is always linked to what you thought you could’ve done to avoid the loss.

Guilt is an emotional state that you must work on. It’s not your fault that your dog has died. In fact, even if their death was due to an accident in which you were involved, remember that you never had any bad intentions. Gradually free yourself of your guilt, otherwise, you’ll find it really difficult to heal.

4. Surround yourself with people who understand you

Another tip for getting over the death of a dog is to surround yourself with people who’ve been through the same thing. You could attend a therapeutic group, look for information on an internet forum, ask for advice from a group or association, or ask friends you know who’ve been through the same experience.

If, for whatever reason, this isn’t possible, at least try to surround yourself with people who empathize with you, validate your emotions, and understand what you’re going through (or, at least, who respect it). Spending time with people with whom you feel comfortable at complicated moments like this can be extremely healing. It’s also an act of self-care and self-love.

5. Carry out a farewell ritual

Rituals are actions that are symbolic. They’ve always been performed to say goodbye to our loved ones. You only need to think of funerals. Therefore, if you feel that you need it, say goodbye to your dog in the way you want to. You could write a letter or spread their ashes in one of their favorite places. Do something that reminds you of them and that allows you to bring this stage of your life to a close.

Woman writing at sunset on Mood Tracking Techniques
Writing a letter to a lost pet can be liberating.

Overcoming or integrating?

In this article, we’ve provided some ideas on how to overcome the death of a dog. At the same time, it’s interesting to reflect on the language we use to talk about the emotions of loss. It makes us wonder if, perhaps, rather than overcoming, we should talk about facing, managing, or transiting.

Although in everyday language, we use the concept of ‘overcoming’ a great deal, the truth is that we tend to integrate losses into our lives and never forget them, because they’re part of our history. It’s the kind of integration where we’re constantly making adjustments.

Remembering

Remember that your pain is legitimate and that you shouldn’t try to control or deny it. Listen to what you need at every moment and allow yourself to cry and feel bad. They’re necessary processes for you to heal and complete the grieving process. Eventually, you’ll remember your dog with feelings of nostalgia and endless love, but no longer with such intense pain.

However, don’t be in a hurry to reach this stage of acceptance. Understand that it’s normal for it to hurt. After all, your dog was a loved one, a friend, and a partner who shared your life.

“Honest listening is one of the best medicines we can offer the dying and the bereaved.”

-Jean Cameron-

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  • Nagasawa, M. et al. (2015). Oxytocin-gaze positive loop and the coevolution of human-dog bonds. Science, 348(6232), 333-336.