Bereavement: Feelings

A grieving pet owner will experience a variety of emotions including confusion and frustration. A feeling of isolation may result from not feeling able to openly grieve, due to a fear of being considered silly or overly sentimental about the death of an animal. It is important to recognise that it is okay to take as much time to grieve and heal as you find necessary. 

Psychologists recognise that the feelings experienced by owners after the death of their dog are comparable to those felt after losing close human friends or relatives. Unfortunately not everyone understands the intense grief that can follow the passing of a pet and there is nothing worse than hearing a friend or relative (no matter how well meaning) telling you to pull yourself together because it was “just a dog”.

So what kind of feelings should you expect after such a loss? The following are universally recognised stages of grief, although each person will experience them in their own particular way:

  • Shock and denial
    The first reaction you may feel when given the news that your pet has died is of shocked disbelief. This feeling may last hours or days and you may only fully accept that your pet is really gone as his absence in the home becomes more obvious over time.
  • Anger and guilt
    As the numbing effects of denial and shock disappear, the reality of the situation emerges, bringing intense emotions and pain. These painful feelings may be directed outwards as anger. This anger may be directed at your deceased dog, friends and family, your vet, complete strangers, other pets or even inanimate objects.

    Guilt is a common feeling at this time. The phrase “If only I’d done … differently”, is frequently used, although rarely is this guilt actually justified. These feelings do fade and eventually you will be able to accept that nothing you could have done would have made any difference to the inevitable sad outcome. 
  • Depression
    Once anger and guilt have passed, an emptiness remains that will lead to depression and a period of ‘true sadness’. Feelings of hopelessness may be experienced and in some cases an owner may feel that life isn’t worth living without their pet.

    Depression and anxiety should subside over time. However, if these feelings persist then professional counselling might be necessary. 
  • Acceptance and  recovery
    Acceptance is a further stage of grief and although it is emotionally ‘easier’ than depression, it can still be a very sad time. Acceptance comes as you adjust to the changes in your life made by the passing of your pet and accept the reality of the fact that your dog really has gone forever.

    Recovery is the final part of the grieving process, where you come to terms with your loss. It is now that you can look at photos of your pet or recall fond memories of your time together with feelings of affection and love, instead of anger and/or tears.

Some people find that actual physical symptoms may also be present such as weakness, lack of energy, shortness of breath and tightness in the throat or chest. They may also experience sleep or appetite disturbances and absent-mindedness.

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  • It is a myth that dogs are colour-blind - they can see in colour, just not as vividly as humans!