Dogs are not just animals but beloved members of our family. If you’re like me, a dog’s death is as devastating as the death of a human member of the family. Should this happen to you, you might ask yourself, “What should I do if my dog died, and I can’t get over it?”
When faced with the death of your dog, know it will take time for the pain in your heart to lessen. Speak with a kindred dog lover, such as a family member or friend — they will understand your profound loss. You might also consider a support group for pet loss, memorialize your best friend, and allow yourself to grieve.
This article will discuss various strategies to enable you to cope with your devastating loss. Continue reading if you wish to find a way to cope that will resonate with you and help you understand there is no timeline.
How Can I Cope with My Dog’s Death?
People grieve differently, but most will go through the stages of grief. While initially meant as a guide for what to expect as one struggles to cope with the loss of human family members or friends, the stages apply to the loss of your best animal friend.
For some, losing a pet is even more devastating than losing a human family member and is a profound loss. After all, you have just lost your very best friend, one who has never judged you and given you unconditional love.
The five stages of grief discuss the process of grieving, which is so much more than tears shed at a funeral or beside your dog as they pass. Grief involves a myriad of emotions, actions, and expressions (source).
The five stages begin with denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, and ends with acceptance. Accompanying your grief are mourning and bereavement.
Mourning and Bereavement
Mourning is defined by Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary as a period when one shows signs of grief, sometimes in public, such as wearing all black (source). Bereavement is a state or fact of being bereaved or deprived of something or someone.
Other outward signs of mourning and bereavement may include funerals and attending a graveside service, and many bereaved dog owners find holding a funeral for their dog to help. You can even use a professional funeral home or have one at your home.
Should You Hold a Funeral Service
The decision to hold a funeral for your dog is very personal. Some things to consider include did your dog had many friends, either human or canine, that will benefit from a final goodbye? Do you need the emotional support of your family and friends? Last but not least, can you afford a funeral?
Finances are an essential piece in the decision process — funerals are not cheap. If you decide you can afford to honor your dog in this way, it will benefit you emotionally, particularly if you need others’ support. Also, if your dog had many friends, human and canine, having the opportunity to say a final goodbye is a gift to them.
Should I Use a Professional Pet Funeral Home?
Pet cremation services and cemeteries are found across the United States and around the world (source). Using a professional has the advantage of making planning more manageable, even if you’re not planning a full funeral and burial.
Professionals work with your veterinarian and will cater to everything from coffins to urns and everything in-between. When choosing a business to care for your cherished dog’s remains, don’t go any further than working with one your veterinarian knows and trusts. Your vet desires the best for your dog in life and death.
If you choose to bury your pet yourself, first check to see if it is legal where you reside. Next, select a box your dog will fit into, preferably an eco-friendly container. Using a box or coffin is nice, but wrapping your dog in their favorite blanket is a viable option if you can’t afford one.
You will need to dig a grave at least two to three feet deep and cover the grave with stones — paving stones are a good option — to discourage other animals from digging up the remains. Also, choose a site that is not near a waterway. Water washes away soil and could expose your dog’s remains.
Be sure you want a home burial. It isn’t easy to unbury a pet, and some family members may not be comfortable knowing their dog’s remains are in the garden. You may find cremation and an urn a good solution, and you don’t have to leave your loved one behind when and if you move (source).
For many years the emotions over the loss of a pet have not been recognized. Recently, awareness has grown that the loss of a pet can mirror the loss of a human loved one, and the stages of grief will be the same (source).
The Five Stages of Grief
There are five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. These stages are known as the Kubler-Ross Grief Cycle (source).
Dr. Kubler-Ross wrote these stages based on her work with terminally ill patients, and since introducing these stages, she has amended them to show they are linear, and not everyone goes through every stage.
I will briefly discuss the Kubler-Ross model and then go into a specific model developed specifically to deal with the loss of a pet.
Denial is generally the first stage, and one where we are effectively in shock and denial allows us to process death slowly rather than become overwhelmed. Once the denial begins to fade, the process of healing can begin. At this point, the feelings you were repressing will start to rise to the surface.
Anger is considered a necessary part of grieving. Grief has a way of disconnecting us from the reality of our loved one’s death. Anger at someone or something gives you a handhold back to reality and will aid you along your path to healing.
Bargaining is a stage you may or may not go through, and it is just what it says. You will find yourself bargaining for the life of your loved one and will give something back in return, perhaps promising to be a better person by going to church more or not gossiping.
Bargaining is also the what-if stage, such as what if I had paid closer attention to their health or not gone to work.
At this stage, you may feel lost without your dog and wondering how you’ll get through the day.
Acceptance is often the last step of grief. Acceptance is a critical stage and where you tell yourself that, although there is an emptiness without your loved one, you will be okay.
Adam Clark’s Seven Steps for Pet Grieving
Adam Clark, LCSW, AASW, presented seven helpful steps for grieving your pet’s loss, published in Psychology Today. He bases his steps on the Kubler-Ross Grief Cycle (source).
While Adam Clark presents his seven steps, it is essential to note that, even if you live in the same household, not every person will process their grief in the same way. Grief is an individual experience that needs family support.
Give Yourself the Time and Permission to Grieve
You need time to grieve, but, thanks to our modern hectic and busy lives, we don’t allow ourselves the time to step out of denial and start feeling our emotions.
Spend Time Reflecting
Reflection is hard for many people. It is not easy to reflect on the joy, and it’s easy to wallow in grief and loss, especially in the beginning.
Clark tells patients to reflect by taking a memory journey. Write your memories in a journal and try to stick to the memories that make you happy. However, don’t hide behind joyful memories to suppress your pain. Eventually, it will catch up and most likely be more intense than living and processing your pain day-to-day.
Don’t Forget to Take Care of Yourself
When in the beginning stages of grief, it is easy to forget to take care of yourself. You may not feel hungry or sleepy, especially if you feel any guilt over your dog’s death. It is helpful to stick to a meal and sleep schedule. Feelings of guilt are perfectly normal. Feeling guilty will diminish with time.
You barely get any time off from work to grieve for a human family member, but an employer isn’t going to give you time off for your pet.
Activities such as meditation, breath focus, mindful eating, and yoga all help release anxiety and give us the ability to feel our emotions in a positive light. Yoga also has the added benefit of exercise.
If You Have Other Pets, Stick to the Routine
You and other family members may not be the only ones grieving. For owners with multiple pets, they might find their other pets going through a period of grief.
Stick to your daily routines. Pets thrive on routine, and they need them to maintain their feeling of security and sense that you love them. Routines, such as your daily walk, will be painful at first, but, as with all other things, the pain will fade.
There are many ways to memorialize the life you and your dog shared. You may want to acquire an urn to store their ashes or have a paw imprint made. A shadowbox filled with their paw print and collar with a favorite picture is a beautiful way to remember.
You can also have a living memory and plant a tree (source). Purchasing a plot in a pet graveyard allows you to sit and visit, or you may want to spread your dog’s ashes in a place your dog loved playing.
Many websites, such as Pinterest, are filled with all kinds of creative ideas to memorialize your dog or other pet.
Let Friends and Family Members Help
Seeking solace in family members and friends when we lose our dog is just as important as when we lose a human family member.
If you don’t have a family member or friend to turn to, there is no need to go through your grief alone. There are many communities and forums online with others grieving over the loss of a beloved dog. If grieving in a group is not for you, professionals are available, such as Adam Clark, specializing in pet grieving.
Helping Your Child to Grieve
A pet’s death is often a child’s first real experience with grief and an important time for you to teach them how to cope. Children deeply love their pets and have a special connection to them, especially if they were babies together (source).
Often parents want to shield their children from sadness, but that is not the best course of action. Telling them little white lies such as “Fido went to sleep” will not benefit your child in the long run. It is important to tell them the truth, as difficult as that may be.
It is understandable to want to shield your child from every hurt they will ever feel. It is unrealistic. Children not only deserve the truth, but they are also entitled to process their grief as much as you are.
The best thing you can do for your child is to show them your grief — don’t hide it, allow them to grieve with you. Teach them not to hide their grief but, rather, to talk about it and cry if they need to. At such times tell your child they didn’t cause their dog’s death and that dogs are with us for a short time.
Some children will become fearful of losing other family members, especially parents. Share your fears and reassure them that, while life is unpredictable, you most likely will die when you’re old, say like 95. To them, that’s ancient.
You should allow your child to be present if you are having your dog euthanized. Let them know why you made this decision and give them time to say goodbye. Even if you are having a professional impression made, your child may want to make their own. There are kits available in stores that sell crafts.
Hold a funeral. You don’t need to use a funeral home. You can hold a service allowing your child to set up the memorial. Let them pick their favorite picture and place it by the urn or grave.
Many parents may want to rush right to the shelter or breeder and allow their child to pick out a new dog. Don’t rush into adding a new pet to the family just yet. Doing so will teach your child to handle grief by replacing their loved ones rather than processing through the grieving cycle.
Once every family member goes through the stages necessary for them, it will be time to consider searching for a new family member, not as a replacement, but as a new friend.
Children love with abandon and trust. Parents must teach them how to grieve and that grief is okay.
It can take weeks or even months to process the grief you feel over the loss of your four-legged family member. Your dog was always there for you when you felt happiness, sorrow, scared, or lonely. They never questioned your love and acted like you were walking the red carpet every time you came through the door.
Every person grieves differently and, as such, needs to give themselves lots of room to feel, remember, cry, and every emotion in-between. It’s okay if you think you’re not able to get over your dog’s death. It just takes you longer than someone else. There is no right or wrong period of grief.
One never totally gets over losing their dog; their death leaves a hole in our lives, but the pain eases, and the good memories eventually will be met with no tears. Don’t give yourself a timeline; just provide yourself with time, whatever that may look like for you.