How to cope with the loss of your pet
The bond you form with your pet is unique – no one can quite understand them like you can, which is why losing them can be difficult and upsetting. If you are reading this shortly after losing your furry companion, know that we understand just how personal the bond between you and your pet is.
Dealing with the grief
It can be made harder losing a rabbit, guinea pig or hamster, as often people can understand the feelings of loss when a dog or a cat dies more than if a smaller animal dies. We understand how hard it can be to lose any pet, no matter their size.
In the difficult time when you lose your companion, it can be hard to know how to feel, and allowing yourself to acknowledge what has happened is important. We all deal with grief in different ways, and you should allow yourself to feel whatever emotions you are currently feeling. Everyone reacts to loss in different ways, and when something sad happens, it can often be hard to process it at the time.
If you feel like you are struggling to deal with your pet’s death, reaching out to those around you – such as family and friends – can really help. There are also ways you can remember your pet – whether that is burying them somewhere special, or keeping photos and memories of them close to you.
Making the difficult decision
There are times where our pets die because we have made the decision to end their suffering. This is never an easy decision for anyone to make, and by speaking to your vet they will be able to guide you through that challenging process.
Whether your pet’s death was sudden or expected, it doesn’t make the decision to end your companion’s suffering any easier. You know your animal better than anyone else, and so you are often the first to recognise when they are suffering.
It can be hard not to think of the ‘what if’s when making such difficult decisions, but it often isn’t helpful in coming to terms with the loss. Discussing your thoughts and feelings with your vet can help with this process.
How to help your other pets
Rabbits and guinea pigs form a strong bond with their companions, so the loss of a partner can be a traumatic experience for them. If you are currently processing the loss of your rabbit or guinea pig who lived with a companion, it is important to also consider how their partner might be feeling.
Rabbits especially can grieve just like humans can – and they can often appear quieter than normal during that time. They – just like us – have to come to terms with the loss of a friend. If you are able to do so, allowing them time with the body of their companion can help them grieve. If this isn’t possible, then paying extra attention to your rabbit’s behaviour and spending time with them might help them adjust to the loss.
Many highly sociable animals, such as rabbits, are not happy to live alone and you may want to consider introducing a new friend before you are really ready emotionally. Try not to feel guilty about ‘replacing’ a pet quickly and try to remember that you are putting your current pet’s wellbeing first.
The introductory process can be quite slow and taking your time gives everyone longer to adjust. We have some tips here.
How to help a friend who has lost a small pet
Friends and family are often very aware of the feelings of loss following the death of a dog or cat but sometimes fail to appreciate that the loss of a rabbit, guinea pig or other small pet can be just as upsetting. Whilst the feelings we experience following the death of a pet are very personal, it should never be under-estimated how strong the bond between owners and their small pets can be.
If you have a friend who has recently experienced the loss of a rabbit, guinea pig, or hamster, you may be keen to help them cope with their loss but be unsure how best to do this.
- Take time to listen
Many people struggle to understand the grief that an owner may feel following the loss of their four-legged friend, especially with our smaller pets. Just being willing to listen with a sympathetic ear can be so helpful to a friend who has suffered a recent pet bereavement. Encourage your friend to talk about their pet and share memories together if possible.
- Offer help
Ask your friend if there is anything that you can do to help them through this difficult time. You could offer:
* Practical help with day-to-day tasks
* Offer to make any arrangements needed with their vet or the pet crematorium
* Direct them to pet bereavement resources
- Saying the ‘right’ thing
It can be difficult choosing the right words to comfort a friend. Acknowledging that their pet was a much-loved member of the family is a good place to start and refer to their four-legged friend by name. The words that will comfort your friend will be very personal but equally don’t be afraid of silence; just being there with them is sometimes enough.
How to support a child who has lost a small pet
Loss of a much-loved pet may be the first time that a child has experienced grief and it can be difficult to know how to help them manage their emotions. How you help a child through their loss will very much depend on their age:
- Less than two years old – they will have little understanding of the concept of death, but they may miss the presence of their four-legged friend and will pick up on the emotions of older members of the household
- Two to four years old – they will have a limited understanding of the concept of death but will struggle to understand its permanence
- Five to nine years old – they will start to be curious about death and are likely to ask lots of questions
- More than nine years old – they will be old enough to understand death, including its permanence
Whatever the age or the child, here are a few guidelines that can be useful:
- Use clear language
It is always best to be completely honest with a child regarding the loss of a pet and avoid euphemisms which may cause confusion such as ‘gone away’ or ‘gone to sleep’. While it may be upsetting, using words such as dead or died will ensure that there is no misunderstanding.
- Talk about dying and address their fears
After the loss of a pet, it may be helpful to have a general discussion about dying, acknowledging that their pet is no longer suffering or in pain. Ask your child about any worries they may have regarding the death of their pet.
- Encourage your child to talk about their feelings
Talking through their feelings, including reassuring them that it is normal to feel upset or angry can be helpful. It is also important to let them know that with time, they will start to feel better and that this is OK too.
- Share happy memories
When they are ready, encourage your child to focus on the happy times they shared with their pet. Memory boxes can help with this process; they can be filled with drawings, their pet’s favourite toy, or even a lock of their pet’s hair.
Many people have difficulty with “moving on,” as they think it means that they have overcome the loss of their pet – but this is not the case at all. There are many ways you can still feel close to your pet and remember them, while also moving forward in life.
In time after losing a loved one, the grief becomes more manageable instead of disappearing completely. If you are struggling to come to terms with the loss of your pet, there are other people out there who will understand, so do seek help when you need it.
- Animal Samaritans Pet Bereavement Service:
0203 745 9859
- The Ralph Site