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Having lost a pet, it is important that you are able to come to terms with your emotions. The same can be said for the process of electing for euthanasia as the kindest choice for a pet that is in the final stages of life.

Whatever the reason, grief for a pet will always be overwhelming. Losing a pet will always be hard. This article links through to some of the best support services in Australia (formal and informal) and offers practical advice for dealing with grief.

But first, let’s take a look at what actually happens when we begin our journey through grief.


Learning to Cope with Grief for a Pet

A pet owner being given news about his pet's near end of life

What happens when we are given news that our furry friend is at or near end of life? 

The first practical stage of grief is acceptance. Before that, you will go through stages of anger, devastation, and bargaining (not always in the right order). Thankfully, there are counsellors and support groups who can help you get to the acceptance stage, and beyond. 

There are support services listed later in this guide.

After accepting that your pet is gone, or that euthanasia is the ethical choice, you’ll be faced with personal and practical questions. Before we look at them, I want to offer some reassurance: You are not alone in this, and the choices you have made are done with love. 

What ethical questions and dilemmas are pet-owners confronted with? 

Putting a pet to sleep is the hardest choice that any pet owner will ever have. It’s hard on many levels, but the question we all focus on is how you know it’s the right choice.

In short, we can’t. Vets can advise, and we, as owners and companions for our pets, can interpret their emotions, but they can’t tell us directly that they are in pain, or that they are suffering.

At the end of a pet’s life, all we can do is be there, and follow the advice of vets, so that we know our loved ones won’t suffer unnecessarily.

Even if euthanasia didn’t factor into losing your pet, blaming yourself for not spotting illness is inevitable. I’ve done it with each and every pet I’ve lost, but there are no outward signs of most things, and more often than not, age is the biggest factor in losing a pet.

So please, while you are accepting and coming to terms with your loss, forgive yourself, and understand that your motives were good.

Is grieving over a loved pet different to grieving a loved family member or human friend? 

Grieving the loss of a pet can be easy for some. In some cases, parents get fish or small mammals so that their children understand grief. It’s a sensible way to share hard subjects with young minds. 

But, for others, grieving for a pet is as hard, if not harder than grieving for a family member. It is not irrational, or invalid. In practical terms, at the time we have our pets, we spend more of our lives with them than most of our family.

If you find yourself struggling with grief for a pet because you feel it should be easier, perhaps allowing yourself to feel your emotions more only will help. If not, there is practical guidance for understanding your grief below.

Understanding End of Life Options and Coping with Pet Loss

Dealing with Grief for a Pet

As much as I can offer empathy at a time of grief, I cannot offer practical guidance or one-to-one support, but there are some who can. Throughout Australia, there are wonderful networks online and in person, or others who have lost their pets, and some who have turned it into a vocation.

Support groups for grieving that we have mentioned in other posts. Some of the most well-respected counsellors and support groups around Australia are listed below. They are all able to offer advice and emotional help in different capacities:

  • Pets and People: Pets and People offer support and counselling for pet loss and grief online, by telephone and in person in some locations. They can be contacted on 1300 431 450
  • Griefline: Griefline provides counselling and emergency helplines for grief of all kinds, without differentiating between grief for human companions or pets. Check out Griefline’s website, with more information on losing a pet, and contact details when you are ready to talk to somebody. 

Pet Loss Grief Support – Australia on Facebook: One of the most useful groups you can join is Pet Loss Grief Support on Facebook. They are administered by a wonderful group of people, making sure that everybody is able to share their stories without judgement and get the support of like-minded people who have been through the same thing.

Other Articles from Pet Memorial Australia

As well as outward support, there are many things you can do yourself at home, to help yourself process grief, and help your family through the journey with you.

Some articles we’ve shared previously are just as relevant today:

Find Solace and Comfort in the Midst of Grief for a Pet

Coming to terms with your grief for a pet is tough. That grief does not always start the day they pass, and can often begin months in advance, while you are grappling with the decision to put them to sleep in their own interest. It is fairly unique to pet owners and can leave you feeling isolated and alone.

There are, though, millions of other pet owners in Australia, going through exactly the same emotional journey at any one time, in slightly different ways. Connecting with them, or with training counsellors may well be the next step you need to take to process your grief for a pet.

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