Sudden and Unexpected Pet Loss

The death of a beloved pet due to ageing and deterioration is deeply painful in and of itself but when we are faced with sudden and/or a forced loss or death of a pet, it can be especially traumatic and hard to cope with. It is a pet parents’ worst nightmare and to be brutally honest, a living hell.  This type of loss is often fraught with incomplete endings.

Some of the types of losses I am referring to here are….

  • Stolen pet/s
  • Pets that have run away
  • Death of a pet due to an accident
  • Forced relinquishment of a pet e.g. new accommodation restricts pets
  • Domestic violence where a pet has been killed
  • Missing or death of pets due to a natural disaster such as bush fire, floods etc.
  • Sudden medical episodes that cause rapid decline and death

Understandably a range of emotions can be felt in response to these types of losses, from shock and disbelief, guilt, helplessness, low mood, panic, anxiety and hyper-vigilance, regret, blame, and resentment toward others and self.  In the case of a missing pet, hope can turn to grief and despair with a seesaw of emotions.  The combination of emotions can be paralyzing.

Guilt and regret can loom large and compound feelings of grief and in the longer term have a negative impact in our lives. A feeling of deserving blame for a sense of inadequacy can be all consuming, we wish things to have been different, better, and so forth. Our brains grapple to make sense of what has happened; we are logical creatures that seek out answers even when sometimes there are none.  And then when we are unable to make sense of or construct a narrative that has a logical beginning, middle and end in our harrowing situation, the most common response to deal with such a situation is conscious repression of the bad memories and feelings.

After our loss we see things ‘in hindsight’ which allows us to look back upon and be critical of what has occurred.

Ideally we would love to bestow all the love and care for our pets, as they do for us, but we humans are fallible and even in the face of our best efforts, sometimes the unthinkable happens. Any strongly bonded pet parent does the best for their pet at any given time, with the information and knowing they have, AT THAT TIME; it is so important to remember this when guilt and regret have moved in and have set up home with us and have made our hearts heavy.

It is also important to remember your response to such a situation will be unique. Don’t compare your bereavement to anybody else’s.  It is worthwhile knowing that your loss will inevitably be felt on an emotional and physical level, with some people finding it hard to make decisions, or experiencing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) including flashbacks during waking hours and nightmares upon sleeping.

In getting through this heart wrenching time there are some things you can do –

  • Focus on other pets in your household
  • Make frequent and small daily decisions to feel some control. Big decisions can wait
  • Find someone you feel comfortable, and express openly how you are feeling
  • Join an online pet loss support chat so that you are supported by other pet parents who “get it’
  • Write a letter to your pet
  • Schedule grief time
  • Let yourself off the hook, show yourself some compassion
  • Identify that you are in fact grieving and give yourself permission to grieve.
  • Don’t feel embarrassed or ashamed about grieving the loss of your pet harder than that of a human loved one.

The types of losses mentioned here can be especially tough to deal with given their nature, give yourself time and care and seek the help of a professional pet loss counsellor if you need support.