Hi, I’m Kiran. Right now I’m grieving the loss of my kitten, Django. He was just 6 weeks old when we had to make the tough decision to put him to sleep, due to a severe heart defect.
If you’re reading this article, chances are you’ve lost a pet too, or are curious about how to deal with grief when the time, inevitably and sadly, comes in the future.
I read a lot of articles in the past in preparation for this moment, but I’ll be honest, the sense of loss is much harder to deal with than I realized.
On top of that, other people don’t always recognize just how much losing a pet affects us owners – to them, it’s just an animal, to us, they’re a part of our family.
So, in this article, I’m going to lay out a few things that have helped me, and will hopefully help you too.
And if you have recently lost a loved furbaby, please know that you’re in my thoughts, and you’re not alone.
1) Give yourself time
When we got the news about Django, we were absolutely heartbroken.
I couldn’t get my head around the fact that in the morning, I woke up to an active, playful kitty, and by night, he was severely ill in the emergency vet hospital.
Animals, especially young and old, are extremely vulnerable. And in the words of the vet, “They’re masters at deception, especially when ill.”
For us humans, this can be so hard to comprehend. Sometimes there are warning signs, sometimes there aren’t.
If your pet passes away suddenly, you’re going to find it hard to process what’s happened.
Give yourself time.
Your emotions are going to fly wild, but in the coming days and weeks after their passing, you will start to get more clarity on what happened and how to move forward.
Don’t let anyone rush your healing process.
I can’t stress this enough – your mind and heart need time to accept what’s happened.
This won’t come overnight. You’re not just saying goodbye to a beloved companion, your entire life routine and often, purpose, changes.
And that’s so tough to come to terms with. I won’t lie, I’m still struggling with it now. But each day gets ever so slightly easier.
2) Don’t blame yourself
My very first thought when they told us Django’s diagnosis was, “I should have done more.”
Looking back now, I wasn’t thinking straight. I had dedicated every moment to looking after that kitten properly, and nothing I could have done would have changed his heart defect.
And you, as a loving pet owner, will have done the same.
But I understand. It’s completely natural to blame yourself, especially when you’re dealing with the shock and devastation of losing someone who was reliant on your love and care.
My advice? Go easy on yourself.
Most of the time, these things are way out of our control. Your pet certainly doesn’t blame you, and you shouldn’t either.
But, this is easier said than done. And that’s why the next point is so important in helping you overcome placing the blame on yourself…
3) Lean on your loved ones
I’ve got to admit, I had a naive view of grief before this experience.
I’m fortunate to not have experienced much of it in life. So I thought, when the worst happens, I’ll retreat into my shell, deal with it quietly, and get back to normal life.
But that night, after coming home with an empty cat carrier, and seeing Django’s little food bowls still half full, I knew I needed support.
Grief is so totally consuming, we need the love and comfort of others to get through it.
So don’t be afraid to reach out to those who you know will comfort you. Those who will understand (most likely, other people who have pets of their own).
One resource I used before we actually put Django to sleep was the bereavement chat support by the Blue Cross. Here’s the link.
You can talk to them on the phone, via email, through chat, or even join their Facebook community page.
The woman I spoke to was so kind. She helped me prepare for making such a tough decision and reassured me that I was doing the best thing for my kitty.
The point is, you don’t have to go through this alone.
Your loved ones, or even a support member online, can help you recognize that you’re not to blame.
That the road to healing is long but it doesn’t have to be lonely.
4) Keep something to remember them by
Before I entered the house after saying goodbye to Django, my husband kindly and thoughtfully picked up all his toys and put them in a box in another room.
But I kept his little blanket and an avocado plushy that he loved to play with. I cuddle them at night, to help with the physical feeling of loss.
You might find that that helps too.
I wouldn’t recommend keeping all their things lying around, as this can be very triggering. But one or two mementos that your pet loved can act as a source of comfort.
I’ve also seen some people turn their pet’s food bowls into flower pots for succulents, as a way to memorialize their memory. Others frame their pet’s collar.
Ultimately, you’ve got to do what makes you feel comforted during this tough time.
You might be tempted to throw everything out – this is grief, anger, and immense sorrow talking.
These emotions are temporary.
If you feel like doing this immediately after losing your pet, I’d suggest just putting their things in a space out of sight until your emotions have settled a bit.
Once the initial shock of everything has calmed down, you can then sort through their belongings and select whichever items you’d like to keep.
5) Do something to celebrate their life
Whether you’ve had your beloved pet for 20 years or 6 weeks like me, their lives meant something. They certainly changed ours.
So, consider doing something to celebrate that.
You’re going to feel sad, there are no two ways about it. But you can also look for something positive, a way to commemorate and celebrate their lives here on earth.
Some people might write poetry, hold a small ceremony, or write a tribute to their pet online.
Others create outdoor memorials or get custom-made art or jewelry made.
Another idea is to donate some money to an animal charity in the name of your pet.
Google is full of fun ideas, but you can also brainstorm with your loved ones.
It’s nice to keep them included in the loop as you’ll probably need their support in organizing your celebration.
6) Get back to a normal routine as soon as you can
Grief isn’t something that just goes away. We have to learn to rebuild our lives around it.
You will always miss your pet, and sadly, that’s just something that will stay with you forever.
But the sooner you get back to some sort of routine, the better. I’m not going to put a limit on it – this will depend on your employer and the other responsibilities you have in life.
I’ve spent 3 days now moving from the sofa to my bed and honestly, it’s what I’ve needed.
3 days to cry, to laugh at cute videos of Django, to sit and contemplate, and to try to make sense of what’s happened.
I plan to go back to work tomorrow, but only because I feel ready. I feel that the distraction will actually do me some good.
But if you’re really struggling, just try one thing at a time.
Be honest with your employers if your mental health is really low. Let friends know if you’re not quite up to going out and resuming your social life straight away.
And of course, don’t be afraid to reach out for help.
The loss of a pet is just as devastating, if not more in some cases, than the loss of another human.
Your feelings are absolutely valid and getting back to “normal” will look different for everyone.
7) Don’t waste your time on people who don’t understand
95% of people I’ve spoken to about Django have been so incredibly supportive and understanding. But there will always be a few who just don’t get it.
“Why don’t you just get another one?”
“Aw, it’s not that bad, it’s just a pet.”
“It could be worse, it could be an actual member of your family.”
Some of the comments people make are truly disheartening. But rather than argue with them or allow them to affect your mood, feel pity for them.
They’ve clearly never known a love like the one shared between a pet and their human parent. And that’s sad.
Because no matter how hard the grief is, we’d never give up the amazing times we spent with our pets. The joy, companionship, and love they give us make every moment of pain worth it.
And if someone doesn’t understand that, that’s on them. It’s not for you to deal with, especially right now when you’re so vulnerable and raw.
Instead, surround yourself with people who get it. They will help you immensely.
They’ll be the ones that you can call up when the grief gets too overwhelming, or when you simply need someone to take your mind off things. They’ll also be there to remind you that it will get easier to deal with, with time.
Final thoughts – a tribute to Django
My heart goes out to you if you’re also grieving the loss of a pet. I know nothing will ever replace the love I had and experienced from Django.
We called him our “spicy” kitten because he was so full of life and gumption. He brought love and laughter into our home from the very first moment, and although I’d give anything to stop feeling so sad, I know this is just a sign of how much I loved him.
Remind yourself of that when you’re sad too.
Just because they’ve passed on, the love doesn’t disappear. It comes back in the form of grief.
But that too will get easier one day. The time will come when you and I will both look back on our memories and smile, rather than cry.
Until then, focus on the good stuff, be kind to yourself, and don’t rush the healing process. Sending love and strength.