When Your Pet Dies

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It's Good to Grieve

"Most people are utterly unprepared for how intense their sadness is when they lose a pet," says Dr. LaFarge. And you may also feel embarrassed about grieving too much in public, since it's "only" a pet. "Perfectly normal pet owners say, 'I feel as though I've lost my best friend,'" Dr. LaFarge says. "But when you think about it, nothing is as much a part of your physical space as your animal is."

Take care of yourself and allow yourself time to grieve. If you're having a hard time, a pet-loss support group can help a lot. Ask your vet or state veterinary medical association for referrals. The Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement offers online chatrooms guided by trained counselors at aplb.org, and the ASPCA has a pet-loss hotline, 877-474-3310. Every day should be a little better. But if, after five days, you're still too blue to function, see your doctor -- it's possible that your normal grief could have triggered a clinical depression.

Celebrate Your Pet

When a companion animal dies, the first question many people will ask is, "Are you going to get another one?" Experts agree that you shouldn't do it right away. It may feel good at first to have a new pet, but you won't have the mental energy to bond when you're still grieving the last one.

Instead, celebrate the life of the pet you've just lost. Have a ceremony for the burial or for scattering your pet's ashes and if you have kids get them involved in planning it. Put his picture up on Facebook. Assemble a photo album. In the end, remember that death is part of life, says Dr. LaFarge. "A good death can be a happy ending."

"I'm Sorry for Your Loss"

If you haven't personally lost a pet, it can be hard to know how to comfort a friend in mourning. Two nice gestures: Send a sympathy card and ask your friend to share her favorite memory of the animal. Remember that she may be grieving for longer than you'd expect. Check in with her from time to time to see how she's holding up. Don't ignore the topic altogether (your friend probably is thinking of little else) and don't ask when she's getting a new pet or say anything else that may sound as though you're minimizing the significance of her loss. For most people, the death of a beloved animal feels more like losing a dear friend or a family member -- not "just a pet."


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