Dealing with death is never easy. Saying goodbye to a pet can be a big challenge for many pet owners.
"The longer you have the pet the bigger a part of your life he is," says Dave Barwick of Critter Chatter, an online pet magazine.
Barwick was in college when his childhood dog died, and he took the news hard. "She'd been there all my life," he explains. "A pet is a part of your life for a long time, and death leaves a hole."
*Sharing the Sad News
It's important to tell family and friends about your pet's death, but it's not an easy conversation, especially for kids.
"Of course, when children are involved, the discussion must be age appropriate, and every circumstance is different, but usually it's best to be honest about the loss and allow loved ones to begin the grieving process," says Katie Jarl of the Humane Society of the United States.
"Kids tend to be very resilient, but of course, they grieve the loss of a pet just as they would any other family member," she says. "They need the loving support of their family to acknowledge and manage their grief."
Realize that other pets in the home may be grieving the death of the pet, too. Be sure to give these living animals lots of love and attention to help them overcome their loss.
Whether your beloved pet was a cat, a dog, a horse, a rabbit or another animal, decisions about a pet's final resting place vary.
It used to be that dead pets were buried in the backyard. But these days, because people move around a lot, most pets are cremated, and the owner keeps the ashes. Still other pets are buried in a pet cemetery.
*Grieving Your Loss
There's often a backlash when a pet dies. People who don't have a pet or don't know your pet can be insensitive and might not take the pet's death seriously.
"The biggest misconception is that the death of a pet doesn't bring with it 'real grief' because pets are not human," explains Jarl. "For most people, their pets are family members, and the grieving process is very real."
*Resources and Memorials
A pet's death brings up a lot of emotions, including sadness and guilt, which can be tough to handle. Grief counseling sessions can be healing.
"Many communities have pet-loss counseling sessions and other tools specifically designed to help pet owners with loss," says Jarl. "Reach out to your veterinarian, shelter, community center or other community organization to find one in your area."
Pet remembrances and eulogies, sometimes including a photo of the pet, are often posted on Critter Chatter's website and other sites such as the Rainbow Bridge virtual memorial.
Sharing the grieving experience can be comforting for a pet owner who needs to vent their sadness and for strangers who read the posts and relate.
The memorials help people realize they're "not the only one who feels this way," says Barwick.
The American Veterinary Medical Association notes that some pet owners honor the deceased with a plaster cast of the pet's paw print or a lock of hair.
You also can remember a pet by supporting a local shelter or animal charity.
"Others create private memorials in their home or yard or another place their pet enjoyed spending time," says Jarl. "Whatever method is chosen should give the family a sense of closure and contentment that their pet's memory has been honored."
*A New Pet?
When is the best time to get a new pet? That's hard to say.
"There's no 'right way' to react after the loss of a pet. Some people feel the need to fill that void immediately and acquire a new pet right away; others wait years or may never acquire another," says Jarl. "Families should be sensitive to each other's needs and wishes in this regard, and consider taking in a new pet only when everyone is ready. Adopting a new pet, in particular, can help bring solace after a loss, because of the knowledge that the new pet is truly getting a second chance at life."
Just because you get a new pet doesn't mean you'll forget about the previous one or all of your happy memories.
Barwick advises, "Instead of feeling sad about the loss, think about the good times and all the fun the pet brought into your life."