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Healthy Pets

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Coping With Pet Loss

WebMD explains how to survive the painful grieving process after losing one of your closest companions.

Am I Normal? continued...

Mourning for a pet is normal, but not everyone experiences it in the same way, Pomerance says. Lonely people may have a particularly hard time. And Pomerance says grief can be cumulative: If you have suffered other traumas recently, losing a pet can be the last straw.

Deep mourning for a pet for more than a few weeks may indicate there are bigger issues affecting the mourner's psyche than just the loss of a pet, Sife says. When Sife's pet bereavement counselors come across such a case, they refer the person to a psychotherapist, who has a much wider range of training.

What to Do?

The process of coping with grief may begin before the pet dies.

Some people prefer to experience a pet's death at home with friends or relatives rather than in an animal hospital. Many veterinarians will agree to come to your home to perform euthanasia, Pomerance says.

Pomerance owns 16 dogs. When one dies, she holds a memorial service that includes friends who knew the animal. "It's somber but also a thing of joy and beauty and gratitude," she says. "We thank the animal for its companionship."

The question of how to grieve is intensely personal, but in general, it's important to feel free to express your emotions and memories.

For example, Sife suggests keeping a log of your thoughts and feelings. Online chat rooms and message boards, and offline support groups and hotlines linked to humane societies, are also sources of support.

For those experiencing severe grief, Sife suggests writing a letter to yourself, taking on your pet's persona. "Observe how you are reacting to the loss, and ask yourself if your pet would want you to continue this way. We all know pets would want the best for us, because that's what love is about."

Children and Pet Death

For children, the loss of a pet may be their first exposure to death. It may be much more affecting than the loss of an aunt or grandparent whom they rarely see, Pomerance says. A pet's loss is a key moment for teaching children about the value of life. So give the child space to mourn, says Pomerance, who has written a book to help children cope with the loss of a pet.

Pomerance suggests helping the child make a scrapbook or journal about the animal. If the child seems puzzled by the concept of death, she says parents can compare the cycle of life and death to the natural cycle of the seasons.

Above all, never try to dismiss the child's loss, or to foist another animal on the child too soon. "The main thing is to be empathetic and supportive," Pomerance says.

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Reviewed on March 02, 2011

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