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Mental Health

Loss of a Pet

01/26/2010

Question:

My 15 year old dog recently died in his sleep. I thought I would be okay right after he died, I knew he was old and would not live forever. But now I find myself feeling really lonely, like nobody will ever really know or understand me, etc. I was never all mushy about my dog. My dog was like a best buddy, but I never felt like he was my "baby" or like a human family member. Why do I feel so wierd and lonely after he died? I never even realized I felt all that close to him when he was alive.

Answer:

Grief is real emotional state that everyone goes through.  Losing a pet of 15 years is a significant loss, and grief would be an expected response.

How to Deal with Grief is an excellent resource about grief published by Center for Mental Health.

Basically, after a loss, you may feel empty and numb, and you may even notice physical changes such as trembling, nausea, trouble breathing, muscle weakness, dry mouth, or trouble sleeping and eating.  Many people even become angry or feel guilty.  People in grief may have strange dreams or nightmares, be absent-minded, withdraw socially, or lack the desire to return to work. While these feelings and behaviors are normal during grief, they will pass.

Every person who experiences a significant loss must complete a four-step grieving process:

(1) Accept the loss;
(2) Work through and feel the physical and emotional pain of grief;
(3) Adjust to living in a world without the person or item lost (in your case, a pet); and
(4) Move on with life.

Some of this will happen naturally, especially as you talk with family and friends, but occasionally even speaking with a counselor or therapist may be beneficial. For more information, check out Grieving the Loss of a Pet from Helpguide.org. 

Good luck.

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Response by:

Nancy   Elder, MD Nancy Elder, MD
Associate Professor
College of Medicine
University of Cincinnati