Catherine Palmer Counseling, Portland, OR

Pet Loss and Illness: Dealing with the Sadness

Catherine Palmer Counseling, Portland, OR
Pet Loss and Illness: Dealing with the Sadness

It’s Okay to Grieve

Animals are inherently beautiful. The bond we form with our pets is often very deep and meaningful.  When one of our beloved friends succumbs to illness or death, it can be devastating.  That close bond that we form is what makes life with our companions so rewarding, but it is also what makes letting go so complicated. Whether a grim diagnosis, an accident, old age…the loss of your companion may result in profound feelings of sadness, fear, guilt, emptiness, numbness, or anger.  If you are feeling emotionally distraught or overwhelmed, please know that your feelings are a normal reaction to a profound, emotionally traumatic experience. You are mourning the illness or death of a dear friend and family member who was fiercely loved. It is okay (and healthy) to grieve.

Stages of Grief

Grief is not precisely the same for everyone, but understanding the stages of grief can help you through the process.  The stages include denial, anger, guilt, sadness/depression, acceptance and resolution.

DENIAL: Typically denial, shock and disbelief come first and may leave you feeling numb and unable to sense the true impact of your loss. At this stage, you may become disorganized, distracted, forgetful and ineffective. The little pleasures in your life may no longer uplift you, food may become tasteless and your sleep cycles may become disturbed.

ANGER & GUILT:  Anger, blame, resentment, rage, guilt and regret may overwhelm you in a wave of emotion.  These volatile feelings may be directed at your friends, family, coworkers, veterinary staff, etc.  Please give yourself permission to have these feelings – they will soften in time as you allow yourself to mourn. You may start directing volatile emotions at yourself  if you feel that you’ve failed your beloved pet in some way. You may doubt your decisions or beat yourself up with “if only” dialog…”if only I made sure the gate was latched”…”if only I’d taken him to the vet sooner”.  It is important that you practice self compassion at this time. Your pet appreciated your love and care.

DEPRESSION: Sadness and depression may be the hardest part of the grieving journey, but sadness is a natural, authentic emotion following the loss of something as precious as your pet. Your response may be through tears, knots in your stomach, and/or a loss of energy. Your sadness is a symptom of your emotional wound and it is important that you allow your sorrow to be felt.  Paradoxically, the only way to lessen your pain is to move toward it, not away from it. If you need a cry, let it out.

You may find yourself withdrawing from family and friends.  It may be difficult to get out of bed in the morning, and you may even wonder if you can continue without your beloved companion.  The answer is ‘yes, you can’, but there are times when you may need to rely on others to help you to deal with this loss.  If your depression becomes disabling, or you feel desperate and alone, please seek professional assistance.

Allow Healing

RESOLUTION: Give yourself permission to heal.  This means first going through the worst of the pain in order to move forward. Resolution comes when you have worked through your feelings and you can remember your pet without experiencing crippling emotional pain.  Resolution doesn’t mean that you will no longer feel sadness and loss, but that you have come to terms with what has happened.

You are likely to move from one stage of the grieving process to another, and back again. You may reach resolution and acceptance, only to have feelings of anger, denial, guilt and depression reappear.  As you move through the process, your feelings will usually become less intense, and will begin to be replaced with fond memories.  Each person differs with regard to how long it takes to move through the process, so give yourself time and compassion.

Moving Forward

Your family and friends may not understand the intensity of your loss, or they may be uncomfortable with your sadness and try to cheer or distract you.  Don’t be persuaded to hurry your grieving process along – don’t hide or bury your emotions.  It is important that you be honest with yourself and others about how you feel.  Seek out people who share your love for animals and who understand your loss.  You may want to discuss your feelings with someone who is trained to understand the grieving process and can support and help you as you mourn your loss.

Healing Tips

Below are some suggestions that may help you heal more quickly and easily

  1. Find supportive people and talk about your pet. Let your feelings out.    Feel.
  2. Dedicate, donate, or build something in your pet’s name and memory
  3. Go to a pet bereavement group or to an on-line support group
  4. Hold a private memorial service for your pet
  5. Take care of your physical health (make time to eat well, relax, go for walks)
  6. Write a list of all of the loving memories that you have of your pet and constantly add to it. Include the things your pet did that made you laugh
  7. Try to find pleasure in life again. Get out of the house. Visit friends. Do the things you enjoy. 


Your love for your pet will not diminish with time, and your pet will live on in you through your memory.  In the healing process it can be helpful to  actively remember your pet and celebrate the life that was lived and enjoyed.


“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.”  –Anatole France

You Are Not Alone

You don’t have to go through it alone.  Get help from others who have been through the grieving process, or from a professional counselor.

Pet Loss Support Groups in Portland, OR

(503) 807-3917 Catherine Palmer Counseling – please go to my ‘Services’ page for more information on groups that are available at this time

(503) 234-2061 Dove Lewis Support Group

Online Resources

Lightning Strike Pet Loss Support

Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement

Pet Loss Grief Support

Pet Loss Support Page


Pet Loss Support Hotlines

(630) 325-1600 Chicago Veterinary Medical Association

(607) 253-3932 Cornell University veterinary students

(517) 432-2696 Michigan State veterinary students

(508) 839-7966 Tufts University veterinary students

(509) 335-5704 Washington State veterinary students


Individual Counseling

I would be honored to work with you through this difficult time.  Please contact me here

Specializing in helping with depression, anxiety, grief, low self-esteem, family of origin issues, trauma, and couples therapy, marriage counseling and family counseling.
Specializing in helping with depression, anxiety, grief, low self-esteem, family of origin issues, trauma, and couples therapy, marriage counseling and family counseling.
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