“It was only a dog.” and “You can always get another one.”

Sound familiar? It might to any one of you who have had to suffer the excruciating (and often misunderstood) pain of pet loss and bereavement.

Whether a pet is aging, terminally ill, lost or stolen, placed in a new home or has died, the end of this relationship can cause significant emotional distress.For many of us, pets have become family members. When we face the loss of a pet we may experience a range of grief reactions. This is both natural and necessary. In addition, there is something near unique about pet bereavement – the issue of euthanasia. Many pet owners have had to make a decision that only tiny numbers ever have to make about a human relative – the decision to end a life, with all the guilt and inner turmoil that this entails.

Immediately after the death of a pet, the owner often feels shock or denial. It may be hard to accept the animal is no longer with us. Our homes may feel very empty, and our days long any lonely. Many owners say it is an event equally as heartbreaking as losing a close family member – something they feel deeply ashamed about admitting, and both confused and frightened by the impact of this death. Some also said that they were so grief-stricken by the death of their pet that they were forced to call in sick to work. On average, bereaved owners cost the UK economy £895million last year in days off work during 2009 (source – UK Insurance MoreThan).

Grieving is a process not an event. The process consists of a number of stages, including (but not necessarily in the order of) shock, disbelief, pain, anger, desperation, guilt and acceptance. There is often no clear beginning or end to the grieving process. Each person grieves differently. You may get stuck in one phase, or skip others. Healing will take a dissimilar amount of time for each individual. You may still experience sadness, but you will have accepted the reality of the loss of your pet, and can look back with happiness on the many pleasant memories of your time together and still move forward with your life.

Although coming to terms with the loss of a loved pet can be devastating, it is also a reflection of the pleasure they brought to us during their life. The pain and sadness can diminish. Occasionally, grief can remain unresolved. This is a very real problem and was a major contributory factor for offering Pet Loss and Bereavement Counselling within my counselling practice in Gloucestershire. Bereavement counselling can also help you prepare for pet loss, understand your feelings and reactions upon separation from your pet and help ease your emotional pain and support the grieving process.

Within my own practice I also offer support and consultation to veterinary professionals and nursing staff, whom bear witness to pet loss and client grief through the course of their work, leaving them at risk for compassion fatigue and professional burnout.

If you are suffering or know of someone who is, please get some support from any of the excellent pet loss and bereavement support available in the UK (PBSS 0800 096 6606), and/or find a counsellor in your area with the help of Counselling Directory or the BACP website.