I was recently talking with a friend about how our dogs are getting old and how we can’t imagine the day when they are no longer part of our lives. For many pet owners, a cat is not “just a cat” or a dog is not “just a dog” they are family. They are trusted companions, always by our side, providing unconditional love and affection. Unfortunately our life span is longer than theirs, so if you are a pet owner, sooner or later you will experience the death of a pet. I’m tearing up just thinking about this. What to do?

Realize that this is a loss and expect to experience grief and sadness. Know that this is normal and allow yourself to feel and express these feelings rather than ignoring them.

Do not feel ashamed or embarrassed. Some people who are not “pet people” may not understand the extent of your reaction.

So seek support from those who do, whether friends, family, or even a pet loss support group or online forum.

Create a memorial, from a ceremony and burial to framing a photo, however small or large a gesture you need.

Focus on self-care. Make sure you eat well, get enough sleep, exercise, etc. This is particularly important given that pets have been shown to have health benefits such as decreasing anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, and other physical and emotional issues. A pet can be a coping mechanism, which you now no longer have.

“Animals are such agreeable friends — they ask no questions, they pass no criticisms.” – George Eliot

Stay tuned for next week’s blog discussing how to tell children about the loss of a pet and how help them to cope.