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Coping with the Loss of Your Pet

04 June 2015

NEW ZEALAND - Pets are beloved members of the family and when they die, pet owners can feel significant, even traumatic loss.

Dr David Foote, veterinarian and pet bereavement counsellor, will discuss how people deal with pet loss at the Pan Pacific Veterinary Conference being held in Brisbane this week.

Dr Foote said that one aspect that can make grieving for the loss of a pet so difficult is that pet loss is not understood by everyone.

“In general, society doesn’t strongly validate or support grief over the death of pets. This can make the bereaved feel ashamed of their grief and too fearful or embarrassed to say how they are feeling or reach out for support.

"Although attitudes are shifting, unfortunately the attitude of ‘it was only a dog’ still exists.”

Dr Foote said that grieving is a personal and highly individual experience.

“Every human being and every animal is unique and each human-animal relationship is unique. It’s important that we allow and validate each person’s unique experience of grief – as it’s necessary for emotional healing. Typically this will involve shock, disbelief, intense emotions, despair and finally recovery,” he said.

Dr Foote said there are four steps the grieving will need to do to recover and resume normal life activities:

1. Accept the reality of the death

2. Fully experience the pain of grief

3. Adjust to the new environment without the deceased

4. Reinvest emotional energy back into normal life activities.

“Grief has no time frame so it’s important not to expect the person mourning to return to normal overnight.

“Unfortunately the idea of closure has become a popular concept, as if the key goal is to somehow forget the deceased or be free of any difficult emotions.

"But this doesn’t match reality for the person mourning. A more realistic goal of a healthy grieving process is to come to acceptance of the death overtime and integrate it into ongoing life.”

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