LIVING

How To Deal With The Loss Of A Beloved Pet

12/21/2016 03:02 EST | Updated 12/21/2016 03:02 EST

A death is always hard around the holidays, but the loss of a pet might not always be acknowledged as serious by some.

Research and experience both show that the loss of a pet is hard to deal with, and many treat their pets as members of the family.

According to a 2004 study, when a bond breaks between an owner and pet, it’s natural that strong emotions will result.

But even during a cheery time of year, it’s OK to take a bit of time to acknowledge your loss and do what you need to work through it.

The fact that you’ve lost an animal and not a person doesn’t make your grief any less real or valid. Here are 12 tips for dealing with the loss of a pet, around the holidays or any time of the year.

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    Acknowledge The Loss Is Real: You don’t have to pretend it’s “just a pet” or berate yourself for feeling like you should be over it. A pet’s death is a real loss and it’s important to acknowledge it as such.

    One study found that people rated their relationship with their dog as closer than to that of some family members.
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    Remember That Everyone Grieves In Different Way: The process of grieving is different for all people, Help Guide notes, and even for the same person from one loss to another. There is no right or wrong way to feel at any particular time, and you can’t force your way through it.
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    Look For Support: There are many online and in-person support groups for people at various stages of dealing with pet loss. Rainbow Bridge is a popular online community for those dealing with pet-related bereavement and you are likely to find support for your particular situation there.
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    Talk To Your Vet: Your vet deals with people in your situation regularly and can be a valuable resource if you are struggling. They can reassure you that you aren’t alone, and may be able to point you towards local resources for help. One Onswitch study found that 19 per cent of those who lost a pet switched vets because they couldn’t face the office, so thinking of it as a place of support as well as loss can help you move forward.
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    Deal With The Day-To-Day Loss: For most of us, pets are an important part of our daily lives. Our schedules involve their feeding and walks, and they’re companions in our homes. It can be hard to have your day-to-day schedule upended in ways both practical and emotional, especially during a time of year that’s already hectic. Be kind to yourself as you figure out your new normal.
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    Take Care Of Yourself: And beyond the day to day, remind yourself that it’s OK to pass on some of the holiday merriment if you’re having a hard time. People often spread themselves thin with socializing and obligations at this time of year, the Mayo Clinic notes, even when circumstances are otherwise good. It can quickly becoming exhausting when they are not. If things are just too much because you are sad, or tired, or just not in the mood, politely decline.
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    Do Something: In The Year Of Magical Thinking, author Joan Didion describes grief as passive and mourning as active. Find something to do to honour your pet’s memory, in big ways and small.

    If you have their ashes, make decisions about where to have them interred. Dedicate a tree, park fountain, or something else to your pet’s memory. Donate pet food to a shelter or food bank or get a nice commemorative ornament for your Christmas tree.
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    Get Another Pet When You’re Ready: Some people find they want another pet quite quickly after losing one, and that is OK. You may be lonely and missing the companionship. Your children may really want another pet after losing theirs. Or you may have another pet who misses having a buddy. Don’t feel guilty for adopting another pet quickly if that works for you. If you can help a cat or dog avoid spending the holidays in a shelter, that’s even better!
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    But Don’t Push Yourself To Be Ready: At the same time, some people really aren’t ready for another pet for quite some time after a loss — and may never be. That is also OK. Don’t push yourself to adopt before you’re ready.

    Some might have a lot of expenses related to their recently deceased pet that make them nervous about adopting another. It’s smart to clear off remaining vet debt from your pet who has passed before taking on potential expenses with another.
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    Consider Being A Foster Parent: If you miss having the pitter-patter of furry feet around but cannot commit right now to adopting another pet, consider fostering. You can house pregnant cats until they have kittens, kittens who aren’t yet ready to be adopted, or older cats who may need a spot until their permanent home can be found.
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    But Don’t Get A Pet For Someone: If you know someone who has recently lost a pet, gifting them with a new furry friend over the holidays may seem like a kind gesture, but it's not the right move. You should never give a pet as a gift to someone who has recently lost one (or any other time, really) because the person receiving the gift may not be ready for something new.
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    Know When It’s Something More: Grief and sadness after a loss are both normal. But some people go from the blues into depression, which can require some treatment from a professional. If you’re worried about your reaction, or that of someone close to you who have lost a pet, learn about the symptoms of depression and seek help.