Coping with Pet Loss: Signs of Prolonged Grief Disorder

Discover the signs of prolonged grief disorder resulting from pet loss and learn 5 essential techniques to cope with this intense grief reaction. Support is available.


Katie Abendroth

5/5/20244 min read

prolonged grief disorder pet loss
prolonged grief disorder pet loss

Understanding Prolonged Grief Disorder after Pet Loss

Losing a beloved or "soulmate" pet is a devastating experience, on par with losing a loved human family member.

While grief is a natural response to loss, some individuals may find it difficult to move towards healing. This paralysis, or grief resulting in difficulty moving forward, is called Prolonged Grief Disorder (PGD).

PGD is also called complicated grief or persistent complex bereavement disorder. When your grief over pet loss begins to significantly impact your mental, emotional, or physical well-being, you may be experiencing prolonged grief disorder.

However you are not alone. About 4% of pet owners experience extreme, persistent symptoms of grief and bereavement, as described here. The American Psychiatric Association officially recognized PGD as a mental health need in 2021.

Questions to Ask Yourself:

Although the definition relates to human loss, many people feel that pet loss can also cause the symptoms. Have you experienced:

  • Preoccupation with your pet's death?

  • Intense sorrow and pain over the loss?

  • Inability to accept your pet as passed?

  • Emotional numbness?

  • Guilt or self-blame?

  • Bitterness over your pet's loss that does not decrease?

  • Impaired functioning (e.g., quitting your job, marriage difficulties, not leaving your home)?

5 Starting Tips for Dealing with Prolonged Grief Disorder

Coping with prolonged grief disorder requires patience, self-care, and community support. It is so important not to isolate, if your grief is profound, extreme, or not improving.

These recommendations are not meant to substitute for mental health care, and you are encouraged to start with professional help.

Since grief is so complex, you should try to target it in multiple ways:

1. Get Professional Counseling

A first step if you are struggling to manage daily life, or your symptoms of deep grief have lasted more than a year and do not seem to be improving, is seeking professional help.

A qualified therapist or counselor can provide individual guidance and confidential support as you grieve your fur baby. There are professional counselors that specialize in grief; including the loss of your best friend pet.

They will work with you to understand traumatic emotions, develop coping strategies, and provide a safe space to express your feelings.

2. Connect with Support Groups

Surrounding yourself with supportive individuals who understand your grief is essential. This was personally really hard for me to find, because nobody seemed to understand.

It's important to recognize that family members are also grieving and may not be able to offer as much support as you need. This is why I created this webpage and the Instagram group, Hope After Pet Loss, to normalize grief and build community.

If you are experiencing deep grief, consider joining my private support group. For only $20/ month, we meet twice per month over zoom, provide helpful members-only pet bereavement resources, and build friendships over our shared love of animals with a private Facebook page.

Scroll to bottom for a discount code if you want to give the group a try.

Knowing you are not alone in your pet loss grief is one of the healthiest things you can invest in. This will help you transform from a state of grief paralysis to hopefulness and purpose.

3. Engage in Self-Care Activities

Self-care has to be part of the healing equation, and nobody can do that for you. You will not heal without taking care of yourself.

List 3-5 activities that bring you joy (or used to) and provide a sense of peace. This could include practicing mindfulness or meditation, coloring, nature walks, or pampering yourself with a relaxing bath or massage.

Learning more about grief can boost boost self-care and resilience. Check out my e-book Coping with Pet Loss Grief for information, action lists and journal prompts that helped me when I lost my soulmate pet. Use DISCOUNT CODE SAVE50 for 50% off the list price.

4. Spend Time Outdoors

Nature has a profound healing effect on the human psyche. Spending time outdoors can help alleviate symptoms of PGD. Create your own meditative nature retreat after pet loss using these tips.

Take walks in nature, go for hikes, or simply sit in a park and observe the beauty around you. Connecting with the natural world can provide solace, perspective, and peace, but getting outdoors is essential.

Start by walking just 8 minutes per day, then increase the time to 30 minutes per day by the end of one month.

5. Practice Mindful Remembrance

Instead of avoiding memories of your soulmate pet, embrace them mindfully. I recommend setting aside dedicated time each day to honor and grieve your pet.

You can set up a beautiful urn, plant a garden, frame pictures, and put their collar on display. Focus on the positive moments you shared. Mindful remembrance allows you to keep their memory alive while reinforcing the brain pathways that are positive.

Dealing with prolonged grief disorder (PGD) is a unique journey for each individual recovering from pet bereavement. Remember that healing takes time, and there is no set timeframe on healing. It's essential to be patient and kind to yourself throughout the process, and invest in your healing.

By seeking professional help, connecting with others, practicing self-care, spending time outdoors, and embracing mindful remembrance, you can gradually navigate through the challenges of PGD and find renewed hope and healing.

If you would like to give our Pet Loss Support Group at try, use code HOPE50 for 50% off your first month, cancel anytime. Sign up here. Sending you light and love. You are not alone.

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