The grief that arises after the loss of a pet is often enormous and can feel absolutely overwhelming. This may develop into a sense of emptiness or blankness that prevents the person from feeling capable of doing anything.
In addition to other coping mechanisms, sometimes it may be a good idea to seek the help of a therapist, grief counselor, or other individual who is trained in helping people manage grief or depression. While some people may find that the heartache they feel after losing a pet decreases over time without professional intervention, there is no shame in reaching out for help to aid in this process.
Is it Normal that I Feel Empty After My Dog Died?
Yes, it is completely normal to feel empty, sad, distressed, overwhelmed, depressed, and any other number of difficult emotions after the death of your dog. It is also normal for some individuals to feel numb or emotionally disconnected following pet loss.
The way you feel may be influenced by certain factors including how old your dog was, how they died (including whether or not they were euthanized), the type of relationship you had with them, and whether or not you have previously experienced the loss of a pet.
How Do I Deal with the Emotions that Arise After the Loss of My Dog?
The experience of grief is very individualized, differing even between those sharing the same loss. Thus, coping mechanisms that help some people manage grief may not work for others. For many individuals, the emotional ache dulls over time, though it is impossible to know exactly how long that will take.
While the sadness may still be present, eventually the grief should not arise as frequently or feel as searing. This may occur naturally for some, while others may need to seek out help—professional or otherwise—to process the grief and overcome feelings of emptiness.
Coping Mechanisms to Manage Feelings of Emptiness After Pet Loss
Although each coping mechanism will not work for everyone who has undergone a loss, there are some practical things you can try to help break through feeling blank or empty after the loss of a pet.
Reach Out to Understanding Individuals
One of the best things you can do for yourself if you are experiencing grief is reach out to others for emotional support. When we wall ourselves off from others while struggling with loss, it can become very difficult to adequately heal.
It is true that some people—even those we consider friends—may not be understanding of the intense emotional burden of the death of a pet. You may find a more compassionate response from someone who has also lost a pet (though your support system does not need to solely consist of such individuals). If you are struggling to find anyone who can relate, you may find some camaraderie and understanding through online forums or support groups.
Honor the Memory of Your Lost Dog
This can feel especially painful when the loss is fresh, so some individuals may find it more healing to wait some time before focusing a lot of mental energy on the deceased pet.
Depending on your preference, you might want to consider journaling or creating art about your dog, creating a memorial or planting a tree in their memory, or visiting places that you associate with them.
When a person is experiencing emptiness, depression, or extreme grief, it is not uncommon that they may forgo appropriately taking care of themselves. If you are experiencing this, you may find it useful to set reminders for self-care. This can be useful even for basic needs such as staying hydrated and active. If you can keep your physical needs met, you will find it easier to cope with your emotional needs.
Seek Out Uplifting Distractions
It may be difficult at times to move your mind away from memories, sadness, or grief about your dog. While it is good to release your grief by spending some time focusing on it, it can be unhealthy to laser in on it too much.
For this reason, you may find it useful to spend some time on distractions that make you feel better, such as reading, watching, or listening to something funny or lighthearted, doing something you enjoy, or spending time away out of the house with a friend.
Seeking Professional Help
There is no shame in seeking out therapeutic or psychiatric help for grief management or depression surrounding the loss of your dog. The loss of a pet can feel just as—if not more, in some cases—painful as the loss of a human.
Some people may feel like they need to hit a specific point in their grieving process before they can seek out therapy or group support, but this does not need to be the case. Counselors and pet loss support groups are there for anyone who needs help, and should not judge you based on your feelings of emptiness or expressions of grief.
While it is true that some people will not understand the poignant sense of loss a dog owner feels when their pooch dies, there are many grief groups, counselors, and therapists who are understanding and who can help grieving individuals cope with the loss of their beloved pets.
Making the decision to seek help is an important first step in attaining help. It is true that different places have different access to support groups and therapists, though there are many resources that can be found online.
You may want to start by reaching out to local shelters, rescue groups, humane societies, or therapists. Local veterinarians should also be able to point you to helpful resources. It may be possible for you to find a virtual support group or therapist who can help you remotely if you do not live in an area with in-person counseling access.
When Is it Okay to Get a New Dog?
Adopting another dog may be one way to help lessen the pain of missing your lost pooch; however, it is generally a good idea to give yourself enough time to heal emotionally before adopting a new dog. In some cases, a new dog—especially one that looks like the dog you had—may provoke deeper feelings of sadness.
Depending on how you experience grief, it may take you a while to feel prepared to care for a new dog, and that is okay. While there are many dogs who need a good home and loving care, you should first feel emotionally ready for a new pooch before making the decision to bring one into your home.
If you have other pets in your household, you may find your remaining pets also mourning the loss of the deceased. Many people find that spending more time with their other pets helps soothe the ache of grief, both for their pets and for themselves.
Due to the confusion and emotional turmoil your pets may face when one dog passes, it is a good idea for most pet owners to wait a bit longer to add a new dog to the household to allow both their other pets and themselves adequate time to adjust to the loss.
Some people may also feel guilt about wanting to get a new dog after losing one, perhaps due to feeling that it is disrespectful to the memory of their previous pooch.
Although we cannot ask dogs what they think, I believe most pups would be pleased if they knew that after their deaths, their owners were going to love and care for another dog. That said, nobody should feel bad for deciding not to adopt another dog—sometimes it is too difficult to do so, and that is also okay.
While the death of a pet dog affects owners and other family members in different ways, many people who experience it find themselves dealing with feelings of emptiness, depression, sadness, or grief.
Though each person’s healing process is unique, there are steps you can take to help yourself if you have lost your dog and you are struggling with such feelings, including reaching out to others, practicing self-care, finding healthy distractions, and seeking out professional help as needed.
It is important to recognize that recovering from emptiness caused by grief can be a long process. Even once you feel healed, it is not uncommon for pangs of grief to arise, especially when you see, hear, or experience something that reminds you of your pooch.
The love your dog had for you was unconditional; the deep emotions you feel upon their loss reflect your love for them, which you will continue to carry with you, even when all that is left is their memory in your heart.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Can I Support a Friend or Family Member Whose Dog Has Died?
Supporting a friend or family member through the emotional turmoil that comes with the death of their dog is a noble cause, though it is important to remember that everyone experiences grief differently. If you have a family member or friend whose dog is dying, it may be a good idea to preemptively research local support groups or other grief resources that you could pass along when the time is right.
Unfortunately, there are many individuals who do not understand the emotions the loss of a pet can bring, minimizing the loss perhaps because they have not experienced it (or did not experience it to the same degree). Because of this, one of the best ways to help someone whose dog has died is to support them by listening to them and validating their feelings.