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Experts share their advice on the painful process of grieving a beloved dog or cat.

February 21, 2017

If you follow Kayla Itsines on Instagram, then you probably know she recently lost one of her beloved huskies, TJ. In a heartbreaking post last week, the founder of Bikini Body Guides wrote that TJ's sudden death was the most difficult thing she had ever dealt with: "I feel absolutely numb on the inside, like a huge part of my life is now gone," she said in the caption for an old photo with TJ. Itsines let her fans know that she would be taking a few days off to mourn her "baby boy."

😞Hi girls, This is undoubtedly the saddest post @tobi_pearce & I have ever written. I am telling you this because it is a huge part of my life, and there will definitely be questions in the coming days, weeks or months. The weekend just been, on Saturday morning my baby boy husky, TJ passed away. This is the most devastating news I have ever endured in my whole life. I feel absolutely numb on the inside, like a huge part of my life is now gone. TJ was a best friend to Tobi and I, of course Ace too. I took TJ and Ace everywhere with me as I am sure you would know from seeing the many photos I have posted of us together. I love him like he was my little boy, I had such a special relationship with him from the day I first got him. I am sure many of you can relate but it’s difficult to describe what he meant to me. Now that he is gone, I am not sure what to do, how to act or behave or move forward. All I know, is that as painful as it is right now and it sounds, life must go on. I have dealt with some tough situations in the last few years, and girls from the #bbgcommunity have always been a massive support to me. I have met some of my best friends through this community. However, for now, although I will keep posting for you girls and the 12 week challenge, I will personally be taking a few days for some quiet time to myself to get some space and clear my mind while I mourn my baby boy TJ. I thank you all in advance for your support and kind words, and hope that you appreciate this is a very difficult time for Tobi and I. To TJ, It’s hard to imagine a life where I will never get to run with you again, walk down the beach or sleep on you. Take you out for breakfast to our favourite cafe, or find you with dirt on your nose again when you dug up the herb garden. I remember when you were a baby and I first gave you watermelon and you had a pink face all day. I will miss your howl every morning and how you would jump up to give me a hug. So many moments, so many memories and so much more time I wish we could spend together. I love you so much and I will always miss you bubba TJ, forever and always, From Mum.

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There's no question that mourning a pet can be an incredibly painful process, says Deborah Carr, PhD, a professor of sociology at Rutgers University. “[People will] say, it’s just a dog, or it’s just a cat." But anyone who loses a pet needs to know they have a right to grieve, she says.

Ours pets have such a consistent presence in our lives, Carr points out: You live with your pet. You feed her, and make sure she's getting enough exercise. She greets you at the door after a long day. "When a pet dies, every aspect of your daily life is affected," she says. 

Below we've rounded up a few pieces of advice that may help as you cope with such a loss:

Celebrate your memories

Though it can be difficult, it's worth reflecting on the good times you shared with your pet, says Sarah Kate Bearman, PhD, an assistant professor of educational psychology at the University of Texas at Austin. You might even want to consider holding a small memorial service or funeral. “Some of those rituals, like having ceremonies or making something meaningful, are there because they are helpful," Bearman explains. "They give us an opportunity to process the meaning of the animal’s life, and what it’s meant to us."

But remove painful reminders

Old toys and leashes, litter boxes, unused food—these everyday things can stir up distressing emotions unnecessarily, Carr says. You can offer the supplies to a friend who can use them, or donate them to charity, she suggests. If giving away your pet's gear feels too sad, ask your partner or a friend to do it for you, Carr suggests.

Reach out

Your instinct may be to hibernate in solitude, but talking to a friend or family member that you trust will be more beneficial in the long run. “When we’re going through any kind of distressing stage, talking to others for social support is so important,” says Carr. So open up about your grief, share your favorite stories about your pet, and maybe seek advice from someone you know who has gone through a similar experience. 

Stick to your normal routine

Try your best to keep up your regular activities. Maintaining a normal routine is an important coping strategy for any type of loss, Bearman points out—as is self-care. Go easy on yourself, and make time for activities that replenish your energy, whether that's exercise or meditation or curling up with a good book.

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Give yourself time

Many people who lose a pet rush to adopt a new cat or dog, says Carr. They often end up with an animal that reminds them of their old one. But the fact is, "you’re not going to find another version of your cat or dog," she explains. Before you consider moving on, it's best to wait until you've gone through the grieving process. Then you will be ready to build a new bond with a loving animal. "It will be different, but it still might be wonderful," she says.

Seek help if you need it

There's no "right" amount of time to spend grieving a cat or dog, says Bearman. It depends on the person, and the relationship. But if months pass, and the pain still feels as fresh as it did right after your pet died, it may be worth getting some guidance from a mental health professional, she suggests.