Coping with losing a pet
Coping with Losing a Pet – Grieving the Loss of a Dog, Cat or Other Animal

Regardless of the type of animal that you’ve welcomed into your family, there’s no doubt that pet ownership is a true labour of love. Make no mistake; owning a dog or a cat can bring incredible joy into your life, while some studies have suggested that caring for a canine may even help you to cope with mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. 

There will also come a time when your beloved pet passes away, and this can trigger immense feelings of vulnerability and sadness. Coping with this can be exceptionally difficult, particularly as our pets are so reliant on us during their lifetime and their passing can leave us carrying an additional burden of guilt.

Below, we’ll offer some advice on how to cope with losing a pet, and the challenging grieving process that follows.



What to Expect When Losing a Pet

Every individual responds differently to loss. This applies to the passing of both pets and people, so there is no definitive way of determining exactly how you will feel during the grief process.

There are universal feelings and sensations that characterise grieving for a pet, including the immense, emotional pain that ensues when your furry friend passes away. It’s important that you recognise this as a perfectly normal emotion from the outset, just as it’s only natural for you to feel an underlying sense of sadness.

In a strange way, you must start the grief process by embracing these feelings, as this ensures that you communicate them openly and refrain from ever feeling ashamed about their presence. 

But what are the other feelings that characterise the loss of a pet? Let’s take a look:


Anger: Anger is a natural and almost universal stage of the grief process, while it is often directed at the cause of your pet’s passing (such as an illness). It’s important to express this as constructively as possible, perhaps by diverting this negative energy into a positive action or pastime.


Guilt: Some pet-owners may not be able to spend every waking hour with their pet, despite the fact that our furry friends remain almost entirely reliant on us. This can create a sense of guilt in the wake of their passing, so it’s crucial that you confront this and remember all of the things that you did to care for them during their lifetime.


Sadness: Sadness is another universal aspect of grief, and one that you must deal with in a direct and proactive manner. This ensures that you do not attempt to repress this emotion, as while this may be an instinctive and natural reaction it’s also central to the process of grief and accepting loss.


Depression: The same principle can be said for depression, although this is a mental state that you should strive to combat after the loss of a pet. After all, this can be extremely debilitating and often occurs when the grieving process lasts for an extended period of time, so try to talk openly with those who are close to you and share your feelings.


The Question of Euthanising your Pet – Should you Consider This?

If your pet has fallen prey to a long-term illness, you may be required to take difficult decisions as pet owners. More specifically, the question of euthanising your pet may be discussed, and while it may be natural to resist this there are instances when it represents the best course of action and one that can actually ease the grief process.

Imagine that your pet has a terminal illness that is leading a gradual but relentless decline, either in their physical or mental state (or both). While this is an incredibly difficult thing to countenance, taking this proactive course can prevent your pet from experiencing pain and ensure that they pass in genuine peace.

Old Dog

This also affords you time to say goodbye, as this can provide closure and enable you to make your pet’s final days as enjoyable as possible. So, while it’s not a decision that should ever be taken lightly and you should always base this heavily on the feedback from your vet, it may help to preserve the memory of your beloved pet, minimise their pain and aid the grieving process.

On a final note, we’d recommend that you stay with your pet when the time comes for them to be euthanised. While this is also an exceptionally difficult thing to witness, it provides an opportunity to release your emotions and allows you to be with your pet when they need you the most.


The Grieving Process After Losing a Pet – And how to Cope with This

We’ve already touched briefly on the grieving process that ensues after the loss of a pet, and the importance of embracing this and dealing with your emotions as proactively as possible.

There are a couple of key points to remember here, the first of which relates to the amount of time that you should expect to grieve. Put simply, this can take alternative lengths of time depending on each individual, along with the circumstances in which their pet was lost. So, it’s important that you manage your expectations and do not set unattainable goals in terms moving through the grief process, and instead allow nature to take its course.

However you feel, and regardless of how long the feelings of shock and anguish persist, you must always keep in mind that these emotions are entirely natural during times of grief. If you’ve grown to love your pet and consider them a true family member, nature dictates that their passing will leave a huge emotional void that will take time to fill.


This is why you should never be ashamed of these feelings, nor strive to hide them from the rest of the world. People who are true friends will offer support and understanding, while anyone who questions your right to grieve the passing of a pet clearly has no comprehension of what you’re going through.

Openly communicating your feelings of grief and sharing these with trusted love ones is key to overcoming the loss of a pet, while hiding or suppressing your emotions will only make the process harder.


Practical Steps to Grieving the Loss of a Pet

While grieving the loss of a pet may be normal, it’s important to note that there are healthy ways to deal with negative emotions and manage the process as progressively as possible.

We’ve broken down these practical and actionable steps below, so that you have some clear takeaways when dealing with the loss of a pet.


Don’t Let Anyone Tell you How to Feel: We’ve already touched on this briefly, and it’s an important consideration given people’s unfortunate penchant for speaking openly and carelessly about issues of which they have no understanding. Just remember that while people are entitled to their opinions concerning the loss of a pet (regardless of whether they’ve experienced this or not), you’re emotions remain entirely valid and you should never let anyone else dictate how you feel.


Consider Holding a Pet Funeral: Pet funerals are not as popular as you may think, but this offers a number of benefits to grieving owners. Firstly, it affords them an opportunity to say goodbye to their beloved pet, through the form of a touching service or memorial. Secondly, this serves as a celebration of their life and everything that was special about them, which can create a more positive outlook but it often lost during the overwhelming negativity of grief.


Create a Memorial: On the subject of a memorial, you may also consider planting a tree or create a mural to commemorate the life of your pet. This represents a corporal celebration of their life, and in some respects it enables their memory to live on in a meaningful and tangible form.


Speak to Others who Have Lost Pets: On a final note, we’d also recommend that you speak to others who have lost pets. This can include people who you know and online support groups, with regional and national chapters capable of offering practical advice on how to cope with grief. This may also help to validate your feelings and provide greater peace of mind as you look to get on with your life.


The Last Word

Losing a pet can be one of the most emotionally challenging experiences in life, and dealing with it requires patience, understanding and a willingness to share your feelings openly.

Just remember that there are no fixed rules that underpin the grief process, as while this is often characterised by feelings such as sadness and anger they can affect you in various different ways.

This should help you to manage your expectations during the process of grieving, while pursuing positive steps to celebrate your pet’s life should also provide effective coping mechanisms.