Losing a pet: Tips for coping with grief

Julia Dicconson
Content Manager
November 29, 2021

Losing a pet can be a devastating and extremely difficult process for owners and their families. It’s common to experience extreme sadness, guilt, or feelings of loneliness after a beloved pet dies. It is important to understand that pet grief is a natural response to the loss of a pet and it should be validated.

Just as the death of a close friend or relative can be heartbreaking, the loss of a pet that has shared a significant part of our lives can be equally difficult – if not harder, psychologists have found.

We’ve provided some tips to help you cope with the loss of a dog, cat, rabbit, or other much-loved pet, or to support a friend or loved one who is navigating pet grief.

Why does pet loss hurt so much?

Many of us share an intense love and bond with our animal companions. For us, a pet is not “just a dog” or “just a cat,” but rather a beloved member of our family, bringing unconditional companionship, fun, and joy to our lives.

Studies into pet grief suggest that the closer the person was with their deceased companion animal, the more intense their feelings of grief. This is especially felt in the elderly, single people, or childless couples whom consider their pets as “fur children” or at least valued members of the family.

As a consequence of that intense bond, owners and their families can feel alone and isolated in their grief after losing a pet. 

“The pain of loss can often feel overwhelming and trigger all sorts of painful and difficult emotions,” according to independent mental health support organisation HelpGuide

“While some people may not understand the depth of feeling you had for your pet, you should never feel guilty or ashamed about grieving for an animal friend.”

Tips for coping with losing a pet

Grief is not a temporary emotion. Just as grief after the passing of a human companion can present differently in every person and in varying intensity over time, the same is true after the loss of a pet. 

As such, there is no set formula for coping with grief.

Below are some positive things you can do to help ease the pain of losing a pet:

  • Print out pictures of your pet and put them in a frame or scrapbook. If you have kids or grandkids, encourage them to help you.
  • Express yourself creatively, through drawing, painting, writing poetry, or journaling can help process your emotions. This is another activity that kids might enjoy joining in.
  • Make a commitment to self-care and making positive changes in your own life. This could be by learning a new skill or taking up a new sport or hobby, volunteering, or spending more time with friends or family.
  • Become more active. Walking, bike riding and other forms of exercise have been scientifically proven to help boost your mood. If you can do these activities with kids or other pets, this will benefit all of you.
  • Offer to walk other dogs. It could be a friend’s or by volunteering at a local animal shelter.
  • Above all, allow yourself to express emotions. Crying or talking to those who you trust about your loss can be cathartic and help with the grieving process.

You can read more memorial ideas to honour your pet's life in our article here. If you still have some time left with your furry friend, check out our article: 9 pet memorial ideas to create a FUR-ever memory.

Billie Jean the dog and Rubin the cat were best pals.
Billie Jean the dog and Rubin the cat were best pals.

Supporting children through the loss of a pet

For many children, pets are their best friends. Additionally, the loss of a pet might be a child's first experience with death. That’s why losing their best mate can be especially devastating, particularly if the concept of death is too overwhelming for the child to grasp.

As the concept of losing a pet may be a new experience, it’s important to use concrete language to explain the permanency of death. Using words like “Fluffy went to sleep” can confuse them or even create a fear of going to sleep.

Children commonly feel a range of emotions and often find it difficult to express their grief. To support a child after losing a pet, it’s important to reassure them that what they are feeling is natural. 

Give them permission to work through their grief by talking to their friends and teachers about their pet’s passing. It can also help to open up about your own experiences of losing a pet, to show them that their feelings are validated.

You can read some more tips in our article How to support children with the loss of a pet, here.

Tips for helping pets through losing an animal friend

It’s not only humans that grieve the loss of a pet. Animals can also form firm attachments with one another.  

If there are other pets in the home, they can commonly react to the changed dynamics of the family. Pets will often search or sniff around for their friend and may crave more affection from their owners. 

Animals will often experience a transitional readjustment period without their missing mate, so try to keep their routines as normal as possible. Similarly, humans who have lost a pet sometimes compensate for the void left by their missing companion by increasing “hands-on” attention of the other pets in the household. 

It’s important to respect your pet’s desire for this additional petting, as animals may not always welcome more attention. Instead, you providing this attention through play and exercise with them will be beneficial for the both of you.

Billie Jean sniffs around for her pal Rubin, whose fur she could smell when his ashes came home with a memorial tuft of fur for the family to keep.

Final thoughts on losing a pet

The loss of a companion – human or animal – can leave a significant impact in the lives of those left behind. As such, feelings of grief, sadness, and other intense emotions, are totally valid and should not be dismissed. 

Eventually, you should start to feel enjoyment again. However, if you are experiencing prolonged feelings of sadness, it may be helpful to speak to your GP. Or for more immediate help, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Our articles Coping with pet grief and Supporting those grieving a pet offer some additional tips.

Well-meaning friends or relatives might suggest getting a new pet to fill the void left by the loss of your animal companion. Only you will know when the time is right to welcome a new pet into your family.

We’re here for you

Don’t wait until the very end. It’s important to consider your pet’s end-of-life journey early, so that you, your family and your pet are all supported through the process.

When the time comes, we’re here for you. Goodbye Good Boy provides a range of end-of-life services to make the difficult process of saying goodbye a little easier. 

We offer quality of life assessments from qualified vets, specialist grief counselling, at home euthanasia from dedicated end of life veterinarians, as well as cremation services and memorial options to help remember your pet for their unique character.

We are with you at every step of the journey.

To find out more, you can call our team of passionate pet lovers on 1800 953 619.