Death of Your Pet
Having a beloved pet die is traumatic and painful, and the most
natural thing in the world is to have intense feelings of grief and
sadness. Our pets give us unconditional love, are always there to
patiently listen to us when we need to talk, and are often our best
Even though psychologists have long maintained the grief that
pet owners experience after the death of their pet is comparable to
the grief suffered after the death of a family member, society
doesn't offer a grieving pet owner much sympathy or compassion.
Consequently, pet owners often feel isolated in their grief, and
are without the support they so desperately need.
When a person dies, friends and relatives show their support by
attending the funeral or memorial service. Even in weeks following
the funeral, people usually continue to provide comfort to the
bereaved person in a number of different ways. Usually when a pet
dies there is no funeral, no memorial service; often friends and
family members don't understand the depth of the loss that is
Stages of Grief
The emotions that you may experience after the death of a pet
often go through various stages, such as denial, anger, depression,
and finally, acceptance. Don't be surprised at the overwhelming
grief that you feel; when you love profoundly, you will mourn
profoundly. The intensity and length of the grieving process
depends on many factors, but a lack of support prolongs your
feelings of anguish. You may want to seek the help of a counselor
or a pet loss support group, which are often sponsored by local
Humane Societies and/or veterinarians. As time passes, your pain
will subside as you focus more on the good times and wonderful
memories of your pet, and not on the death. Even though the grief
and pain may be intense right now, don't rule out someday having
another pet. A new pet could never replace your dearly loved
companion, but will fulfill your need to nurture and care for a pet
-- once again providing you with that treasured unconditional
Helping Children Cope with the Death of a
Although children tend to grieve for shorter periods of time,
they can be as initially devastated as an adult can by the death of
a pet, if not more so. Although each will react differently, some
things can prove helpful to a child:
- Encourage your child to talk openly about their pet. Include
your child in all family discussions and talk about death and dying
honestly. If you can be honest and open about your own grief, your
child won't be as likely to hold back their emotions or feel
- Give your child plenty of comfort and hugs.
- Make sure to inform their teacher about the death of their
- Never tell your child that the pet was "put to sleep," or that
"God took your pet." Your child may start to have fears that God
will "take" them, their siblings, or you; and your child also may
become frightened of going to sleep.
- Encourage your child to cherish the happy memories of their
pet, and help them say good-bye in whatever way they choose.
Can Other Family Pets Grieve?
Animals can become very attached to each other when they coexist
in the same household, and can display intense symptoms of stress
when they are separated. They may become depressed, nervous, or
restless, or they may begin having disturbances in their sleeping
and eating patterns. They may also wander around, seeking their
companion, or they may become more needy and desire undivided
attention from you. If your pet displays any of these symptoms, the
following guide may be helpful:
- Don't overdo when it comes to giving your pet extra attention;
it may lead to problems with separation anxiety.
- Don't let your pet's normal routine be interrupted; continue
all the regular activities you usually do with him/her.
- Do be flexible and patient. If your pet doesn't seem to have an
appetite, don't try changing food or feeding times. Allow your pet
to go at their own pace; however, consult your veterinarian if
there is a drastic change in eating patterns for any extended
period of time.
- Don't get a new pet immediately. Give your surviving pet (and
yourself) time to mourn.
Helping the Healing Process
As time passes, healing will occur, but there are several things
you can do for yourself in the meantime:
- Give yourself permission to mourn, and consider avoiding others
who don't understand.
- Take time to heal. Don't let anyone tell you how long a
"normal" grieving period should be.
- Lean on friends and family. Don't be afraid to ask for help;
you may want to take advantage of support groups for grieving pet
- Remember to get plenty of rest, eat sensibly and exercise.
- Memorialize your pet in whatever way you feel comfortable. You
will find closure and, at the same time, pay meaningful tribute to
your beloved pet.
Grief is more than likely the most difficult emotion a person
can experience, especially when someone is mourning the death of
their precious pet. However, more and more resources are becoming
available to help us recognize that feelings of grief are
completely natural, and above all, that we are not alone.