Monday, August 27, 2012

Grieving the Loss of a Pet

Pets provide us with incredible companionship and affection, but they leave us far too soon. Anytime we love, we open up our hearts and make ourselves vulnerable to the pain of loss. Sadly, experiencing and coping with the death of a beloved pet is a part of life that is inevitable but always difficult. 

A pet has a unique way of entering our hearts, and those who have not experienced it are not likely to understand.  People who are puzzled, telling you “It’s just an animal” just don’t get it. They’ve missed out on the love and rewards you’ve been fortunate to enjoy. Seek out others whose perspective is like your own.

The grief that comes from losing a pet is as real, and can be as powerful, as the loss of any family member. When you find yourself in mourning over a pet, allow yourself time to grieve, and realize that tears and sadness are normal.

At certain times of the day, these feelings are likely to be more intense, such as entering an empty house or missing treat time or a bedtime cuddle. The death of a pet may also evoke many feelings, some unexpected. For some of us, any loss recalls memories of other losses in our lives, which magnifies our emotions. 

Dealing with a beloved sick or injured pet often forces us to make painful decisions, and the accompanying guilt can be overwhelming. Should I have done more? Was euthanasia the best option for my suffering pet? Could I have recognized the signs and symptoms of illness earlier? Give yourself the credit you deserve for doing the best you could with difficult options.

Your pet, like other family members, was unique, and can never be replaced.   The experiences you shared at that time in your life were special, and efforts to find another pet exactly like the one lost are certain to disappoint. When you’re ready to consider another pet, remind yourself that your new friend will also have special, endearing characteristics that can be overlooked if you insist on making comparisons.

We generally recommend letting some time pass before you adopt a new pet. Allow yourself to recognize your loss and don't seek to "replace" that space in your heart and your home. The temptation to compare your new pet to your lost friend may create more hurt when the new pet is not like her predecessor, and can get in the way of bonding with the new animal.

The time following the pet’s loss can be difficult for others in your household as well. Children may be confused or fearful, and need the opportunity to share feelings and learn about finality of death. Other animals in the household may also grieve, missing the companionship of an ever-present pal. Giving them a little extra attention will help soothe their experience of loss, and the affection they return will benefit you, as well.

Don’t deny yourself the experience of loving an animal again. When experiencing grief, it’s easy to say, “never again,” but the healing power of time can again open your heart to the joy and companionship of a pet.  Often, the best way to acknowledge and give thanks for the life of a pet is to offer a second chance to another when you are ready.  As you get acquainted and gain one another’s trust, you’ll discover proof that life indeed goes on, and that it’s possible to love again.


  1. What a poignant and wonderful post. You really summed things up well. Thank you!