Coping with the Death of Your Pet

One Health Organization > Cats > Coping with the Death of Your Pet

By Athena Cardiasmenos, MSW, One Health Organization volunteer

Anyone who’s deeply loved a pet knows the intense pain that follows the death of a pet. I know how it feels.

Heru changed my life and opened my heart. He will always be remembered with love and gratitude. I love this picture of us.

For many of us, our relationship with our pet is one of the most important relationships in our lives. That’s why the death of a pet is such a significant loss. Our pets are our best friends, confidants, and members of our family. They bring us love, laughter, joy, and companionship. For some, they are a lifeline to keeping healthy, such as service dogs and therapy animals. Unfortunately, sometimes the loss of our pet is minimized by society, which can leave us isolated in our grief.

When a person dies, we usually have some sort of ceremony or ritual to honor them. It’s understood that those who are grieving need time to heal before they can fully function.

When a pet dies, we might feel rushed to “move on” or feel pressured to “get over it” and function as if things are normal. Of course, things aren’t normal. We lost someone who was very close to us and we’re grief stricken. We need to give ourselves permission to grieve and time to heal.

There’s no formula to grieving over a pet, but there are common stages or emotions people go through such as anger, guilt, denial, and immense sadness. Many people feel okay one minute and overwhelmed by intense emotions the next. Let yourself have your feelings, whatever they may be, rather than suppressing or ignoring them. There isn’t a time limit or way you are supposed to feel. Grief is different for everyone and also changes with every loss.

Grief, while completely normal, is a very difficult experience. Though nothing will take the pain away, the following suggestions may help you to move through the process:

These are the mementos I keep to help me cherish the memories I have of Heru.

  1. Perform a ritual or ceremony as a way to honor your pet’s life i.e. have a funeral, celebration of life, create a memorial.
  2. Take good care of yourself: get extra rest, maintain a good diet, exercise and do one thing each day that brings you joy.
  3. Use creativity as an outlet to express your feelings i.e. Journal, draw, sing.
  4. Reach out for social support from friends, family, pet loss support groups, online forums and professionals, as needed.
  5. Set aside time to grieve every day, but then, when you feel ready, start to develop new routines and habits. This can be very difficult as many of those routines may have included your pet. Go slow, but also move forward.

Most of all, be patient and kind to yourself. Trust that you know what is right for you. You’ve probably been through loss before and you know more than you think about what you need to heal. Remember the unconditional love that your pet gave you and know that he/she would want you to continue feeling that love and treating yourself as they treated you.

If you think you may need or want more support to help you cope with the loss of a pet, please consider learning more from these professionally developed resources:

If you’d like to speak to someone who understands that losing a beloved pet is like losing a family member, please consider reaching out to one of these groups by phone:

  • ASPCA Pet Loss Hotline: (877) 474-3310
  • University of Illinois C.A.R.E. Pet Loss Helpline: (877) 394-2273

If you are a professional and need resources to help people cope with the death of a loved one (person or pet), please consider the resources available at Mt. Hope Grief Services.

Understandably, we cannot guarantee that the above will help you feel better. We do hope you find this of some help.

We wish you well and peace of mind.

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