Pets often become a beloved part of the family and therefore it is absolutely heart-breaking when we lose them. Joanne sadly lost her cat Rocher during the pandemic and 3 months later lost her horse Badger at the end of 2020.

It is important to take the time to grieve the loss of your beloved pet and deal with the pain in a healthy manner. This can feel overwhelming and we all respond to loss differently - there is no “normal” timetable for grieving. You should never feel ashamed or guilty about grieving for an animal friend.

Helplines and Support

  • In the U.S.: Call the ASPCA Pet Loss Hotline at 877-474-3310
  • In the UK: Call the Pet Bereavement Support Service at 0800 096 6606.
  • In other countries: Visit Chance’s Spot to find support near you.
  • Don’t let anyone tell you how you should feel - your grief is your own and nobody can tell you when it is time to "move on." Allow yourself to feel what you feel and do not feel ashamed about it. It's okay to be sad, angry, to cry, or neither of those things. It is still okay to laugh and find moments of joy. And it is okay to let go when you are ready.
  • Reach out to other people who have lost pets - if you are comfortable talking to others about your loss then there are pet loss helplines, support groups and online message boards available to offer help and support. You will also most likely know a friend or a loved one who has lost a pet who can be sympathetic about your loss and may understand what you are going through.
  • A funeral or gathering could help with healing - you and your family members could share your feelings and memories of your pet. Ignore people who think it’s inappropriate to hold a funeral for a pet - you should do what feels right for you.
  • Create a legacy - you could celebrate the life of your pet by preparing a memorial, planting a tree, composing a photo album or scrapbook, or sharing memories with others. Remembering the fun times and the love that you shared can help you to move on.
  • Take care of yourself! - the stress and sadness of losing a pet can reduce your energy, motivation and emotional reserves. Taking care of your mental and physical wellbeing will help you get through this difficult time. Eat healthy foods, get plenty of sleep, spend time with people you love, and exercise regularly to help regulate your mood and release endorphins.
  • Try to maintain your normal routine - especially if you have other pets, as they can also experience loss when a pet dies. Maintaining their daily routine, or even increasing exercise and play times, will not only benefit your other pets but can also help boost your mood and outlook on life, too.
  • Seek professional help if you need it! - if your grief interferes with your daily life and ability to function, your doctor or a mental health professional can evaluate you for depression and offer you help and support.

Tips for seniors who are grieving the loss of a pet

The death of a pet can hit retired people and seniors even harder than younger adults who may be able to gain comfort from close family, or distract themselves with the routine of work. Your pet may have been your sole companion, and taking care of the animal provided you with a sense of purpose.

Here are some tips to stay positive while remembering your companion.

  • Stay connected with friends - dogs especially can help you meet new people or regularly spend time with friends and neighbours while walking in the park. Having lost your pet, try not to spend your days in future alone. Set yourself a target of spending time with at least one person per day, for example. This regular face-to-face contact can help you avoid depression and stay positive. You could call an old friend or relative, or join a club to meet new people.
  • Stay active - this helps boost your immune system and increase your energy, so it is important to keep your activity levels up. Find an activity you enjoy or join a group to help motivate you and connect with other people with similar interests.
  • Try to find a new purpose or interest - caring for your pet previously occupied your time and boosted your mood, so try to fill that time by doing something new such as volunteering, taking a class for something you have always wanted to do/learn, or even getting a new pet (when the time is right for you).

Helping children to understand and grieve the loss of a pet

Losing a pet may be your child’s first experience of death, and therefore your first opportunity to teach them about coping with the grief and pain that inevitably comes after loving another living being. 

  • Be honest - Some parents may feel that they should shield their children from the sadness of losing a pet by either not talking about the situation, or creating a story such as saying the animal ran away. However, this can leave a child feeling even more confused and betrayed when they finally learn the truth. It is much better to be honest with your child and allow them to grieve in their own way.
  • Let your child see you express your own grief - this can encourage them to express their own feelings openly, and prevent them from feeling ashamed or guilty. Children should be proud of having so much compassion and caring about their pet so much!
  • Reassure your child - let them know that it was not their fault. Death can raise a lot of fears and questions in a child. It’s important to talk about their feelings and any concerns they may have.
  • Give the child the opportunity to create a memento of their pet - such as a photograph or album, a cast of the animal’s paw print, or another way they would like to remember their companion.
  • Do not rush out to get the child a “replacement pet” - it is important to give the child a chance to grieve the loss that they feel. You could unintentionally send the message that grief and sadness can simply be overcome by buying a replacement.

Getting another pet after losing one

It is an amazing thing to share your life with another companion animal, but when you should do so is very personal. It may be tempting to quickly fill the void left by your pet’s death by immediately getting another pet, but in most cases it is best to mourn the old pet first, and wait until you’re ready to open your home (and your heart) to a new animal. You could initially volunteer at a local rescue or animal shelter, which is not only great for the pets, but will allow you to see if you are ready for a new pet in your life.

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