How to Deal with the Loss of a Pet

Coping with the loss of a pet is a difficult topic, but one that should be discussed.

Did you know that research has confirmed that losing a pet can hurt just as much as losing a human relative? For some people, it can even be harder.

How to deal with the loss of a pet - Empty pet collar held in human hands

For some, losing a pet can cause devastating grief, but there are ways to cope with that loss.

Your pet is one of the only beings out there that loves you unconditionally and is always there for you no matter what. They’re always happy to see you, regardless of what kind of mood you’re in or what kind of day you’ve had. They don’t hold grudges, and often their world revolves totally around you. Losing that kind of companion can cause devastating grief – no doubt about it.

Unfortunately, despite our own very real feelings and despite what research says, there is still some stigma surrounding the grief from the loss of a pet. You probably get bereavement leave from your employer if a human family member passes away, but what about your dog?

In many cases, you are expected to continue on as you would normally, even though your home feels completely empty and you are struggling to cope with the loss of your pet. The changes in routine, having to clean up and put away food bowls and pet beds, the leftover food that no one will eat – these are reminders everywhere of your best friend and what you shared together.

Coping with Losing a Pet

Grief from pet loss is real, and everyone copes with losing a pet differently. There is no right or wrong way to do it, but here are a few ideas that may help you handle your grief.

  • Take your time. For some people, time is the thing that heals all wounds. Know that it is normal to randomly burst into tears when you see something that reminds you of your pet. It’s normal to spend a lot of time thinking about her. It may take a few weeks before your grief begins to become more bearable, or it may take a few years. Everyone is different.
  • Make a donation. If you want to do something to honor your pet, make a donation or put in a few volunteer hours with the rescue or shelter you adopted her from. Even if you did not adopt your pet from a shelter, putting in some time around needy dogs and cats may be just the pick-me-up you need.
  • Keep busy. It is perfectly okay to sit at home and mope from time to time, but keeping busy and keeping your mind off of your pet loss can be helpful in some cases too. Enjoy some retail therapy, take a short trip, or go to the gym. Busy hands may lead to a quiet mind.
  • How to deal with the loss of a pet - Grieving man with head in hands in front of photos of pet dog

    Photos of your pet can help keep their memory close to you.

    Spend time with your family. Your family knew your pet the best and is likely feeling the same way you are. It can be validating and comforting to share your grief with another person. This isn’t just limited to human family members. Your other pets are probably feeling the emptiness in the home as well. Give them some extra cuddles and special treats during this time.

  • Memorialize your pet. You could save her collar, or simply display her ashes on a shelf. You could hang a photograph, a favorite toy, a pawprint, or whatever you think honors your pet most appropriately. Whatever you choose, this will help keep your cat or dog close to you, even though they are gone.
  • Talk about it. It may feel like you are more alone than ever, but chances are, you have a friend or human family member who has experienced a devastating pet loss before. It can help to know that someone else knows how you are feeling. And it can be therapeutic to just talk about your favorite memories with your dog or cat. Remember the good times, even when your loss is at the front of your mind.
  • Adopt another pet. This isn’t for everyone, but there are some people out there who just can’t stand the emptiness in their home and heart and want to fill that hole with another dog or cat very soon after losing one. This is okay, and people should not be shamed for it.

    How to deal with the loss of a pet - family with puppy at animal shelter

    Adopting another pet can fill the emptiness in your heart and give a pet a loving home.

  • Join a support group. There are many pet loss support groups out there, both in person and online. It can be very helpful to share how you’re feeling with other people who are exactly in the same position. Go once or go every week – whatever you need.
  • Practice self-care. Above all, take care of yourself. Self-care doesn’t always mean bubble baths and massages. It can be as simple as making sure that you get in a few healthy meals, that you get enough sleep at night, and that you do things that make you happy. Life is a little bit harder right now, but you can’t neglect your own needs during this time.

Whatever helps you grieve is okay and appropriate. No one else can tell you how to grieve. It is an intensely personal experience. Unfortunately, almost everyone who ever owns a pet must go through this process. You may find support in others who understand how you feel. But however you choose to cope with the loss of your pet, take care of yourself. It will get better, and you are not alone.