Coping with the death of a pet

Anyone who has a pet can appreciate what a huge part of our life is shared with them. Animals in all shapes and sizes can enhance our lives and provide us with love, companionship, purpose and joy. When a much-loved pet sadly dies, it can be difficult to know how to cope. A bereaved pet owner is not only grieving for the loss of their animal, but also the lifestyle that accompanied caring for them. This article gives some thoughts about how to cope with pet bereavement.


How to cope with pet bereavement 

Allow yourself to feel your emotions

Losing a pet can be just as painful as losing a person, and the feelings of grief are just as strong. It can be easy to dismiss these emotions with comments such as “he was only an animal” and therefore attempt to suppress how you feel. Allow yourself to experience your emotions and try and express them if you can.  

Find someone to talk to

Many people who have strong emotional bonds with their pets will often use them as their emotional support. If you are feeling sad, a cuddle with a cat may make things better, a dog walk can calm you down, or interacting with a reptile can settle your mind. When you lose the animal who provided you with so much support, it can be hard to know where to turn when they are gone.

Talking to someone can help. If you don’t feel comfortable talking to a person in your life, you can phone the Samaritans (116 123), or you can contact the Blue Cross animal bereavement support line (0800 096 6606). Both organisations have well-trained staff who will understand how you feel.

Process how your pet died

Pets can die of natural causes or accidents and this can be completely out of our control. The shock of sudden death can be severe. However, in many cases, pet owners have to make the decision to have their animal put to sleep, and this can be the cause of turmoil for the owners.

There are many factors to consider when making this decision. The welfare of the pet is of course paramount, but there are also practical considerations such as the financial cost of veterinary care, and the ability of the owner to care for the animal which may contribute to the decision. An owner who has had to make the difficult decision to put their pet to sleep can feel a tremendous amount of guilt, and this can make the grieving process more difficult.

Understand the wider context of pet ownership

Our relationships with our pets are unique and it may help to think about how your animal enhanced your life in a wider context. Dog owners often enjoy the social aspects of dog walking and enjoy meeting up with other walkers on a daily basis. People who own show animals enjoy the preparation and excitement of taking them to an event. Horse owners relish the lifestyle of looking after a horse on a daily basis.

The loss of an animal can also mean the loss of a particular lifestyle, and this can hit some people hard. If you find yourself in this position, it might be helpful to consider about how you can regain some of the missing aspects of your life.

Move forwards at your own pace

There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to move forward after losing a pet. Some people will want to find a new animal to love very quickly, while others will never want to own an animal again. Listen to your own instincts and do what feels right for you. Introducing a new pet into your life does not mean that you didn’t love the one that you lost.

Consider finding a way to remember your pet

There are many ways to remember a special pet. These can include creating jewellery out of animal hair, having paintings commissioned from photos, planting a tree in their memory, creating a memory box, or scattering their ashes in a special place. You will know what feels right for you. Having a special way to remember your pet can help you to experience and express your feelings of grief.

Losing a much-loved pet and companion can be a truly devastating experience. Experiencing bereavement and feeling grief is a very personal process and is unique to the individual. There is no way of avoiding or rushing this process, but acknowledging how you feel, expressing your emotions and talking about them can help you to get through this very difficult time.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Basingstoke, Hampshire, RG23 8PY
Written by Isobel Brooks, BSc, MSc, MBACP (Accred)
Basingstoke, Hampshire, RG23 8PY

Isobel Brooks is a Psychodynamic Psychotherapist working in private practice in Basingstoke. ( She offers both face to face and online sessions. Isobel also works part-time for Basingstoke Counselling Service.

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