Coping With The Loss Of A Pet: Grief Resources

Medically reviewed by Paige Henry
Updated February 23, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

The loss of a pet can cause grief, difficult emotions, and distress. Seeking pet loss support can be vital.

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Losing a pet can take a toll on your mental health

Just as you might bond with family or a best friend, animal companions, such as cats and dogs, can become part of your daily routines. With pets, we often feel unwavering and unconditional love, and their innocence can make it difficult to bear when they cross the rainbow bridge.

Coping with the intense grief and sadness that can follow the loss of a beloved pet may feel challenging. However, talking to loved ones, joining a pet loss support group, or seeking guidance from a veterinarian or a humane society can help you navigate the pet grieving process. Though you may never forget losing your furry friend, there are ways you can manage your emotions during the bereavement process.

How to cope with the loss of your pet

Different people with pets grieve and may cope with loss in different ways, some experiencing anticipatory grief when their pet's health declines. Pet loss grief and the grieving process may take longer for some than others, but grief may not be linear.

Join a pet loss support group

The support and camaraderie provided by resources like pet loss support groups and pet loss hotlines can be invaluable. You might start your recovery by reaching out to others in your community who have also lost pets. These people may understand the grief process and avoid invalidating your experience as grieving pet parents. Family may also be able to help you through the grieving process, especially if they know your beloved pet and are also pet owners. 

Online or local groups in your city might help you find grief resources and a sense of belonging during your healing process. Online groups may have message boards on their site to help you connect with others. They might also connect you with a professional licensed in grief counseling who can help you cope with feeling sad if it impacts your daily routine.

Do an activity in your pet's memory

It may be helpful to try an activity or create an item in your pet’s memory. Arranging a home burial, planting a tree for them, or creating a photo album or scrapbook could be a powerful way to celebrate the loss of a beloved pet and keep their memory alive. If they enjoyed a particular food, toy, or place, consider incorporating it into your memorial service to further express your love for them.

Some individuals plan a funeral or memorial in their pet's name and invite those closest to them. During the ceremony, you could read aspects you loved about having them in your life and bury them with one of their favorite items if you opted out of cremation.

Practice self-care 

While you grieve the loss of your pet, practice healthy self-care. Grief can be exhausting physically and mentally, so ensure you are replenishing your reserves as a form of pet loss support. Exercise can release the necessary endorphins to stabilize your mood, and even if the last thing you feel like doing is eating, make an effort to maintain a healthy diet to give your immune system a boost. You may find that taking care of yourself helps you heal.

Your children and other pets may also experience grief upon realizing their furry companion is no longer around. If you have children and surviving pets relying on you for care, you may want to offer them extra attention as you go through the healing process together. Your surviving pets may also want to comfort you during this time. Spend time with them to feel loved and remember you are not alone. Eventually, you may choose to adopt a new pet. Although a new pet can never replace the one you lost, it may give you something to care for. In times of loss, coping by experiencing love for a new pet can be helpful.

Helping children cope with the loss of a pet

The dying process of a pet, especially involving euthanasia and a terminally ill pet that’s suffering, may be challenging for children because it could be the first time they have faced a pet's death. You may feel that this increases your grief, as you are experiencing your grief and helping your children understand and face loss simultaneously. They may blame themselves for not being able to help or save their pet from an illness, or they may express anger and blame you or the vet who was putting their pet to sleep. These are all perfectly normal responses to grief and pet loss.

It may feel tempting to tell your child that their pet has run away or has a new home. While this may be a temporary fix, your child could experience difficulties. They may spend weeks, months, or years hoping for and expecting the pet to return. Furthermore, if the truth is discovered, the child may feel angry and betrayed on top of the grief they could have initially felt if they were told the truth.

Support your child by being honest, open, and communicative. Grieve together and allow your child to participate in the pet's memorial. They might want to write a letter, leave a treat, or talk about their fun memories with their dog. These can all be healthy ways to handle grief. You could also look for children’s support groups in your area or through online websites if you think they may be beneficial for your child.

Helping a senior cope with the loss of a pet

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Seniors may adopt pets for companionship in older life. If their pet dies, it may feel challenging for an older adult to cope with the loss as a pet owner. For example:

  • They may otherwise live alone and be reminded of the losses they have experienced because they consider their pet a part of the family.
  • They may be in a fragile state, so grief may threaten their mental and physical health.
  • They may be unable to get a new pet, as they may fear the pet may outlive them, or there may come a day when they are unable to care for the pet physically or financially.

For these reasons, senior pet owners might require support in confronting the loss. One way to get support is by reaching out to friends or attending social gatherings like cards or bingo games. Some technical services offer phones or video chat platforms that are simpler in design for seniors to use to contact their families easily. These can also help prevent loneliness.

If an older loved one is having extreme difficulty coping with the loss, they may benefit from seeking professional help. Seniors may also be interested in volunteering at a local animal shelter to be close to animals without taking on the responsibility of another pet. Some studies suggest using robot animals for seniors experiencing dementia or loneliness who crave companionship.

Why is losing a pet so difficult?

While you can take steps to cope with losing your pet, it may feel highly challenging for many. Pets may change your life in monumental ways. They can help people stay active, get out and be more social, and offer joy when they do something sweet or make us laugh when they do something silly. Many pet owners may find that caring for their pets satisfies a nurturing instinct. 

Those living alone may find comfort and joy in having a pet companion. Several of these aspects may no longer be present when a pet dies. Owners may also experience guilt or shame as part of their grieving process. The owner may have been unable to afford the necessary care to prolong the pet's life, or there may have been a way to prevent death. Even if there was no other option, owners might feel they did something wrong.  

In an accidental or unexpected death, a pet's owner may struggle to heal from the loss or understand why it happened. They may spend time ruminating over how the accident could have been prevented or what they could or should have done differently. Turning to a higher power or seeking a deeper sense of meaning in the situation might help some individuals cope. Although all of these factors can be challenging to deal with, grief is often a normal part of loss, and learning to accept and validate your emotional responses may be beneficial. It's okay to grieve your pet, and during this time, you might wonder whether the intensity of your emotions is normal or how long this grieving process will last.

The grieving process

The grieving process for a pet is a personal experience and can feel the same as that for a person. Everyone grieves in their own way. We may all come to terms differently with loss and experience healing on our timeline. Once you reach the acceptance stage of grief, you may not forget your pet or the bond you had, but you might feel more comfortable with their loss with time. Even if you feel like you are free from grief, it flares up at certain moments, causing tears, stress, or memories to come back. These can be normal and natural experiences.

If you want to repress your grief, know that it may be harmful. Studies show that suppressing emotions can negatively impact your overall health. If you allow yourself to feel and express your grief, you might find that you heal faster than if you try to ignore your grief and press on when you aren't ready. 

Grieving process stages may include the following:

  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

Everyone processes grief differently, and you might experience a combination of these stages, or these stages in a different order.

Others might act or speak insensitively during your process. They may not understand why you are grieving a pet. However, your loss is not insignificant due to the opinions of others. It may be helpful to seek comfort from those who validate and support how you feel. 

Counseling for grief 

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Losing a pet can take a toll on your mental health

Working with pet loss counselors can be a way to seek support during grieving. However, you may not feel like leaving the house for office therapy visits when feeling down. In that case, online therapy can be a beneficial way to get support without leaving home.  

Online therapy can be as effective as face-to-face therapy for treating grief and other mental health concerns. A review of 123 studies on online counseling proved this, citing convenience and other factors as reasons for people preferring online options to traditional ones. Whether it's grief, depression, anxiety, or another symptom you're experiencing, online therapy may be a viable tool for clients to heal and move forward.     

An online counseling platform like BetterHelp may connect you with licensed therapists equipped to walk you through each step of your journey with grief. Coping with the pain and hurt after losing a pet is not something you must endure on your own.

Read what others have to say about their experience with our licensed mental health providers.

Therapist reviews

“Tiffany has been wonderful. The last six months have been a journey through the worst time of my life. Tiffany has been there to help break down some emotional barriers and allow me to grieve, as well as find a way to deal with the additional emotions that have come with it. She's been wonderful.”

“I feel confident in stating Erika probably saved my life. With her help, I grieved the loss of ability to work, brain surgery, divorce, my dog's death, and the loss of a relationship with my stepsons. I know it sounds like a bad country western song. With Erika’s help, I got through it and continue to work through it.”

Takeaway

Losing a pet can be a unique loss that often takes time to work through. Though you may never forget your pet, you can take steps to manage and cope with your emotions. Confiding in a therapist may help you work through your feelings productively with up-to-date therapeutic techniques for grief. Although healing may not be linear, seeing a therapist could be an act of self-care during this challenging time.

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