Pet Loss

Pet Loss Support: What Pet Parents Need To Know

For many of us, pets are more than just companions; they’re family. We can share intense human-animal bonds with our pets. So naturally when we lose a beloved pet, we can experience deep grief.

April 30, 2023
Pet Loss Support: What Pet Parents Need To Know

Exploring the Emotions You May Experience

Grief is highly personal; everyone grieves differently and the process may vary with each loss. Despite variations, grief is often broken down into five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. 

  • Denial: It may be difficult to accept that the loved one is gone. Shock and disbelief are commonly experienced.
  • Anger: The loss may bring about feelings of anger towards oneself, others, or the situation in general.
  • Bargaining: Bargaining is a common response to feeling out of control. Desiring to change the outcome of the situation is normal when attempting to make sense of the loss.
  • Depression: Persistent and intense feelings of sadness, loneliness, hopelessness, and lack of interest in previously enjoyed activities, are hallmarks of this stage.
  • Acceptance: Acceptance does not mean the loss doesn’t bring sadness or pain, rather that the bereaved has come to terms with it and is able to move forward.

It’s important to recognize that there is no right or wrong way to grieve and these stages may occur in different orders, overlap, or vary in intensity and length.  Additionally, it is common to experience a mix of concurrent emotions which may include confusion, apathy, guilt, sadness, and anxiety. These feelings can also ebb, flow, and cycle back along with the aforementioned stages.

How Loss Can Affect Your Family

Losing a pet can have a huge impact on family dynamics. Pets often anchor family life via routines; feedings, exercise, grooming, and even medicating can become a part of the normal rhythms within a family. As a part of the family, pets take on a role within that family unit. They may provide the comedic relief or be the one who gives the best cuddles; whatever their role, when a pet dies the dynamics of the family unit shift in their absence.

Losing a family pet is a traumatic experience for everyone involved. But it can bring particular challenges for children, as the loss of a pet is often the first loss a child will experience. Depending on the age of your child, they may not understand death or how to cope with their emotions. Your child may experience outbursts of sadness and anger. Be patient and honest with them and encourage them to express their emotions and feelings.

Grief is difficult and family can be difficult. But sharing your grief with your family can help bring you closer together and speed up the recovery process for all of you.

How Loss Can Affect Your Pets

Animals can also experience grief and loss. Similar to the human experience, animals react to the passing of a family member in individual ways. While some may show outward signs of grief and others do not, it’s important to remember that there is no “right” or “wrong” way for animals to grieve.  

Common signs that your pet is grieving may include:

  • Appetite changes
  • Behavioral and personality changes
  • Separation anxiety, possibly leading to destructive behavior
  • Whining, howling, or yowling
  • Pacing and searching the house
  • Hiding from and avoiding others
  • Changes in bathroom habits and grooming (particularly in cats)

It’s important to note that these signs can also be indicative of several other health conditions.  Let your family veterinarian know if you see any of these changes in your pet.

How Loss Can Affect You

Losing someone important can come as a shock. Even if you were expecting the loss, you may still find it hard to accept and cope. You may experience sadness, anger, irritability, and guilt, which can affect your daily life. You may lose your appetite, withdraw from those around you, and even experience physical symptoms of grief such as digestive problems. Feeling more tired than usual, experiencing loneliness, emptiness, or a lack of motivation to do things you enjoy are all normal in mourning.

These feelings may seem unexpected, embarrassing, or overwhelming, and there may be a temptation to ignore the pain of loss. However, ignoring the grieving process will only prolong it and may even make it more difficult to move on into healing.

Pet Loss Resources for Those in the Grieving Process

Losing a pet is hard. But you don’t have to go through it alone. There are many online resources and blogs surrounding pet health and pet loss as well as pet loss hotlines, support groups, and grief counselor services.

Give yourself time and seek out the resources and support you need to help you move forward.  Dealing with grief is challenging and painful but it is also an opportunity to find healing, growth, and community.


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