Grieving a pet: How to cope with the loss of a dog

how to cope with the loss of a dog
How to cope with the loss of a petUberphotos - Getty Images

Pets aren't just animals. Beloved family members, they are faithful companions who provide us with unconditional love. Because of this, it can be incredibly difficult and emotional when you lose a pet.

Grieving a pet can be similar to mourning the loss of a family member, with many owners feeling deep loneliness and isolation. Lianna Champ, grief recovery specialist and author of How to Grieve Like A Champ, tells Country Living: "You lose all the companionship, security, comfort and love that was given freely and consistently, sometimes over many years."

While there's no right or wrong way to grieve, there are healthy ways to cope with your loss. Take a look at the ways in which we can get support, and support one another, during this period.

How to cope with the loss of a pet

dog bed, toys, food and water as laid out at a hotel that accepts dogs
Catherine Ledner

Grieving a pet can feel similar to grieving a family member, and because of this, it can bring similar emotions to the forefront. Grief is different for everyone. It doesn't follow a particular sequence or timeline.

Take time to talk things over with your friends and family. If you need additional support, there are also specific services, such as The Blue Cross' free pet bereavement service, a confidential phone line offered by Cats Protection called Paws to Listen, and The British Horse Society's Friends at the End support. It may also help to speak to your vet or GP.

"It takes time to reconcile our feelings following any loss," Lianna explains. "Just like humans, pets have their own unique personalities. Each relationship with every pet we have is totally unique."

"You have to take the time to mourn your loss, lick your wounds and, when you feel better you will know when or if you want to introduce a new pet into the family fold."

How to help children understand the loss

coping with loss of a pet
Jeffrey Coolidge - Getty Images

The best thing you can do to help your child cope with pet loss is to communicate openly. "Try not to use phrases like 'put to sleep’'– this can be confusing, especially for younger children," explain the PDSA.

"They might think their pet is resting and will come back soon. It's also best not to tell them your pet has been 'rehomed' or 'gone to live somewhere else'. Your child might think it’s their fault your pet is gone or hope that they come back again."

You may also want to consider the age that they are when thinking about how to approach the topic. Younger children may not be quite as understanding of the situation as older children, who may have a lot more questions. Even though it might be hard for you to answer all of them, it's important to be as forthcoming as you can with them.

How to remember your pet

Remembering the happy times and celebrating their lives can be key to dealing with the loss. And that's when having something tangible like a memory box or tree planted in their honour can be especially helpful.

For more ideas, we've put together a list of some of the most beautiful ways to remember your dog, cat or pet.

Should you get another pet?

"Sometimes we are conditioned to think that just because we have lost a pet, going out and adopting another will make us feel better," Lianna tells us. "I have lost several of my pets over the years and each time I have, I have been completely devastated. Allowing myself to feel awful and cry as much as I needed to, helped release some of the love bursting inside.

"I always trust my heart to heal through these losses and instinctively I know when its time to open our home to give another animal a safe, loving and happy haven for as long as we can."

If you need support, contact the Pet Bereavement Support Service (PBSS) on 0800 096 6606

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