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When A Pet Dies
Everything You Need to Know
About Losing A Pet and
How to Handle the Grief That Follows
( and why we need to change our attitudes about it )
FIRST - Watch This

Please watch this very short video to experience what this article is truly about. At the very least, we guarantee a smile. Then keep reading.

Contributors: Scientific American, Guy Winch, Susan Whitmore, HelpGuide

Hello. I'm Susan Whitmore. Soon after I started griefHaven, we began receiving many requests for support after the death of a pet. That didn't surprise me, since I had had my own painful experience with the death of our beloved dog, Brandy. Now you might be thinking it's just an animal, after all . Yet, to many people their pet is an integral part of their family, the only companion they have, a guide or therapy dog that has provided safety, love and comfort to someone, and for many the first loss they have ever had. That's why we can't compare losses. Plus, our ability to love is not finite, and when someone we love dies, it hurts.

Why the statement
"Oh come on. It was JUST a dog!" is untrue.

The losses we experience in life are unique to us, and it's impossible to measure whose pain is worse than another's. Why is that necessary anyway? So imagine that each person's loss is different because it's relative to who it was that died and the nature of the relationship and circumstances. For instance, if an elderly person who lives alone and suddenly loses their dog of 20 years--their only companion who has been with them through thick and thin and has also given their life meaning and purpose--dies, that person is going to grieve deeply and profoundly. I've had many people tell me in support groups that, after the death of their loved one, it was their pet who helped them every day because of the bond with their animal, the need to take care of them, and the love they returned so willingly. Snuggling with a furry friend when down or grieving is so comforting, and losing that pet later is a huge loss.
Children Love Their Pets Deeply
The love and bond shared between a child and a pet can be deep and meaningful. That pet's death is often a child's first experience with grief.

To learn more about how to help a child with grief, scroll down.

Scientific American Magazine Weighs In

Why We Need to Take Pet Loss Seriously
by Guy Winch

Losing a beloved pet is often an emotionally devastating experience. Yet as a society, we do not recognize how painful pet loss can be and how much it can impair our emotional and physical health. Symptoms of acute grief after the loss of a pet can last from one to two months, with symptoms of grief persisting up to a full year (on average). The New England Journal of Medicine reported in October 2017 that after her dog died, a woman experienced “broken heart syndrome”—a condition in which the response to grief is so severe the person exhibits symptoms that mimic a heart attack, including elevated hormone levels that can be 30 times greater than normal.

Although grief over the loss of a cherished pet may be as intense and even as lengthy as when a significant person in our life dies, our process of mourning is quite different. Many of the societal mechanisms of social and community support are absent when a pet dies. Few of us ask our employers for time off to grieve a beloved cat or dog because we fear doing so would paint us as overly sentimental, lacking in maturity or emotionally weak. Studies have found that social support is a crucial ingredient in recovering from grief of all kinds. Thus, we are not only robbed of invaluable support systems when our pet dies, but our own perceptions of our emotional responses are likely to add an extra layer of distress. We may feel embarrassed and even ashamed about the severity of the heartbreak we feel and, consequently, hesitate to disclose our feelings to our loved ones. That additional shame makes it harder for us to deal with the loss.

"The more validation we receive from those
around us, the quicker and the more complete
our psychological recovery will be."

Losing a pet can leave significant voids in our life that we need to fill: it can change our daily routines, causing ripple effects that go far beyond the loss of the actual animal. Caring for our pet creates responsibilities and a schedule around which we often craft our days. We get exercise by walking our dog, and we socialize with other owners at the dog runs. We awake early every day to feed our cat (or we are woken by a pet if we forget!), but we get a lot more done because of it.

Losing a pet disrupts these routines. Cats, dogs, horses and other cherished pets provide companionship, reduce loneliness and depression, and can ease anxiety. They support our emotional well-being and imbue our actions with meaning. This is why, in addition to emotional pain, we feel aimless and lost in the days and weeks after our pet dies.

Recovering from pet loss, as in all forms of grief, requires us to recognize these changes and find ways to deal with them. We need to seek social support from people we know will understand and sympathize with our emotions and not judge us for them. Many animal clinics offer bereavement groups for pet owners.

We might need to reorganize our routines and daily activities so we do not lose the secondary benefits we derived from having our pet. For example, if our exercise came from walking our dog, we need to find alternative ways to reach our daily “step goals.” If we spent most Saturday mornings with our fellow pet owners, we need to find other outlets through which we can socialize and enjoy the outdoors.

It is time we gave grieving pet owners the recognition, support and consideration they need. Yes, it is up to us to identify and address our emotional wounds when our pet dies, but the more validation we receive from those around us, the quicker and the more complete our psychological recovery will be.

About Guy Winch: Guy Winch is a psychologist, speaker and author. His book, "How to Fix a Broken Heart" (TED Books/Simon & Schuster, 2018), covers both pet loss and romantic heartbreak.
  In 2008, researchers found that pets
the "uncertainty of more complex relationships with humans."

Excerpted from HelpGuide

Many of us share an intense love and bond with our animal companions. For us, a pet is not “just a dog” or “just a cat,” but rather a beloved member of our family, bringing companionship, fun, and joy to our lives. A pet can add structure to your day, keep you active and social,  help you to overcome setbacks and challenges in life , and even provide a sense of meaning or purpose. So, when a cherished pet dies, it’s normal to feel racked by grief and loss.

The pain of loss can often feel overwhelming and trigger all sorts of painful and difficult emotions. While some people may not understand the depth of feeling you had for your pet, you should never feel guilty or ashamed about grieving for an animal friend.

While we all respond to loss differently, the level of grief you experience will often depend on factors such as your age and personality, the age of your pet, and the circumstances of their death. Generally, the more significant your pet was to you, the more intense the emotional pain you’ll feel. The role the animal played in your life can also have an impact. For example, if your pet was a working dog, service animal, or therapy animal, you’ll not only be grieving the loss of a companion but also the loss of a coworker, the loss of your independence, or the loss of emotional support. If you lived alone and the pet was your only companion, coming to terms with their loss can be even harder. And if you were unable to afford expensive veterinary treatment to prolong your pet’s life, you may even feel a profound sense of guilt.

While experiencing loss is an inevitable part of owning a pet, there are healthy ways to cope with the pain, come to terms with your grief, and when the time is right, perhaps even open your heart to another animal companion.
Guide Dogs Provide Love, Safety and A Special Bond
Dogs play various roles in the lives of their human family members. In some cases, such as guide dogs, they save lives.

Dogs have even be known to sit with their partners until help comes.
The grieving process after the loss of a pet

Sorrow and grief are normal and natural responses to death. Like grief for our friends and loved ones, grief for our animal companions can only be dealt with over time, but there are healthy ways to cope with the pain. Here are some suggestions:

Don’t let anyone tell you how to feel, and don’t tell yourself how to feel either. Your grief is your own, so let yourself feel whatever you feel without embarrassment or judgment. It’s okay to be angry, to cry or not to cry. It’s also okay to laugh, to find moments of joy, and to let go when you’re ready.

Reach out to others who have lost pets. Check out online message boards, pet loss hotlines, and pet loss support groups. If your own friends and family members are not sympathetic about pet loss, find someone who is. Often, another person who has also experienced the loss of a beloved pet may better understand what you’re going through.

Rituals can help healing. A memorial service can help you and your family members openly express your feelings. Ignore people who think it’s inappropriate to hold a memorial for a pet, and do what feels right for you.

Create a legacy. Preparing a memorial, planting a tree in memory of your pet, compiling a photo album or scrapbook, or otherwise sharing the memories you enjoyed with your pet can create a legacy to celebrate the life of your animal companion. Remembering the fun and love you shared with your pet can help you to eventually move on.

Look after yourself. The stress of losing a pet can quickly deplete your energy and emotional reserves. Looking after your physical and emotional needs will help you get through this difficult time. Spend time with people who care about you, eat a healthy diet, get plenty of sleep, and exercise regularly to release endorphins and help boost your mood.

If you have other pets, try to maintain your normal routine. Surviving pets can also experience loss when a pet dies, or they may become distressed by your sorrow. Maintaining their daily routines, or even increasing exercise and play times, will not only benefit the surviving pets but can also help to elevate your mood and outlook, too.
If your grief is persistent and interferes with your ability to function, s eek professional help .

Tips for seniors grieving the death of a pet

As we age, we experience an increasing number of major life changes, including the loss of beloved friends, family members, and pets. The death of a pet can hit retired seniors even harder than younger adults who may be able to draw on the comfort of a close family, or distract themselves with the routine of work. If you’re an older adult living alone, your pet was probably your sole companion, and taking care of the animal provided you with a sense of purpose and self-worth.

Stay connected with friends. Pets, dogs especially, can help seniors meet new people or regularly connect with friends and neighbors while out on a walk or in the dog park. Having lost your pet, it’s important that you don’t now spend day after day alone. Try to spend time with at least one person every day. Regular face-to-face contact can help you ward off depression and stay positive. Call up an old friend or neighbor for a lunch date, join a club or volunteer somewhere meaningful.

Boost your vitality with exercise. Pets help many  older adults stay active and playful , which can boost your immune system and increase your energy. It’s important to keep up your activity levels after the loss of your pet. Check with your doctor before starting an exercise program and then find an activity that you enjoy. Exercising in a group—by playing a sport such as tennis or golf, or taking an exercise or swimming class—can also help you connect with others.

Try to find new meaning and joy in life. Caring for a pet previously occupied your time and boosted your morale and optimism. Try to fill that time by  volunteering , picking up a long-neglected hobby, taking a class, helping friends, rescue groups, or homeless shelters care for their animals, or even by getting another pet if and when the time feels right.

Helping children grieve the loss of a pet

The loss of a pet may be your child’s first experience of death—and your first opportunity to teach them about coping with the grief and pain that inevitably accompanies the joy of loving another living creature. Losing a pet can be a traumatic experience for any child. Many kids love their pets very deeply, and some may not even remember a time in their life when the pet wasn’t around. A child may feel angry and blame themselves—or you—for the pet’s death. A child may feel scared that other people or animals they love may also leave them. How you handle the grieving process can determine whether the experience has a positive or negative effect on your child’s personal development.

Some parents feel they should try to shield their children from the sadness of losing a pet by either not talking about the pet’s death or by not being honest about what’s happened. Pretending the animal ran away, or “went to sleep,” for example, can leave a child feeling even more confused, frightened, and betrayed when they finally learn the truth. It’s far better to be honest with children and allow them the opportunity to grieve in their own way.

Let your child see you express your own grief at the loss of the pet. If you don’t experience the same sense of loss as your child, respect their grief and let them express their feelings openly, without making them feel ashamed or guilty. Children should feel proud that they have so much compassion and care deeply about their animal companions.

Reassure your child that they weren’t responsible for the pet’s death. The death of a pet can raise a lot of questions and fears in a child. You may need to reassure your child that you, their parents, are not also likely to die. It’s important to talk about all their feelings and concerns.

Involve your child in the dying process. If you’ve chosen euthanasia for your pet, be honest with your child and, if the child is old enough, explain how loving this approach is and why. Explain why the choice is necessary and give the child a chance to spend some special time with the pet and say goodbye in their own way.

If possible, give the child an opportunity to create a memento of the pet. This could be a special photograph, or a plaster cast of the animal’s paw print, for example.

Allow the child to be involved in any memorial service, if they desire. Holding a funeral or creating a memorial for the pet can help your child express their feelings openly and help process the loss.

Do not rush out to get the child a “replacement pet” before they have had chance to grieve the loss they feel. Your child may feel disloyal, or you could send the message that the grief and sadness felt when something dies can simply be overcome by buying a replacement.

Getting another dog or cat after pet loss

There are many wonderful reasons to once again  share your life with a companion animal , but the decision of when to do so is a very personal one. It may be tempting to rush out and fill the void left by your pet’s death by immediately getting another pet. In most cases, it’s best to mourn the old pet first, and wait until you’re emotionally ready to open your heart and your home to a new animal.

You may want to start by volunteering at a shelter or rescue group. Spending time caring for pets in need is not only great for the animals, but can help you decide if you’re ready to own a new pet.

Some retired seniors living alone may find it hardest to adjust to life without a pet. If taking care of an animal provided you with a sense of purpose and self-worth as well as companionship, you may want to consider getting another pet at an earlier stage. Of course, seniors also need to consider their own health and life expectancy when deciding on a new pet. Again,  volunteering to help pets in need  can be a good way to decide if you’re ready to become a pet owner again.
Exciting News!
Therapists, Medical Professionals, First Responders
and All Who Want to Understand Grief

We've been working a year on this new section for all impacted by grief in their work and those who want to know how to help someone who is grieving.

Please let everyone know. Includes scientific research about grief.

Free Online Support Groups
For All Losses

May 19 - 4 to 5 pm PST

May 26 - 4 to 5 pm PST

June 2 - 4 to 5 pm PST

June 9 - 4 to 5 pm PST

Or simply visit the griefHaven
website for dates and links.

Watch our latest "Now You Know" videos and share with others.

Open/drop-in group information above or call 310-459-1789 or email

we provide two different types
of support groups:

Closed/Private Groups by Losses
Open/Drop-In Groups For All Losses

Private/closed groups by losses include:

(for more, write about joining a private/closed group)
Order a free Packet of Hope for yourself or someone you care about.

Order Here: Packet of Hope
Our beautiful documentary film, Portraits of Hope: The Parent's Journey , will help parents who have lost a child, as well as their families, those who want to know how to support them, and those who work in the grief arena.

Order Here: Documentary
Being Worn All Over the World

For the person who is grieving.
Makes a loving gift for someone.

In loving memory, this symbolic pin is worn upside-down to represent you have lost someone you love. Read about the symbology of each part by clicking below.

What to Say; What Not to Say
to Someone Who Is Grieving

Not sure what to say to someone who has lost a loved one? That's okay. We've got you covered. Watch this for some guidelines.

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Questions? Please Call or Email
(310) 459-1789
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