Grieving a Pet: How to Cope with Losing a Dog

by Hannah Roundy

Dog in field looking at rainbow

Ignoring the negative feelings that come with pet loss will only bring more pain. Instead, acknowledge the impact your pet had on your life so that you can begin to heal. 

Saying goodbye to your furry friend is perhaps the most bittersweet part of pet parenthood. Learn how to deal with the loss of a pet by using these coping methods. 

What is grief? 

Grief is the feeling of sorrow and pain that is caused by death. Everyone grieves in different ways. Some people grieve the loss of a loved one by celebrating them and thinking about the good memories they made together. For others, grief is a darker emotion that makes it hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. 

There are five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Grieving with the loss of a pet is not a linear journey through these five stages. You may bounce between anger and depression or skip one of these stages completey. It may seem daunting at first, but over time you will come to the final stage of acceptance.

Why is grieving the loss of a pet important? 

Saying goodbye to your furry friend is perhaps the most bittersweet part of pet parenthood. For many, losing your dog is akin to losing a child or family member. You can feel like part of your heart is missing and may not know how to deal with the loss of a pet. 

In any sort of loss, taking time to grieve is crucial to your healing journey. It might seem contradicting to heal by being sad, but letting those emotions out makes room for the positive ones. Ignoring the negative feelings that come with pet loss will only bring more pain. Instead, acknowledge the impact your pet had on your life so that you can begin to heal. 

How to Deal with the Loss of a Pet

The process will be different for everyone, but here are some ways that can help you cope with the great loss. 

Cry as much as you need to

Grieving the loss of a pet means openly feeling the emotions that come with their absence. It’s okay to cry and feel upset – that’s a good sign that your pet meant so much to you. Trying to avoid negative emotions will only delay your healing progress. Take time to cry, take a few days off of work, and be patient with yourself while you face these feelings head on. 

Take your time getting a new pet

After the death of a pet, your first instinct may be to fill the gap by adopting a new one. You may feel the complete opposite and can’t even comprehend the thought of a new pet. Either way, ensure you’ve had enough time to grieve the loss of your furry friend. You’re starting a brand new journey with another animal – but first, you need to close out the journey with your lost pet. 

Build a memory box 

You don’t have to erase the memories of your dog just because your furry friend is no longer with you. Instead, create a whole box dedicated to the happy moments you shared with them. Compile your dog’s collar, favorite toys, photos with them, and other objects that remind you of happy times with your pet. Put them inside a special box that you can pull out whenever you’re missing them. 

Write an obituary and share photos of them on social media

Writing about your pet’s life story and personality is a special way to memorialize them. Share the obituary along with your favorite photos on them on social media. Odds are that you aren’t the only one grieving the loss of a pet – sharing your pet’s story may help other process the loss of their own. 

Celebrate your pet annually (if not more often)

Even after you’ve accepted the death of your pet, you can still celebrate them as much as you’d like. Dedicate a whole day to celebrate them every year. This could be your pet’s birthday, the day you lost them, or a random date. Open your memory box every year on that day, go on walks, visit to their favorite park, or do something else your pup loved. 

Reach out for help

It’s normal to feel lonely after losing a pet – but you don’t have to go through the grieving process alone. Call on your close friends and family members to support you during this time. Consider grief counseling or therapy is you are feeling particularly stuck grieving a pet. Call the Pet Compassion Careline for 24/7 support with trained pet grief counselors.

Healing By Helping Animals in Need

Joe Kay has dedicated his life to helping dogs in shelters and rescues find their forever homes. You may recognize his account @adoptingd0gs from TikTok and Instagram, where he shares videos of shelter dogs finding out they’ve been adopted. 

At the end of July, he shared this video of a Dalmatian who was struggling to get adopted, but has since found her forever family. The dogs seem to understand Joe’s joy and excitement for their adoptions–just look at the tail wags in his TikTok videos

Joe has helped countless dogs find a home through in his years fostering and volunteering at Ohio shelters. During this time, he’s also had to learn how to deal with the loss of a pet after the deaths of his family cat and a few foster animals. 

“It hurts,” Joe explained. “Whether you had the pet for 1 week or 20 years, it still hurts. When I take on this responsibility to take care of this animal, I show it love and I try to give it the best life I possibly can. I take that job seriously. I think that is why a lot of people compared the death of a pet to a family member. It’s because, to us, these pets are family members.” 

Joe recommends helping other animals in need when grieving a pet. He even makes donations to shelters in his family cat’s name as a nice way to remember his beloved pet. 

“I would say the best thing to do is help other animals that are in need. That can be volunteering or donating to your local shelter. I try to help shelters and rescues that aren’t funded by the city or county – shelters that are truly non-profit.”

Most shelters and rescues are in need of food, toy, and other pet supply donations year-round. You can even take to healing the loss of your pet by donating money to cover the adoption fees of another animal. If you have no money or items to donate, consider donating your time and volunteering. 

If none of these options help your grieving process, that’s okay. Joe believes that time heals the hurt after losing a pet. 

“My best advice is to take one day at a time. I know [pet loss] hurts, but it does get better, I promise.”

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