Learning to Deal with Pet Loss

Pet loss is devastating, but there are ways to acknowledge your grief that help you move through it without devaluing your love for your pet.


| November 2014



Australian Shepherd

Your relationship with your pet is special, and the grief you feel after the death of a pet is a natural response to that severed emotional bond.

Photo by Fotolia/Eric Isselée

Dealing with pet loss is a form of grief that is often minimized by other concerns or by the feeling that the death of a pet shouldn’t inspire the heartbreak it often does. In The Grief Recovery Handbook for Pet Loss (Taylor Trade Publishing, 2014) by Russell Friedman, Cole James and John W. James, you will find ways to cope with and accept your feelings after a loss. The authors offer guidance to help you deal with the emotional changes pet loss makes in your life, allowing you to move through your grief without fear of judgment from others. The following excerpt is from chapter 4, “Your History of Pet Losses.”

Losses that occur when we are young influence how we deal with our grief. We observe and record the actions and words of the people around us, especially the adults, who are our tour guides. Some of what the adults do and say about their own grief and ours is correct, but a lot of it isn’t. Unfortunately, when we’re young, we don’t have a way to differentiate between what’s right and what’s wrong. So we assume that everything the adults do is correct, and we copy it. That’s why this next exercise is so important. It will help you see what you know and believe—and whether those ideas are correct and helpful for you as you deal with the impact of the death of a pet.

Most of the animals that are likely to be our domestic companions have relatively short life spans. There’s a high probability that you’ve experienced more than one pet loss. If that’s true for you, we’ll soon have you make a list of those losses, going back as far as you can recall.

Special Note: For those of you who’ve only experienced the death of one pet, you can make a list of some of the other losses that have affected you. They could be deaths of people; divorces or other romantic endings; career, health, or faith issues; and other losses. Think back especially to any of those kinds of losses that happened when you were a child. And then think about what you learned or observed in your family about dealing with those losses. Was there open talk about people’s grief, or was it hidden? Was it safe for you to talk about your feelings, or not?

Taking a little time to think about those things and making some notes about them will help you understand what ideas—helpful or not—you’ve brought to the death of your pet.

There are several reasons for this exercise. Primary among them is that as each of your pet losses happened, you were learning what to do—or not do—in reaction to the emotions you felt. And for those of you who just have the one current pet loss, looking back at other losses will help you see what you learned, in general, about dealing with your grief. It’s often in the aftermath of those events that we hear the four myths and other misinformation that trap us in our grief and keep us from recovery. Awareness of some of the beliefs you may have developed—even if you didn’t realize them before—will help you discard the unhelpful ones and become willing and able to adopt new, more helpful ideas.