top of page

When Fur and Feathers Leave a Void: Coping with Grief and Loss of a Pet

Losing a beloved pet can be an incredibly difficult experience. Our furry friends become cherished members of our families, offering unconditional love and companionship. The

dog giving a paw to man kneeling in front of a sunset

grief we feel when they pass away is real, valid, and deserves acknowledgment. In this article, we will explore the process of grieving the loss of a pet and provide guidance for both those who have lost a pet and those who want to support someone in their journey.


Beyond Words: The Authenticity of Pet Loss Grief Explored

Grieving the loss of a pet is a natural response to the emotional bond we share with them. Grief over the loss of a pet is a valid and recognized emotional experience, supported by studies and statistics. Research has shown that the human-animal bond is a profound and significant connection, and the loss of a pet can have a significant impact on an individual's emotional well-being. A scoping review by Harris, Finlay, and Totton (2021) emphasized the importance of acknowledging pet loss grief as a genuine form of mourning. Furthermore, a study by Graham and Glover-Graf (2020) found that the loss of a pet can lead to a range of emotional responses, including grief, sadness, and even depression. These findings affirm that the feelings of grief experienced after losing a pet are real and deserving of understanding and support. Just like when we lose a human loved one, we may experience a range of emotions such as sadness, guilt, anger, or even numbness.


Similar to human grief, the grieving process after the loss of a pet shares several similarities. Dr. Wallace Sife, a renowned expert in pet loss and bereavement, highlights this connection, stating, "The grief that humans feel when a beloved pet dies is real grief, no different from mourning the loss of a human loved one" (Sife 2019). Just like when we lose a human family member or friend, the loss of a pet evokes a range of emotions such as sadness, anger, guilt, and a profound sense of emptiness. The depth of the human-animal bond and the significant role pets play in our lives contribute to the intensity of grief experienced.


Studies have supported the notion of the similarities between human and pet grief experiences. The qualitative research conducted by Giles and Heintz (2019) explored the experiences of pet loss and bereavement among pet owners. The findings revealed that participants described the grief they experienced as comparable to the grief felt after losing a human loved one. The emotional pain, the void left behind, and the longing for the presence of their beloved pets mirrored the feelings associated with human bereavement. These findings further emphasize that pet loss grief is a valid and profound experience that warrants understanding and support.


Practical Coping Strategies for the Loss of a Beloved Pet


kitten sitting on little girls lap

Coping with the loss of a beloved pet is a deeply personal and emotional experience. During this challenging time, having practical coping strategies at your disposal can help you navigate the grief and find comfort. From honoring their memory to taking care of yourself, these strategies are designed to provide guidance and solace as you navigate this difficult journey of grief and healing.

  1. Acknowledge and Express Your Feelings: Give yourself permission to feel and express your emotions. Whether it's through tears, talking about your pet, or writing in a journal, finding healthy outlets for your grief can help in the healing process.

  2. Seek Support from Others: Surround yourself with understanding and empathetic individuals who can provide a listening ear. Share memories of your pet and talk about the impact they had on your life. Support groups, both in-person and online, can connect you with others who are going through similar experiences.

  3. Practice Self-Care: Take care of your physical and emotional well-being during this challenging time. Engage in activities that bring you comfort and joy, such as spending time in nature, practicing mindfulness, or pursuing hobbies that provide solace.

  4. Memorialize Your Pet: Create a meaningful tribute to honor your pet's memory. This could involve making a photo album, planting a tree in their honor, or creating a memorial keepsake. Engaging in rituals or ceremonies can provide a sense of closure and allow you to say goodbye in your own way.

Rituals can play a significant role in coping with the loss of a pet, providing solace, and honoring their memory. Engaging in meaningful rituals allows individuals to express their emotions, find closure, and create a tangible connection with their departed companion.


One pet owner, Jane***, shared her experience of coping with the loss of her dog by holding a small memorial ceremony in their backyard. She invited close friends and family members who had known and loved her dog, and they gathered to share stories, light candles, and release balloons with personal messages. This ritual allowed Jane and her loved ones to come together, celebrate the life of their cherished pet, and find comfort in their shared memories.


Another powerful ritual that can aid in coping is creating a memorial tribute. Sarah***, a cat owner, found solace in compiling a photo album filled with cherished pictures and mementos of her feline companion. As she carefully selected and arranged the photographs, memories flooded back, bringing a mix of tears and smiles. Looking through the album became a source of comfort for Sarah, providing a tangible reminder of the love and joy her cat had brought into her life.


The act of creating a memorial tribute can be deeply cathartic, allowing individuals to reflect on the positive impact their pet had and preserving their memory in a tangible and meaningful way.

Rituals can serve as powerful tools for coping with the loss of a pet. Whether it involves gathering with loved ones to remember and honor the departed pet or creating a personal tribute, these rituals provide a sense of comfort, closure, and a means to express emotions while keeping the memory of the beloved pet alive.


The Power of Support in Pet Loss Healing: Supporting Someone Through Pet Loss

Social support plays a crucial role in navigating the grieving process after the death of a pet. Research consistently highlights the importance of having a network of understanding and empathetic individuals who can provide emotional comfort and validation during this challenging time. According to a study conducted by Wrobel, Lee, and Tan (2019), individuals who received social support following the loss of a pet reported lower levels of grief and greater overall well-being. Additionally, a survey conducted by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) found that 72% of pet owners who experienced the loss of a pet reported seeking support from friends, family, or support groups. Social support plays a significant role in the healing process, by offering a sense of understanding, companionship, and reassurance to those mourning the loss of their beloved pet.

dog and cat silhouette in front of orange sunset


If you are not sure how to support someone who has lost a pet, you can try these ideas;

  1. Be Present and Listen: Show your support by being present and available for the grieving individual. Listen attentively without judgment and offer a compassionate shoulder to lean on. Sometimes, just allowing them to express their feelings can provide immense comfort.

  2. Avoid Minimizing the Loss: Understand that the loss of a pet is a significant event for the griever. Avoid dismissive statements like "It was just a pet" or "You can always get another one." Instead, validate their emotions and offer reassurance that their grief is valid.

  3. Offer Practical Assistance: Grieving can be emotionally and physically draining. Offer practical help with tasks such as organizing a memorial, cleaning, or running errands. These acts of kindness can alleviate some of the burdens and show your support.

  4. Respect Their Process: Remember that grief is a personal journey, and everyone copes differently. Respect their need for space or time alone, but also check in regularly to let them know you are there for them.

Healing from the loss of a pet takes time. It's normal to experience waves of grief even months or years after the loss. Embrace the memories of your pet and cherish the love they brought into your life. Know that healing is possible, and as time passes, you can find solace while still holding a special place in your heart for your beloved pet.


Knowing When to Get Professional Help

Recognizing when to seek professional help for pet loss is crucial for individuals struggling to cope with their grief. Research indicates that seeking professional support can be beneficial in specific circumstances. For instance, a study by Geronimi et al. (2018) found that individuals experiencing complicated grief reactions, such as prolonged or intense grief that significantly interferes with daily functioning, may benefit from professional intervention. This study highlighted the effectiveness of interventions such as pet loss support groups and individual counseling in helping individuals navigate through complicated grief and develop healthy coping strategies.


Moreover, a survey conducted by Packman, Carmack, and Katz (2016) revealed that pet owners who experienced high levels of depression and anxiety following the loss of a pet derived benefits from professional assistance. This study emphasized the role of mental health professionals, including therapists and counselors, in providing specialized support tailored to the unique needs of pet loss grief.


Taken together, these research findings underscore the importance of considering professional help when grappling with pet loss. Seeking professional intervention can provide the necessary support, guidance, and coping strategies to navigate the complex emotions associated with pet loss and promote overall well-being. If grief becomes overwhelming, persists for an extended period, or starts affecting various aspects of one's life, reaching out for help from a mental health professional can be a valuable step in the healing process.


Conclusion

Losing a pet is a profound loss that can cause immense grief. By understanding and acknowledging the grieving process, seeking support, and practicing self-care, we can navigate this journey of pet loss. For those supporting someone who has lost a pet, offering compassion, listening, and practical assistance can make a significant difference.


You don't have to face this grief alone. Let us support you on your path to healing. Contact Aligned Minds Counseling and Therapy today to schedule a therapy session and embark on a journey of healing and recovery. Your pet's memory deserves to be honored, and your emotional well-being deserves to be nurtured. Reach out and let us help you find comfort, understanding, and strength in your healing process. Together, we can honor our furry companions and find comfort in the memories they have left behind. Remember, you are not alone in this journey of grief, and healing is possible.



Wrobel, T. A., Lee, C., & Tan, S. (2019). The Role of Social Support in the Grief Experience of Bereaved Companion Animal Owners. Omega-Journal of Death and Dying, 80(2), 253-271.


American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). (n.d.). Pet Loss Support. Retrieved from https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/general-pet-care/end-life-care/pet-loss-supportHarris, K., Finlay, F., & Totton, N. (2021). Pet loss, grief, and bereavement: A scoping review. PLOS ONE, 16(4), e0249891.


Giles, D. A., & Heintz, M. R. (2019). Understanding the human grief experience of companion animal loss. Omega-Journal of Death and Dying, 79(1), 3-27.


Graham, T. M., & Glover-Graf, N. M. (2020). The impact of pet loss on human mental health: A systematic review. Journal of Evidence-Informed Social Work, 17(6), 651-666.


Geronimi, E. M. C., Perrin, P. B., Miles, A. M., Wilson, A. D., & Packman, W. (2018). Complicated Grief After the Loss of a Pet. Anthrozoös, 31(2), 175-189.


Packman, W., Carmack, B. J., & Katz, R. C. (2016). Pet Loss and Bereavement: Examining Vacillating Levels of Depression, Anxiety, and Acute Grief Responses. Journal of Mental Health Counseling, 38(3), 232-248.


***Please note anecdotes shared are for illustrative purposes only and any resemblance to real individuals, pets, or events is coincidental. The purpose was to depict aspects of pet loss and grief, but the details and characters are not based on current or previous clients. Respecting privacy when discussing sensitive topics like pet loss is important to us.

15 views0 comments
bottom of page