How to Deal With the Loss of a Beloved Pet

When you bring that bouncing bundle of energy known as a puppy into your home, you’ve made an enormous commitment. For the next ten or more years, this charming creature will look to you for food, shelter, exercise, health care, and companionship. In return, he will give you the greatest gift imaginable: true, steadfast, unconditional love.

The Rainbow Bridge

The Rainbow Bridge

No matter what happens to us, whether we lose our spouse, our friends, our jobs, even our homes, there is one constant in our lives: the love and devotion of our dog. The bond forged there is very deep, and very real.

Then one day you notice that your companion is starting to walk a little slower. His muzzle has turned gray, his eyesight begins to dim, and you realize that someday you will lose your old friend. When that final day comes, your grief and sense of loss knows no bounds, but where do you turn for support during this difficult time?

Not everyone is supportive. Some people will insensitively mock your grief, telling you, “It was only a dog. How can you be so upset?” Remember that it’s okay to grieve. Your dog meant a lot to you, and only you will know when the time for mourning is over.

Grief is often experienced through fairly classic stages, and although this list in not all-inclusive, it does cover the most common. They are:

  • Shock, denial, disbelief
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance, recovery

Usually grief will follow these stages, but sometimes it finds other paths of expression. Sometimes you think you have reached the acceptance stage when something, like the anniversary of your dog’s death or the memory of a special time you spent together, will send you right back to stage one. This is totally understandable, and quite normal.

If you cannot pull yourself from the depths of despair, or if you just want to talk to someone who understands what you’re going through, there are many places to turn.

Friends and family

Your family and friends will probably be your main source of support. Don’t be afraid to ask them for help. Chances are, someone in your family loved your dog as much as you did and they are trying to deal with their own grief over his death.

Your veterinarian

Your veterinarian and the veterinary-support staff that have been there for you throughout your dog’s life, through good times and bad, are an important resource. In addition, they have lots of experience in helping someone cope with the death of a dog, as they have undoubtedly been through it many times before with other clients.

Spiritual Support

If you belong to a church, temple, or other religious organization, perhaps the spiritual leader or members of the congregation can give you the help you need. There is no reason to suppose that “just because it was a dog,” they wouldn’t be willing and able to offer you support. Many people there are likely to have well-loved pets, too.

Online support

Go to any search engine and type “dog death support group” and you will find literally thousands of websites devoted to the subject. There are even support groups set up for specific breeds of dog. The members are usually people who are dealing with the same issues you are. Two of the more popular groups are:

Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement

Pet Loss Support

The Humane Society

Your local Humane Society could be a wonderful, supportive option. They deal with grief on a daily basis. Call and see if they have a dog-loss support group.

Hospice care

If your dog has a terminal illness, you may need special help preparing for his loss. Trying to accept his illness and learning to enjoy his remaining days is very difficult, but that is what hospice work is all about. Check with local hospitals and hospice care facilities to see if they can help you.

Grief counselors

If you cannot find support from other resources, consider hiring a professional. Your grief and sense of loss over your dog is as real as that you would experience over the loss of a person.

There are telephone hotlines associated with some of the major universities. Below is a listing of the more popular hotlines, along with the times they are available. To see if there are hotlines available in your city, check with your veterinarian.

The Ohio State University
(614) 292-1823
Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, 6:30-9:30 p.m. CST

Cornell University
(607) 253-3932
Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, 6-9 p.m. EST

University of Florida-Gainesville
(904) 392-4700
Weekdays, 7-9 p.m. EST

University of California-Davis
(916) 752-4200
Weekdays, 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. PST

Chicago Veterinary Medical Association
(708) 603-3994
Leave a voice mail anytime. Calls returned collect between 7-9 p.m. CST weekdays.

A final resource to check is your public library. There are many fine books available on grief management.

Source: Adapted from the American Animal Hospital Association
Image: Randy Robertson / via Flickr

The article originally appeared on

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Posted by on June 14, 2013. Filed under Advice,CRITTER TALK. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry
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5 Responses to How to Deal With the Loss of a Beloved Pet

  1. RickRay Reply

    June 14, 2013 at 9:11 am

    My girlfriend had to put her cat down a couple days ago after over $2000 of remedies for the cat’s cancer etc. I went with her and couldn’t stop myself from ‘blubbering’ throughout the whole thing. Her cat was only 6 years young and I had found him wandering a golf course when he decided to follow us around all the nine holes. We asked at the club if anyone owned him and they said he was a stray that showed up every day looking for scraps and attention. So my girlfriend who had lost her dog a year prior to this asked if she could take the kitty home. He was only about 2 or 3 months old at the time. It was a sad day. My cat is 11 years old and still going strong but I dread the day she has to go. Your list of grieving steps could also be applied to divorces of which I’m sure a lot of people would agree with. Dogs and cats are quite often more appreciated than any ex-spouse.

  2. Carol Maietta views Reply

    June 14, 2013 at 9:42 am

    Nice post. Our cat and dog companions love us unconditionally. They allow us to be who we are supposed to be with everyone. So, when we lose them, we lose that freedom to be silly, loving, sad, and happy. I lost my lab-mix (Murphy) four weeks after my husband died suddenly two years ago. They said she had cancer, but I also know she missed him so much she sort of gave up. I still miss her even though I have my Bernese Mountain Dog who has become my best friend, protector, psychiatrist, and clown.

  3. Flying Junior Reply

    June 14, 2013 at 6:16 pm

    Very nice Mike. Thank you so much.

    My two cents? Sometimes nothing helps you get over the pain like another puppy or kitten. When my beloved little black collie left us, we were lucky enough to have his two little replacements already in the family. I remember placing little Billy curled up in Duffy’s breast hoping for the spirit gift to pass between the two animals. A few weeks later when I was crying beside Duffy’s grave, Bill came up to comfort me. I still ask Billy if he remembers Duffy from time to time.

    • Michael John Scott Reply

      June 15, 2013 at 10:28 am

      I agree FJ. Sometimes it helps to find another dog so as to refocus your attention. Thanks.

  4. Norman Rampart Reply

    June 14, 2013 at 6:52 pm

    Over the years we have had so many cats it’s, frankly, slightly ridiculous. At our height we had 17 at once.

    As they shuffled off their mortal coils ‘The Management’ insisted I bury them in our garden.

    It reached the point when I could have produced my own movie of ‘Pet Cemetery’ and, I pointed out to the wifey that, if we ever sold our house I would have to say to the new owners “Do you like the garden? Good! Don’t ever dig any of it up!!”

    Now we pay to get them cremated and scatter their ashes.

    It always hurts when the time comes but the happy memories help to heal the sorrow of losing them.

    Lovely post old bean.

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