pet portrait

Coping With Pet Loss

Pets are family. When they pass away, we experience a range of emotions — and it’s different for everyone. Some people experience denial, struggling to accept that their pet is truly gone. Others might experience anger, especially if the pet died unexpectedly. They might feel angry at themselves, the people in their home who care for the pet or the medical professionals who weren’t able to save their beloved animal.

It’s not easy to accept that our fur or feathered baby is no longer with us. Healing takes time.

Here are some resources to help along the way.

Keep a Journal

Writing down your feelings is a great way to express and organize them on paper. It has mental health benefits, too. Journaling can help you manage anxiety, reduce stress and cope with depression, according to the University of Rochester Medical Center. I know many of us haven’t journaled since grade school.

If you need help getting started, try a writing prompt, such as: I feel ____________ because ___________.

In the coming weeks, store the journal and a pen somewhere you can easily grab them, like a nightstand drawer. Write as often as you want and let the words flow freely, without editing yourself.

Taking the time to commit your feelings to paper can help restore feelings of order during a time that might otherwise feel chaotic.

Talk to Your Family and Friends

You might feel like you want to grieve alone. Or, you might want to talk to someone you love and trust about your grief. Allow yourself to do what feels right, which may change from day to day.

If you decide to talk to a friend or family member, consider giving them some context in advance. Often, people don’t know what to say when someone is grieving.

Let them know you’re going through a tough time right now and ask when they can talk. This allows you both to dedicate the time and attention to your grief that it deserves.

Join a Support Group

Another option is to connect with people who are also coping with pet loss. The Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement (APLB) offers pet loss grief support through an online chat room several days a week in the evenings. They also offer a chat group for those anticipating the loss of a pet.

Sometimes, it’s nice to see the faces of the people you’re connecting with online, especially if you’re feeling alone since the loss of your pet. The APLB Online Video Support Program is hosted via online video and led by a Pet Loss Grief Specialist. The host will ensure everyone has the opportunity to share their story and will also offer valuable tools to help you begin your healing journey.

There are also a number of pet loss support hotlines you can call to speak to someone about your grief. As one example, Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine offers a pet support hotline with dedicated hours from student volunteers.

They can be reached at 607-218-7457 during their listed volunteer hours.

Create a Memorial or Commemorate Your Pet

Many pet owners want to find a way to commemorate their pet.

Some of the ways to do that include:

  • Writing an obituary and reading it to your family

  • Creating a photo album

  • Framing a favorite picture of you both together

  • Artistic pet portraits based on a photo

  • Hosting a candlelight ceremony

The Rainbow Bridge offers a free Monday Night Candle Ceremony, which is a special ceremony held to honor the memory of furry or feathered friends who have passed. To be included in the ceremony, you can fill out this form and include a special tribute to your pet.

Make a Donation to an Animal Group in Their Memory

One of the best ways to honor your pet? Donate to an animal advocate group. If you rescued your pet at an animal shelter, consider asking them for a wish list of supplies you could donate in your pet’s memory. It’s a great way to support the place that helped introduce you to your beloved family member.

There are also national groups that support animals and help prevent animal cruelty, such as The Humane Society of the United States and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Donating to a worthy animal charity is a great way to pay it forward for the love your pet brought into your life.

That love will live on through the memories you two shared together.