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How to grieve the loss of a pet

Reviewed by Robert Bogenberger, PhD

A woman leans down and kisses her dog on the forehead as they walk on the beach

The loss of a beloved pet can be heartbreaking. Even though our relationships with animals tend to be different than our relationships with other people, the grief of losing your furry pal can feel just as powerful as losing a close human friend or family member.

It’s normal to cycle through many stages of emotions over weeks, months, and even years. Feelings can come and go, reemerging stronger or seemingly out of the blue.  

After the loss of a pet, you may feel:

  • Lonely
  • Sad 
  • Confused
  • Angry
  • Guilty
  • Distracted
  • As if the departed pet is still with you
  • Previous emotions from prior losses (especially if they’re recent) 

It takes time and acceptance to heal from loss. Here’s what you can do to take care of yourself while you grieve.

Give yourself time 

The passage of time may ease the severity of the pain you’re feeling, but grief can resurface months or years later. The grieving process doesn’t follow a timeline—there’s no end date to strive for.

If you can, take some time off work after your loss. Allowing the grieving process to unfold naturally may feel difficult and frustrating at times, but it’s necessary. Be patient with yourself, and don’t try to rush your healing.

Acknowledge your pain 

Allowing yourself to feel everything you’re feeling is an essential part of the healing process. This might involve sitting down on your own to reflect and cry a little (or a lot), or it might mean openly sharing memories of your pet with friends and loved ones.

Remember that you can’t recover from a loss by suppressing your grief and trying to carry on as usual. As uncomfortable and messy as it can be to experience, emotional release sets the stage for a healthy path toward healing.

Find a healthy balance

When you’re grieving, it’s easy to let self-care fall by the wayside. Although it’s perfectly fine to stay in bed and put everything else on hold for a few days, it’s not healthy to stay in that mode for too long. 

Eventually, you need to refocus on your mental and physical health. It’ll do you good to get back to moving your body, maintaining a sleep schedule, socializing, eating healthfully, and engaging in meaningful work and hobbies—even as you’re still trying to heal.

Reach out to other people who can relate

Connecting with others who’ve been in similar situations can make a huge difference. Pet bereavement is common, so you’re likely to have friends or family who’ve experienced it and can share tips on what helped them cope.

If you can’t find the support you need from people you know, you may want to check out online message boards, forums, or groups where you can find a supportive community. Try searching for terms like “pet loss support” to find a list of services offered.

Plan a ceremony or dedicate a memorial to your pet

Pet funerals and memorials are a common way to mark such a significant loss. These events can be especially helpful for kids who haven’t experienced death before or are finding it difficult to contend with their grief. 

Consider planting a tree, installing a small plaque, or creating a scrapbook in honor of your pet. By choosing to remember your pet this way, family members can express their feelings while also finding closure in celebrating the pet’s life. This combination can be both comforting and healing.

Seek help if you’re struggling with your grief 

Sometimes the loss of a pet can impact you so deeply that it affects your daily life and interactions. If you don’t address what’s happened, you may be at risk of developing more serious mental health conditions, such as anxiety, depression, or posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Therapists are trained to help you work through all kinds of hard experiences, including the loss of a pet. Browse our directory to find someone who can help you process your grief and learn how to take happy memories of your pet with you into a brighter future.

About the author

Elise Burley is a member of the therapist.com editorial team. She has more than a decade of professional experience writing and editing on a variety of health topics, including for several health-related e-commerce businesses, media publications, and licensed professionals. When she’s not working, she’s usually practicing yoga or off the grid somewhere on her latest canoe camping adventure.