How to support someone through pet loss

How to support someone through pet loss

Pet owners know all too well that the time we have from when we first bring home our beloved animals to their final days is too short. They are only with us for a little while, but to them, we are their whole lives. They are part of our families. When it comes to their passing, the grief is real and very raw. Yet, unlike when a human being dies, there is no formal rite of mourning, such as a wake or funeral in which friends can pay their condolences. Pet parents are often alone in their grieving.

If you have a friend who is experiencing grief from pet loss, your support can mean the world to him or her at a time when the need it most. Here are some ways to help.

Pet Loss Support Can Mean Just Being There

If you’re an animal lover and have pets of your own, you can relate to the emotions your friend is going through at this time. If you have never had a pet, it might be harder for you to empathize or offer sympathy. LEt's explore some specific ways you can offer compassion and support while your friend works through the grieving process.

Physical Presence Matters

Sometimes what a griever needs is for someone to just be with him or her. Words aren’t necessary. A simple hug or light tap on the shoulder can demonstrate you care. This can be even more true for children and seniors mourning the loss of a pet.

Recognize Emotions Will be Strong

The feelings associated with grief are powerful and overwhelming at times. Your friend might feel guilty or angry in addition to being sad. Let him or her express their feelings without judgement. Crying is a release, so don’t try to inhibit it.  Maintain their confidence as well.

Active Listening is Best

Most of all, your friend might just want to vent when he or she talks to you. Focus your attention on his or her needs as he or she shares the experience, even if it’s repeatedly. This is part of the healing he or she must undergo. Ask questions and be patient. It’s OK to share your own experiences if it will help your friend, if he or she asks. But remember this moment is about their pain, not yours.

If the Grief is Overwhelming, Suggest Additional Support

If it appears as though your friend’s grief over the loss of a pet has spiraled into something more significant, do gently recommend that he or she might benefit from online pet grief support or even counseling. Remind them that you want a positive outcome for him or her, which is why you feel these reinforcements are best.

Don't Rush Them: There’s No Time Limit on Grief

Each individual grieves at his or her own pace. Don’t compare grief timelines or expect that because this person had a good day that tomorrow won’t be a slide back into sadness. Be patient.

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Practical Ways to Offer Pet Loss Support

Most people feel obligated to make a vague offer of, “If there’s anything I can do, let me know.” Rather than put the onus on the person who is mourning to come up with a list of ways to help, offer some specific support. Here are some things a friend in the throes of grief might appreciate.

Offer to Help with a Memorial Service

If your friend is planning to bury his or her pet or distribute ashes, offer to read something from a scripture or a poem. The Rainbow Bridge is a beautiful reminder that we will see our pets again in heaven. Or choose something more appropriate to your friend's faith perspective to help plan an actual funeral service for their animal companion.   

Go with Them to Retrieve Remains

Offer to drive your friend to the vet or wherever the pet’s remains are located. If your friend informs you that he or she has to transport their pet to be euthanized, offer to be with him or her if you're emotionally able.

Cook a Meal or Provide a Meal Kit Delivery Service

During periods of grief, self-care activities like eating can go out the window. Perhaps help your friend by providing nutritious food - prepare a meal gift yourself or have a meal kit delivered.

Offer to Watch Kids, Run Errands, or Take Care of Some Household Tasks

People in mourning often need help tending to daily duties. Give your friend time to grieve by taking over some chores. Remember, anticipatory grief is a real thing and starts well before the final hours. If your friend has been caring for an ailing pet and is housebound and anticipating the end very soon, their need for practical help may be even greater than usual.

If They Need Additional Support, Help Them Find the Right Resource

You can help research online support groups and grief therapists for people dealing with pet loss. We've got a trove of listings you can access to get you started.

Share Your Favorite Memories of This Pet

It’s OK to let your friend know that you’ll miss their pet as well. Recount a special memory. Frame a picture you might have or make a scrapbook. Or consider getting some sympathy cards made just for pet loss.

Consider Donating to an Animal Shelter in the Pet’s Name

If you’re so inclined, contact a local animal rescue shelter and ask how you can make donations in your friend’s pet’s name. Whether it’s a monetary donation or old blankets, you’ll be paying forward your friend’s love for animals while remembering the joy his or her pet brought.

Practical Support Pet Loss Tiny Pet Memories

What to Avoid When Showing Support

If you're new to offering grief support, it can be daunting. In your desire to provide emotional care and practical support, you may inadvertently do something that increases your friend's pain. Though of course this wasn't your intention, it can happen to the best of us. To help you avoid such pitfalls, here are some well-meaning gestures that can be more hurtful than helpful. 

  • Diving Into Spiritual Discussions: If your friend is reeling and wondering why God allowed a pet’s death to happen, it’s best to stay neutral in your response. At most, simply talk about the fact that life is full of unexplained things, including this loss. I've got a whole article on what not to say to a pet loss griever.
  • Bring Him or Her a New Pet: Pets are unique souls, and they can’t simply be replaced by another animal. Give your friend time to grieve and let him or her decide when it’s time to welcome a new animal into his or her home.
  • Compare the Loss of a Pet to the Loss of a Human: If you are not an animal lover, it might be tempted to inject some perspective by saying something like, “it’s just an animal.” Don’t. Understand that pets are part of our families. They provide us with unconditional love. Letting go can be as hard as letting go of a human being. 
  • Expect Your Efforts to Be Appreciated Immediately: Even the most gracious person can be ungrateful during a period of mourning. Be there, even if it doesn’t seem like he or she cares. Trust us, this person appreciates what you do, even if they can’t find the words to say so in the moment.

Your friends need you at times of loss. Thank you in advance for helping them grieve by providing emotional and practical support. And share your thoughtful grief support tips here for others to use with their own friends.


Image: Luke Chesser, Luke Ellis-Craven

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Pet grief can be very emotionally and physically draining. Support those in your life who are going through pet loss by giving the gift of a meal kit delivery service for a short time. A week or two having someone else prep their food may be just the thing they need to get through the worst of the pain.