Your friend has lost his or her animal companion and is exhibiting signs of serious grief in the wake of the loss. What are you to do? Comforting someone going through the various stages of pet loss grief may be difficult - espcially if you cannot relate to the close bond many humans form with their pets. You struggle to find the right words.
Even the best of intentions sometimes fall short when trying to express support and compassion for a family member or friend who has lost a beloved pet. It isn’t that you don’t care, of course; it’s just that the heavy presence of grief is difficult to navigate. Nonetheless, your support matters - whether you're supporting a senior, a child, or your sister. It’s far better than inaction.
It's too easy to put your foot in your mouth if you don't come to a conversation prepared. If you aren’t careful, your efforts may:
- Cause further upset
- Discount the individual’s pain
- Minimize the degree of the loss
- Imply that the person is doing something wrong
- Encourage the individual to stifle his or her grief
- Unfairly assume something about the other party’s spirituality or faith
- Discourage the person from sharing his or her thoughts and feelings
But let's make it easier on you to offer compassionate support by giving you some guidance on what NOT to say to those who are mourning the death of an animal companion. Avoid these pitfalls to be the go-to friend for those in your life who have lost their furry friends.
Words that WON’T Help Someone Recover From the Loss of a Pet
When someone close to you is mourning a pet death, it’s important to validate his or her feelings just as you would if the loss were a family member or friend. Only the person directly experiencing the pain can measure its depth - no one else. Remember that the void left behind can be monumental no matter who passed away. Pet loss grief is very, very real.
I want to help you adopt a mindset and language that will make it easy for you to respond to and support your grieving friend in a mindful and positive way. With the right words and phrases (whether written or spoken), you can effectively help the aggrieved work through his or her emotions. If you want to know what to say, it helps to first realize what not to say.
Don’t Imply that the Grieving Process Should Look a Certain Way, or Last a Certain Amount of Time
Instead of saying, “You’ll feel better soon,” or, “You’re dwelling on this too much,” remember that grief is unique to the person experiencing it. Instead, try, “I want to help. I hope to give you some comfort in the coming weeks and months.”
Don’t Change the Subject
Death is not easy to discuss, but it is necessary to do so. Changing the subject – even if you’re just worried that you’ll make a mistake – sends the message that you don’t care. Avoid pivoting to somehting else, as in, “Let’s go to that concert now,” or, “Did you see my new car?” You’re better off with, “I’m sorry. Will you tell me what happened?”
Don’t Focus on Your Own Loss
You may mean well by mentioning your own loss. Perhaps you intend it as a gesture of understanding. Unless you take a cautious approach, however, it may only divert attention from the person’s pain and onto you. Instead of saying, “I know exactly how you feel. It reminds me of the time my childhood dog passed away...” say, “I lost a dog once, too. It was incredibly painful. I imagine your pain is very acute right now. What are you feeling?”
Don’t Suggest That the Pet Is Better Off Now
Although the deceased animal may no longer be suffering, making such a simplistic statement diminishes the loss and the individual’s need to mourn. As opposed to saying, “At least your pet is in a better place,” or, “It was the will of God,” say, “My heart goes out to you. What usually helps you through difficult times like these?”
Don’t Judge or Minimize the Person’s Feelings
“You shouldn’t feel so upset about the loss of an animal. You need to get past it,” is not only unsolicited advice, it’s an attempt to change the person’s emotions – in a patronizing way. This is a classic example of how to disenfranchise someone's grief. Your acquaintance or loved one will feel more supported if you say, “Of course you feel angry and sad. I’d probably feel the same way. I’m also glad you are comfortable discussing this with me. I’m here to listen.”
Don’t Keep Talking
If you feel awkward helping someone through his or her bereavement, your nervousness might compel you to talk about it continuously. Your presence may be enough, so embrace moments of silence. Avoid empty statements like, “Everything happens for a reason,” and, “Just be grateful for the time you had with your pet.” Instead, say, “I care,” – and wait quietly and patiently for the individual to guide the conversation.
Don’t Discourage Tears
Encouraging someone to stop crying is another method of negating his or her feelings. It isn’t easy to help another person exercise emotional pain, but resist the urge to say, “Don’t cry,” or, “You weren’t even this upset when your aunt died!” Facilitate the healing process by saying, “I know you need to cry, and it’s okay to cry with me as much as you need. Let your tears out.”
Don’t Wait for the Person to Ask for Something
By waiting for the mourner to ask for help, you give him or her another burden. The individual may not even know what must be done in the moment, so don’t make open-ended questions like, “Let me know if you need anything.” Instead, be specific with words like, “I’m going to prepare some meals and clean up a bit so you don’t have to worry about it.” The more specific you are, the better.
Don’t Suggest Replacing the Pet
You’d never say this if the aggrieved’s family member passed away, and it’s inappropriate to say it in the case of a deceased pet. The decision to welcome a new animal into the home is intensely personal, so don’t bring up the subject. Instead of saying, “It was only a cat. You can get another one,” say, “You loved your pet so much and cared for him so well? What do you miss the most about him?”
Comforting someone through the loss of a pet is a delicate matter - especially if you want to avoid making them feel disenfranchised in their grief. You know you can’t bring the pet back, but with your good intentions, your presence, and your careful expressions of sympathy, you can be a pillar in a person's life during the most difficult stages of their grief.
Affiliate Disclosure: There may be affiliate links on this page which help to pay for Tiny Pet Memories. If you make a purchase through a link I provide, thank you because it may allow me to earn a small commission at no additional cost to you. I am not paid to promote specific products. Any opinions I express are strictly my own.
Health Disclaimer: I’m passionate about wellbeing and health but I’m not a medical professional, nor am I a licensed therapist. Any content you read on this site is intended for inspiration and for information only – by not means am I providing medical advice. Please consult your certified professional for personalized recommendations on the mental health or physical health ideas I write about.