Grief and Pet Loss

Jan 17, 2019   Tracey Aston   Pet Loss

“Do not stand at my grave and weep

I am not there. I do not sleep.

I am a thousand winds that blow.

I am the diamond glints on snow.

I am the sunlight on ripened grain.

I am the gentle autumn rain.

When you awaken in the morning's hush

I am the swift uplifting rush

Of quiet birds in circled flight

I am the soft stars that shine at night.

Do not stand at my grave and cry;

I am not there. I did not die. “   

-  Mary Elizabeth Frye


'The only time a pet has broken my heart is when they had to leave.'  It's a common saying but it holds so much truth. When adopting a pet, bonding with that pet and agreeing to share your life with another living soul, it's always in the back of your mind – you will most likely outlive them.  However, it is best to prepare, in the chance your pet does outlive you. Our blog post Pets and Wills, will give you an overview of how to prepare for your pet to be taken care of in the event you pass first.

Looking over at your fur child, the thought of ever losing them feels like a gut punch and is enough to knock the wind right out of you. While we would prefer to never have to think about such things, preparation for end of life care, hospice care, euthanasia and grief and loss are all important topics regarding your pet's life.

If you know your pet's time is coming to a close, whether through terminal illness or age, you can make preparations for someone to come to your home to help your pet pass surrounded by family and loved ones. This is also an option for pets with mobility issues due to illness or age. If there are more than one pet, having a pet pass at home where their fur siblings can be present will help the surviving pet understand. It's been documented that fur siblings will sometime be confused and look for their sibling after a pet has been taken to a vet's office to pass.

If you do choose at home hospice and/or euthanasia, below is a list of Pittsburgh companies that offer services to guide you through the process, including the cremation process.

Lap of Love

Pet Loss at Home

PGH Pets at Home

Gentle Journey Veterinary Hospice


After your pet has passed, you'll need to know your wishes on what you want done with the remains. Preparing beforehand will assure you are prepared and not making decisions in the heat of the moment. Do you want your pet buried or cremated? If you choose to bury your pet at home, make sure you are checking with your local municipalities, as some don't allow pet burial on property and can fine the owner. Your vet's office can suggest places that will handle cremation if that is an option you are considering. There are also many local pet cemeteries in the area. If you do choose cremation without the use of an at home company, or if your pet has passed at home, the companies listed below will pick up your pet and perform the cremation. 

Beloved Pet Cremations

Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation

Eternity Pet Memorial

After your pet has passed and you have decided what to do with their remains, the grief will hit you. Grieving a pet is grieving a family member and you will have to go through the stages of grief – shock/denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance and guilt. The following description of grieving for a pet is taken from Pet Sitter's International Certification Program:

“Although everyone grieves in different ways, studies have found that mourners often go through common stages of grief. These may include:

Shock/Denial: Feelings of numbness can come and go for hours, days or weeks after the death of a pet. Common reactions during this phase may include having disorganized thoughts, confusion, forgetfulness and/or feeling “crazy.” Feelings of euphoria, hysteria or of being disconnected from others may also occur. Initially, it may be hard to accept the reality of the situation.

Anger: The belief that someone or something is to blame for a pet's death is a common response to loss. Anger is a secondary emotion—meaning that it masks other feelings, such as guilt, fear, helplessness or despair.  

Bargaining: Pet parents at this stage of grieving will attempt to regain control of their feelings by trying to “bargain or negotiate with their pain or with a higher power, depending on their personal beliefs. Pet parents focus on what could have been done differently to prevent the loss of the pet and therefore, what could have prevented the feeling of loss.

Depression: During this phase, mourners are often preoccupied with thoughts of their pets. Reactions include dreaming about the pet or sensing that he can be seen, heard or felt. Intense feelings of sadness, fear, anger, relief, Irritability and guilt are not uncommon. Mourners may find themselves bursting into tears at unexpected times. They may also experience physical Illness, pain and/or changes in their energy levels, eating habits or sleeping patterns.

Reorganization/Acceptance: The purpose of healthy grieving is not to “get over' the death of a loved one, but to learn to live with the loss. Perhaps the two most important things to know about grief are that (1) grief is a process, not an event and (2) grief is hard work! When people grieve, they learn new coping skills. As they grieve, the intensity of their emotions may change. Although sadness and crying may still occur unexpected times, the capacity to experience happiness will increase.

Guilt: Guilt may be one of the most common grief responses to a pet's death. Owners who euthanize their pet may wonder if they “killed their pet, failed their pet or made the wrong decision. Owners whose pets die of an unexpected illness may question why they didn't notice any symptom, or feel guilty because their pet died alone. Others may feel guilty for not euthanizing their pet sooner—wondering if they caused their pets to suffer too long”

Please be aware that grief is not linear and there is no right way to grieve. This is a living being you shared your life with for many years; don't ever let anyone tell you it was “just a pet.”   Disenfranchised grief is a term describing grief that is not acknowledged by society. Not everyone will see a pet as a family member and a pet parent may try to hide their grief as the pet parent and pet relationship isn't acknowledged by everyone around them. Don't feel guilty for needing to grieve and try not to judge yourself or the process.

Many times grief for a pet lasts longer because the lives of the pet parent and pet were so integrated. When you wake up and the pet isn't there to be let out, it hits you. When you are having a snack and absentmindedly break off a piece to share, it hits you. A strand of fur clings to a piece of clothing you haven't worn in a while and it hits you. Your entire way to living has been turned upside down and you are struggling to find a new normal. Allow yourself this time to heal, and find ways to honor your pet's life is a way that will help with the grieving process.  You can start a scrapbook with pictures and memories, or create a memorial table with pictures of your pet and their ashes if you have them. Donate to a rescue or animal welfare organization in your pet's memory.  Realize this process will take time and allow yourself that time to honor and remember and grieve.  Attending a support group on grief or especially pet loss can be healing and let you know you're not alone.  

If the deceased pet had a fur sibling, they may also show signs of grief or even pick up on the penetrating sense of loss those around them are feeling. Closely monitor the surviving pet for signs of distress or depression but realize they are going through a process as well and it will take time. As much as you can during this time, keep the surviving pet on their routine, such as mealtimes, exercise, walks, bedtime and potty breaks. Our pets always do better when they know what is coming next and have something to anticipate.  If your pet isn't interested in eating, don't force them, as that may be a sign of their own grieving process. If the pet goes days without eating, or is vomiting, visit a veterinarian to rule out any potential health issues.  As much as you want to fill that paw-sized hole in your heart, try not to run out right away and get a new pet. Introducing a new pet to an already grieving pet can lead to lack of bonding and diminished social structure. Experts recommend waiting at least three months to give your pet time to adjust.

All pet parents know that no matter how much time we have, it will never be enough. Take heart in knowing that you gave your pet the best life you possibly could and they will remain safely tucked away in your heart and memories.

You came into my life one day,

So beautiful and smart,

My dear and sweet companion,

I loved you from the start,

And though I knew the time would come when we would have to part,

You'll never be forgotten,

You left paw prints on my heart.

-Author Unknown

Pet Loss Resources:

Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement

Pet Loss

Pet Loss Books for Children

Remembering Baymore – P.Gollub, DVM

Being Brave for Bailey – C. Gut, DVM

Staying Strong for Smokey – C. Gut, DVM

Cry, Heart, But Never Break – G. Ringtved

When a Pet Dies – F. Rodgers

Dog Heaven – C. Rylant

Cat Heaven – C. Rylant


Pet Loss Books for Adults

Grieving the Death of a Pet – B. Carmack

Coping with Sorrow on the Loss of Your Pet – M. Anderson

Pet Loss and Human Emotion: A Guide to Recovery

Animals as Teachers and Healers – S. McElroy

A Final Act of Caring: Ending the Life of an Animal Friend – M. Montgomery

Pet Loss: A Thoughtful Guide for Adults and Children – H. Neiburg

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