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How to comfort someone who lost a pet

The essentials

  • Support the person as they take time to grieve — Giving your friend the encouragement to take whatever time they need can lead to a healthier healing experience.
  • Validation is key —Helping your friend process their feelings now can help to avoid emotional pitfalls later.
  • Memorials can help — Even though their pet may not be here in physical form, a memorial can be a great way to keep their memory alive in a visible way.

Loss of a pet can be absolutely heartbreaking. Whether the passing was expected or sudden, the intensity of the emotions that we can experience might surprise us. Watching a friend or loved one lose a pet can be difficult, too, as our bond with their pet is often not nearly as strong as the bond we have with our own. But just as we would want them to be there for us, we need to be there for them.

Processing and healing in a healthy way is the best thing you can do to encourage your friend’s healing process. Here’s how you can help them through this tough time in their life.

Ways to comfort someone who has lost their pet

There are many different ways to try and support someone who has recently experienced pet loss, and no two people are the same. To help make your support as impactful as possible during this difficult time, we  recommend asking them directly what they might need most. Just be prepared, as they may not know how to answer that question right away.

Here are a few tips to help you along the way.

Listen if they want to talk

While verbal support can be helpful to hear, sometimes listening can be more powerful in our saddest moments. When a person is in grief, they may respond one of two ways: they may attempt to verbally process their emotions, or they may tilt toward silence. In either case, you might listen to what they have to say or choose to share the silence with them.

Our tip is to keep the conversation focused in a positive, forward direction, rather than bringing up your personal experiences or calling excessive focus to the loss of their beloved pet. While sharing similar experiences in some cases can be seen as helpful or sincere, folks who are in the middle of serious sadness might feel unheard or invalidated. They may also feel less inclined to share their feelings about what’s happened.

Support groups can be valuable tools that allow the grieving person to connect with others, discussing the best friend they’ve lost. Support groups can help them put their story into words and acknowledge the good times they’ve had.

Validate their feelings

Speaking of feelings, one of the best ways you can support your friend in this moment is to verbally affirm and validate their feelings. They may feel frustrated, deeply sad, overwhelmed or nervous about what the future may hold or what their pet experienced as they crossed the rainbow bridge. However, by validating their feelings, you’re helping them avoid assigning any judgements with their current emotional experience — leaving only support and strength for them.

As you do this, you might choose to remind them that there’s always someone available to talk to. Whether they choose to reach out to you, a family member, another friend, or a professional (such as a therapist), communication can be a helpful way to process and acknowledge the grieving process.

Remind them of the great life they gave their pet

After their pet’s death, your friend may not immediately remember the details of the life that they gave their beloved family member. You can step in and remind them of how much love you were able to see with every interaction, and give them the assurance that they did the right thing by their pet whenever they could.

You might choose to recall the simple joy you observed in their normal routine, or the luxurious fulfillment of their pet’s basic needs. Maybe they bought their pet the best toys or splurged on some seriously tasty treats. Focus on the good, and let them revel in the happy memories.

Give them time to mourn

It’s often said that “time heals all wounds.” While you may want to avoid saying this statement directly, finding a soothing way to relate this idea can be helpful to a friend struggling to feel that they can move on. Assure them that they don’t have to rush the painful experience of grieving. It can be tempting to simply move past the pain of loss — but it isn’t necessarily healthy to do so.

Remaining positive and resilient is perfectly fine, and should be encouraged. Embracing rhythms of both joy and grief can help your friend to make sense of their complex healing process and experience relating to the loss of their pet.

Ask them what they need

If you aren’t sure where to begin with helping your friend deal with the loss of a beloved dog, cat, or pet, you might choose to ask a single, simple question: What do you need at this moment?

Doing this can empower your friend to speak up about their different feelings and thoughts, as well as any actual emotional needs or physical needs they aren’t meeting because of their grief. They can also explore their own feelings privately knowing they have your support to fall back on as they navigate this level of emotional pain.

Whether or not they choose to ask you for anything, feel free to ask them several times to show your continued support. Emotional pain and pet grief can be complex and extended processes.

Share any memories you have of the pet

Swapping stories and sharing memories is a great way to keep the emotional connection alive between your friend and their pet’s memory. Whether you choose to leave a supportive comment on social media, write a heartfelt letter or have a conversation with them, there’s no wrong way to offer up memories and general support.

Create a memorial for the pet

Helping your friend create a memorial can be a bonding and supportive experience. You can choose to set up a special spot at the pet cemetery where the pet has been laid to rest, or have something in memoriam in your home. This may be in a separate corner of the space, perhaps by the cremation urn or memorial box provided by the vet service (if applicable).

A photo album, a clay paw print, letters, toys and sympathy cards can all be great additions to include in your memorial plans. You might also choose to make a donation in the pet’s name to a local humane society, have special jewelry or a gift made to memorialize the pet or plant a tree to have something long-term to remember them by. There’s no wrong way to honor the pet and your friend in this hard time — and any effort made is sure to make the person feel supported.

What not to say to someone grieving over a pet

Now that we’ve covered what you can do to help owners of lost pets feel better during this time, it’s time to take a look at what not to say in the event of your friend’s pet’s passing. We’ve listed a few examples below:

  • Your pet is in a better place. This invalidates the pain of losing the pet and can even imply that the pet owner did not offer enough to their pet while they were here.
  • It was just an animal, not a human. This could be perceived as you minimizing the pain of a pet’s passing, simply because they weren’t a human. It also puts the pet at a lower value, which is insulting.
  • Are you going to get another one? People going through the grief process might feel rushed or judged by this. It isn’t helpful.
  • They were suffering, so it’s probably for the best. This can be incredibly hard to hear and simply isn’t true. The pet parent did the best they could for their animal, and there is nothing “good” or “best” about losing a pet.
  • When my pet died, I did x, y, or z. This invalidates the pain that the pet parent is going through and seems self-centered.

Frequently asked questions

Can pets have memorial services?

It seems like there’s never enough time in the lifespans of our precious pets. For that reason, an owner may choose to have a memorial service to celebrate the bond they shared and the bright light their pet was in their life. Memorial services for pets are becoming more common and serve as reminders of their pet’s beloved memory.

How traumatic is losing a pet?

Pet loss can be completely heartbreaking and overwhelming for the family going through it. Speaking with a grief counselor or having memorial services can help you to work through this time of grief in a healthy, supporting way.

How do I let go of losing my pet?

If you’ve just lost a pet, it’s important to let yourself feel and acknowledge your emotions. It’s painful and heartbreaking, and you’re allowed to feel any way you need to about your circumstances. Knowing that you made the right choices regarding your pet’s best interests can help you feel comforted in the knowledge that you were a loving and responsible pet owner.

How do I get back to living after I lose my pet?

Going back to normal routines can feel impossible after pet loss. It’s important to speak your mind throughout the process and take things at your pace — which may mean making difficult decisions such as turning down social invites and considering professional counseling to work through the grief.

The next right steps can vary depending on specific instances, but for many, simple tasks such as getting groceries and completing basic actions can help orient them to patterns of healing in their day to day.

What should I do if my pet passes?

If your pet passes, please consider going to a vet as soon as possible. They can help you take the next right step to memorialize and care for your sweet furry friend.