Pet Loss Guidance / Q & A
What can I say to someone whose pet has died?
Most of us have experienced the emotions triggered by the death of a loved one, the end of a very important relationship, or another major loss, and for many people the loss of a pet stands among life’s most significant losses.
As you consider what to say, it may help to remember some facts about grief: Grief can bring a broad range of feelings and thoughts, including denial, disbelief, shock, anger, sadness, yearning, guilt, anguish, relief, exhaustion, numbness, confusion, and the list goes on. These may come and go, some stronger than others, and sometimes many piling on all at once. On the other hand, some people experience less intense feelings. They seem to recover from loss without much turmoil. It can help to remember that people experience loss and grieving differently–there are no right and wrong ways to grieve.
The length of time that those who feel great emotional pain do so varies. For most, intense episodes of pain eventually grow farther apart. The pain of the loss lessens, but many people feel that significant losses change them in important ways.
As you approach a person suffering through their pet’s bereavement, it pays to keep in mind that you cannot expect to help them feel differently than they do. Instead, you can help them greatly by showing that you care. You can do this by expressing your condolences and listening carefully to how they’re feeling.
Kind words for the grief stricken:
- I’m so sorry.
- Oh, how sad. What happened?
- (Name) was such a sweet (type of animal).
- I’m sorry you’re going through such a difficult time.
- I can’t imagine going through this.
- What a sad time.
- You look like you are struggling.
- You look so sad
There are a few things you will want to avoid saying:
- I know how you feel (No one really knows how another person feels and suggesting this may make the person who receives the comment feel as though you’re not really paying attention to their unique experience of grief).
- Your friend is in a better place now (The person on the receiving end may feel as though you’re dismissing their current feelings, and the suggestion may also not line up with their spiritual beliefs.)
You may acknowledge any feeling that the person shows, but you will never go wrong if you simply acknowledge the loss, listen to how the other person feels, and let them know that you care.
What can I say to people who make insensitive comments about the loss of my pet?
Unfortunately, many people trivialize the loss of pets with comments like “why don’t you just get another one” and “it was only an animal.” Many times the people who say such things are actually on some level trying to be helpful. They want you to feel better but they don’t have the social skills that would allow them to say something helpful. (Other times, people who say such things are just being mean.
Many times it makes the most sense to end the conversation after such a comment. If, however, you feel inclined to try to educate a person who says such things, you may want to say something like:
- My animal companion was a very important member or my family and one of my closest friends. How do you think you would feel if you told me that your best friend died and my response was “Why don’t you just find another best friend?
- It hurts when people trivialize the loss of animal companions by saying “It was only an animal!” What you said may have been meant to help me feel better, but it actually made me feel worse. It would be much more helpful for you to say something simple but kind, like “I’m really sorry to hear that your pet died.”
When is it time to euthanize?
Deciding to end your pet’s suffering through euthanasia can be one of the most painful decisions one ever makes. The following points can help:
- Euthanasia makes sense when the irreversible suffering imposed by age or illness outweighs your pet’s ability to enjoy living.
- The decision is best made in collaboration with others who love and care for your companion animal, along with a veterinarian who you respect.
- Remember that illness and/or age is what ends your pet’s life. You are not “killing” your friend, but rather helping your friend avoid unnecessary pain and suffering.
- Expect feelings of guilt no matter how carefully you make this decision. Euthanizing your pet who is suffering is an act of love, but human beings almost always experience guilt in the aftermath. If you decide not to euthanize, on the other hand, you may experience guilt and misgivings about “allowing your friend to suffer for too long.” When we love our pets dearly, grief often includes some degree of guilt regardless of how their life ends.
After the death of a pet, when does it make sense to get another?
Deciding when to bring another pet into your home after the death of your friend can be a challenging decision to make. The following points can help:
- There is no exact formula here and no absolute rights and wrongs. Some people feel comfortable getting a new pet very shortly after a loss and others wait years. The timing that feels comfortable for you (and other household members, if applicable) is the right timing.
- It is important to know that, regardless of when you bring a new animal home, this new friend will not replace the one who has been lost, and they will also not put an end to your pet loss grief.
- Let time be your friend. It will never hurt to wait a bit longer if you’re uncertain.