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How to Help Someone Grieving the Loss of a Pet

Studies find that losing a pet is as traumatic as losing a human family member.

Key points

  • Acknowledge the emotions felt by the grieving.
  • There's no one best thing to say to the bereaved, but there are things to avoid saying.
  • Honoring a pet's memory can bring comfort and a sense of closure.
Source: Snapwire/Pexels
Source: Snapwire/Pexels

Seventy percent of U.S. households own a pet.1 So, most of us know that losing a pet is a heart-wrenching experience that can yield crushing grief and sorrow. But there are empathetic ways to navigate the grieving process, honor a pet's memory, and find healing amidst the pain.

Would you rather see a pic of someone's kid or their kitten? Exactly.

The loss of a pet is one of the most acceptable times to ugly cry. And it's not always regarded with the seriousness that losing a family member or friend evokes in others. But knowing how to support the bereaved helps them navigate the path of healing. Here's what the experts say about how to support someone who's lost a pet.

What do you say to someone who's lost a pet?

"There is no curative thing you can say that will ease the pain, at least in the short term, nor is grief a ‘one size fits all’ process,” stresses Dr. Marie-Charlotte Popp, DVM, of Kirkwood Animal Hospital in Campbell, CA. “I acknowledge the emotions around their grief and tailor my response to what the person in front of me is emotionally ready to receive, letting them know that I am here for them and making it clear that whatever emotions they are feeling are valid,” adds Popp.

She also stresses that knowing what not to say is just as important. We’ve all heard variations of “It’s just a *insert animal*”; “It’s OK, you can get another one”; “She’s in a better place”; or “He was old or sick anyway.” “These can be well-meaning cliches, but they invalidate the inherent emotional value of the pet and overlook the loss as a valued and beloved family member,” says Popp.

Certified service dog trainer and founder of Mindful Doggo, Jackie Carleen, suggests offering a handwritten card as a personal way to reach out with something like, "Amy, I was saddened to learn of Bailey’s death. He had a wonderful way of sparking joy with his mere presence. May I help by running errands or bringing dinner over?” And then follow-up! “When you talk with the bereaved, treat the loss of a pet like that of a human family member. You don't need to say anything eloquent, just a simple 'thinking of you during this time' or ‘I want you to know how much I love and care about you and your pet,’ suffices,” says Jackie.

What are some tactics to help alleviate their grief?

Studies have found that the bereavement of a pet can be just as traumatic as the bereavement of a human family member.2,3,4,5 Maybe it's because only Jesus and dogs love us unconditionally. Or that we never pretend to love a pet the way we do some humans. Dr. Bethany Hsia, DVM, and co-founder of CodaPet, a startup network of mobile veterinarians who focus on end-of-life at-home pet care suggests the following tactics that can help pet parents ease their grief after losing a pet.

  • Encourage them to reminisce about their pet and share stories or photos.
  • Remind them to take care of themselves physically, emotionally, and mentally.
  • Offer information about pet loss support groups, counseling services, or online communities where they can connect with others who have experienced similar losses.

Dr. Karyn Kanowski, chief veterinary surgeon at Redruth Veterinary Surgery talks to pet parents about special pets that she herself has lost—not to make them feel like their grief is not unique, but that it is something they share. She adds something else that’s helpful. “Sometimes, when a pet has been struggling with a lengthy illness, I warn people that they may feel a sense of relief because they know their pet is no longer struggling. I tell them this because it’s important that they not feel guilty,” says Kanowski.

Therapist and clinical director at Recovery Unplugged in Austin, Texas, Ian Jackson, encourages activities for his patients that can help distract them from the grief, such as exercise or spending time outdoors. “If they are struggling to cope with the loss, encourage them to seek help from a licensed professional counselor who can help them navigate their grief journey more effectively,” says Jackson.

How do you help the bereaved honor their animal companion?

Honoring a pet's memory can bring comfort and a sense of closure. Ian Jackson suggests creating a memorial, such as planting flowers or a tree in their memory or making an art piece. “Help them to create a photo album or frame photos of their pet around the house. You could also suggest volunteering at an animal shelter or perhaps rescuing another pet in honor of their passed pet (when they’re ready),” says Jackson.

“Sit with them, invite them to talk about their cherished pet—especially the funny stories, the quirks, and the flaws,” says Popp. She also suggests taking a trip to their pet’s favorite park, donating to a shelter, or getting a clay paw-print keepsake.

Over time, these conversations and actions may taper off as the bereaved gradually adapts to life without their beloved pet—but know that healing doesn't mean forgetting; it means finding a new way to carry the love of a pet forward.

“Whether it was a reptile, fish, small mammal, dog, cat, horse, or bird, their animal was a source of constant companionship, comfort, joy, and unconditional love,” says Popp. “And for some people, their pet represented one of or possibly the only source for these. Let them know that you see and understand that,” she says.


2021–2022 APPA National Pet Owners Survey. (n.d.).…

Stokes, S., Planchon, L., Templer, D., & Keller, J. (2002). Death of a companion cat or dog and human bereavement: psychosocial variables. Society & Animals, 10(1), 93–105.

The psychology of grief: Why losing a pet dog or cat is like losing a family member. (n.d.). BBC Science Focus Magazine. Retrieved July 25, 2023, from

Barker, S. B., Schubert, C. M., Barker, R. T., Kuo, S. I., Kendler, K. S., & Dick, D. M. (2020). The relationship between pet ownership, social support, and internalizing symptoms in students from the first to fourth year of college. Applied Developmental Science, 24(3), 279–293.

Rockett, B., & Carr, S. (2014). Animals and attachment theory. Society & Animals, 22(4), 415–433.

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