Supporting a Friend Who Is Experiencing Loss of a Pet

Grief knows no bounds and many people experience pain similar to that of losing a close family member

What can be helpful

  • Listen in a non-judgmental manner
  • Let them ‘tell their story’ as many times as they need to
  • Ask them how they are doing and offer to help – repeat this offer
  • If you know their preferences (a meal, a coffee, etc.) bring it to them – you don’t have to stay
  • Let your friend know you are there for them
  • Share that there are NO right or wrong behavior for grieving—everyone is different.
  • Reflect on and help them explore the feelings they are expressing and the reality of the death
  • Know that they may have emotional set backs
  • Be there for them in the days as well as weeks, months, and years following the death
  • Allow periods of silence
  • Share with them your wonderful memories of the companion animal who has died
  • Know that your friend will always grieve the loss but will learn to live with it
  • Help them celebrate the life of the one they have lost
  • Help them develop the rituals they need to get through those early difficult times of intense grief
  • If the person who is in grief is suicidal refer them to a mental health professional
  • Offer suggestions to help them through their grief such as memorializing their companion pet 

What will NOT be helpful

  • Do NOT impose a timeline for feeling better—there is no timeline for grief
  • Do NOT tell them you know exactly how they feel—no one can ever experience pain, grief, and loss in exactly the same way
  • Do NOT tell them time heals all or that the person or animal they loved is in a better place.
  • Do NOT try to ‘fix them’ or make it all better—respect their journey through grief
  • Do NOT use euphemisms that tend to deny or invalidate the extent of the loss
  • Do NOT get a new pet for your friend
  • Do NOT say “it’s just a” (dog, cat, rat, etc.). This is incredibly invalidating for the person
  • Do NOT tell them they can “get another”
  • Do NOT compare one griever’s loss or experience to another’s. Comparisons minimize the loss and imply there is a “right” way to grieve. There isn’t
  • Do NOT encourage them to make major changes in their life
  • Do NOT suggest they medicate their pain with alcohol or medication. Avoiding the immediate symptoms of grief can ultimately lead to complicated and unresolved grief
  • Do NOT scold, give advice, lecture or pep talks to them when they are feeling down—let the grief process take its course.