Losing a Pet


BY: Diane Snyder Cowan, MA, MT-BC, CHPCA

CATEGORY: Grief and Loss

In addition to grieving the death of a special person in our lives, many of us have experienced the death of a pet. For pet owners, animals hold a special place in our heart and life. It is natural to grieve when these treasured friends die.

The love relationship between pets and their owners takes on many qualities – companionship, comfort, security and love. When a pet dies, these aspects of the  relationship are lost and the grief can be intense. Yet society often disenfranchises pet loss with clichés and unhelpful comments such as "you can always get another one."

Pets play an important role in the family. Children often lay claim to the family pet – the feed, clean up after, and play tirelessly with the beloved animal. The death of a pet is oftena child's first major loss. Adults and older adults often have special relationships with their pets and the death of a pet can trigger grief reactions. Many hospice patients worry about what will happen to their pet when they die and only find peace once their pet has been placed in a home. Indeed, pets have become family members.

In April, we led a pet loss workshop and offered suggestions on ways to remember our special friend, whether "furry, feathered or finned."

Here are a few helpful hints:
  • Create an atmosphere where feelings can be expressed and talked about openly.
  • Confide in someone who is an animal lover. They are more likely to offer an empathetic ear.
  • Rituals can be helpful. It may seem silly to have a funeral for a pet, but it is often beneficial. Some pet hospitals host yearly memorial services. Design a ritual that provides meaning to you and your family. Remember to involve your children.
  • Resist the impulse to replace the pet too quickly. Take time to work through your grief and loss before developing a relationship with a new pet.
  • Memorialize your pet. With pets, as with people, poems, pictures, music, hugs, laughter, memories and tears will help maintain that continuing bond.

We Can Help

Speak with the referral team by contacting us seven days a week, 24 hours a day. Any first visit and admission can be made the first day.

Northern Ohio's Hospice of Choice

More than 1,000 Hospice of the Western Reserve employees and 3,000 volunteers live and work side-by-side in the same neighborhoods with our patients and families. We are privileged to have cared for more than 100,000 Northern Ohioans since our inception.