Whatever We Call Them

Pets fill many roles: security guard, companion, playmate, best friend, life line (for service animals), and more. Four out of five respondents refer to themselves as their pet’s mom or dad.

Having a pet has moved from ownership to relationship. Whatever we call our pets, the bond between human and pet is strong. Losing a pet can be as significant as losing any human relationship.

A Natural Reaction

Everyone who cares for a pet will one day face the passing of their beloved animal. Grief is a natural reaction to the loss of a family member – or, a pet we become attached to as part of our family.

Often we try to hide these feelings, or not acknowledge the signs of grief. Although responses to loss are varied, studies indicate patterns have emerged.

Free Online Booklet: ``A Guide to Grieving Pet Loss``

Below are excerpts from this guide, including tips on personally coping with loss, helping children understand, and helping other pets in the home.

Stages of Grieving Pet Loss


Often described as “unreal”, this is a feeling of numbness that can last hours, days, or weeks. For some this is the shortest stage. Reactions people experience during this stage are: disorganized thoughts, feeling unaffected, thinking about suicide, feeling numb, being euphoric or hysterical, feeling outside their body, or being talkative, hyper, or passive. Other people will feel in denial of the loss. (A common expression: “I can’t believe he is really gone…it just doesn’t seem real.”)


People find themselves deeply missing the pet. Individuals in this phase can be preoccupied with thoughts of the deceased; they may have dreams about the pet who is gone. Reactions experienced may include sensing the pet outside their home. Feelings commonly experienced are intense sadness, fear, anger, relief, irritability, guilt, and yearning. During this period individuals may find themselves bursting into tears at unexpected times. People may also experience physical illness, pain, weight change, fatigue, and change in appetite.


During this phase individuals are beginning to live their lives without their animal companion and learning new skills. This commonly leads to feeling disorganized, as well as needing to evaluate and learn different ways of managing life (such as how to fill that empty spot when coming home without someone to greet you).


People in grief forget that grief is a process and that through this process, new coping skills are learned. The pet who is gone is usually never forgotten. In the case of death, most individuals never “get over” the loss. However, survivors learn to live with loss. The intensity of the loss changes and a survivor can rejoin life. Individuals may establish new relationships with pets. Sadness and crying still occur at times, while simultaneously increased happiness will be experienced.

When It's Time, We're Where Your Pet Needs Us: