The death of a dog is one of the most stressful and significant losses pet owners undergo. Because of a dog's relatively short lifespan, dog owners experience the death of a pet at least once in their lifetimes. The sorrow resulting when a dog dies can be the same as the type of grief suffered when a close loved one dies. And the ensuing grief responses can be just as painful and profound.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- How to Support a Grieving Dog Owner After a Death
- What to Say to a Grieving Dog Owner After a Death
- What NOT to Say to a Grieving Dog Owner After a Death
Although pet loss grief mirrors any other significant loss, the mourning process is often quite different. Many dog owners won't have the support of others when a pet dies because society often doesn't recognize pet loss as a life-altering or serious loss. Bereaved individuals don't typically have access to the same resources as with the loss of another family member. As a result, they often deal with their sorrow privately and without input from their social support groups.
How to Support a Grieving Dog Owner After a Death
Often, pets are regarded as best friends and confidants whose constant companionship enhances the life of their owners. Dogs not only stabilize their owner’s life but provide unconditional love. When a dog dies, pet owners have little to no options for getting the support they need from their support groups and communities, leaving them alone to mourn the loss of their pet. The following are ways in which to help a grieving dog owner who’s struggling with pet loss and bereavement:
1. Acknowledge and validate their loss
The death of a dog is a profoundly painful experience for almost any pet owner. Their grief can be as devastating and complex as when a human member of their family dies. Often, society doesn’t recognize how the death of a pet affects the pet owner because it’s difficult for many to imagine how a dog’s death can be so impactful upon the owner.
In reality, pet loss affects both the emotional and physical well-being of many pet owners, leading them to suffer the same grief effects as other significant losses.
2. Listen to their stories of loss
With any pet loss, there's a love story behind the pet owner's grief. The death of a dog can be excruciatingly painful to its owner, with symptoms lasting from one to two months from the onset of grief. Allowing a dog owner to share stories and memories of their pet while alive will help them process their grief healthily. You may grow tired of hearing the same stories repeated, but with every retelling of their experience, the dog owner comes that much closer to healing and moving forward from their loss.
3. Offer them a new routine
Dog owners often become creatures of habit that revolve around their pet’s daily routines. They spend much of their free time caring for and feeding their pets, so they may become lost and aimless without them. These responsibilities create schedules and daily opportunities for exercise and socialization.
At the death of their dog, pet owners wake up with no direct purpose to fill these voids. You can help suffering dog owners establish temporary routines until they find new ways to spend their free time. Consider inviting them out for a walk each morning or stopping by for a cup of tea in the early evening.
4. Help them honor their dog
Offer to help plan and orchestrate a pet memorial for friends and family that can appreciate the closeness of the shared relationship between the two. The act of planning the service will act as a respite and distraction from their grief, even if it’s only for a short few days. Some pet memorial ideas include a sympathy gift for the loss of a dog explicitly made with their pet in mind, such as a unique piece of jewelry made out of their dog’s cremains.
5. Introduce them to grief support groups
Bereaved pet owners may find solace in sharing their grief experiences with others who’ve suffered similar losses. There are many online grief support groups specific to individuals whose dog has died. You can help them narrow down their choices by doing some research on groups you think they might like and fit in well.
Another option is to check for in-person support groups that meet locally. Meeting with others in person will allow them to get social support while processing their grief and filling the void left by their pet’s death.
6. Volunteer to help with household chores
Dog owners experience complex and profound grief reactions when their pets die. They often respond to their grief reactions by withdrawing from others and from their daily responsibilities finding it challenging to keep up with everything, from the daily household maintenance to going to work.
You can provide tremendous help by volunteering to tend to basic chores like taking out the trash once a week, helping tidy up around the house, and following up with them throughout the day to motivate them with their work assignments.
7. Send thoughtful gifts
Sympathy gifts for bereaved individuals range from sending flowers to subscribing to a meal delivery service for those struggling with grief. Dog owners having a challenging time moving through their grief may benefit from reading books on grieving after the loss of a pet.
Consider subscribing to an online ebook service that allows them to choose from different pet loss books or offer a gift card to a local book store. If opting for the gift card, consider joining them on a special outing to review some of the selections offered together. Getting together for a day out will be a welcome reprieve from their sorrow.
6. Keep in constant contact
Dog owners who live alone, especially, suffer in additional ways when they lose their one constant companion leaving them with a massive hole in their hearts and home. Being without their dog can seem lonely and isolating, leading many dog owners to experience bouts of depression soon after the death of their pet.
When left unattended, unresolved grief tends to escalate to more severe issues such as chronic depression, loneliness, and complicated grief. The first few days after experiencing loss are crucial for most individuals' emotional and psychological well-being. You can support someone through this challenging time by checking in on them by phone or text each day to see how they're holding up.
What to Say to a Grieving Dog Owner After a Death
Part of owning a dog typically means having to endure the hardship of their death because most domestic animals live relatively short lives. Most pet owners outlive their pets, who usually die from old age, illness, or euthanasia. Knowing what to say when someone loses a pet is not always easy because of the complexities of their emotions. Here are some ideas of what to say when words escape you.
“I’m sorry that you lost one of your best friends today.”
Finding the right words to say after a pet loss can be difficult. Most often, all that’s needed is a simple acknowledgment of their loss and a sincere expression of condolences. A pet owner whose dog’s died will appreciate the simplicity of your message because it acknowledges their pet’s death without downplaying their grief. Many pet owners are only seeking validation of their pain and don’t expect anything more than that.
“I know how much your dog meant to you.”
Dog owners often appreciate when you sympathize with their loss and include their pet's name in expressing your condolences. Bereaved pet owners need recognition, support, and consideration as they struggle with their loss. When you acknowledge their dog's role in their lives, you're validating the relationship and bond they shared.
What NOT to Say to a Grieving Dog Owner After a Death
Dog owners have a special attachment to their furry pets that mirror human beings to their children. When a pet dies, one of the last things you should say or imply to their owners is that their dog is replaceable or that they should get over their loss. Each pet loss experience affords new opportunities for growth and learning. Here are some things that you can say to someone who’s grieving over the death of their companion and best friend.
“Your dog’s in a better place now.”
Although this sounds like you are sincerely trying to comfort someone who’s grieving the death of their dog, it’s not only hurtful but insulting to say that their dog is somewhere else that’s better. Most pet owners love and care for their pets unconditionally. They ensure that all of their needs are met and often exceeded. To insinuate that they are now better off someplace else is insulting.
“He was already so old and frail. You made the best decision.”
Even when the decision was the most apparent or only choice, euthanizing a pet is never easy. Pet owners who must choose euthanasia struggle with the feelings of guilt, shame, and regret of their decision.
Much of the responsibility stems from pet owners feeling as if they’ve betrayed their furry friend by breaking the trust between them. These feelings are difficult to reconcile and often last a lifetime.
Grief After Pet Loss
Grief is the natural and indispensable process of healing from loss. The healing process is how we adjust when things eventually end and create irreversible changes. Bereaved individuals dealing with the death of their dog are very much alone in their mourning and may mourn their death for a long time.
The normal grief process may last for several weeks, months, or years. Eventually, they’ll come out of their mourning, and their grief’s intensity will lessen over time.