Silent paws: Coping with the loss of a pet

Editorial Assistant
Posted 7/5/24

Loss is a universal experience, yet how we navigate grief is deeply personal.

This truth extends even to the loss of a cherished pet.

In the timeless narrative of "The Hunt," a memorable …

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Silent paws: Coping with the loss of a pet


Loss is a universal experience, yet how we navigate grief is deeply personal.

This truth extends even to the loss of a cherished pet.

In the timeless narrative of "The Hunt," a memorable and one of my all-time favorite episodes from the iconic "Twilight Zone" series, Hyder Simpson's unwavering loyalty to his coon dog, Rip, offers a poignant exploration of love and loss. After an accident during a hunting trip, Simpson and Rip find themselves on the path to the afterlife. However, when they reach what appears to be the gates of heaven, Simpson learns that dogs are not allowed.

Angered, Simpson refuses to enter the gates and continues with Rip down "Eternity Road," saying "Any place that's too high-falutin' for Rip is too fancy for me."

Simpson's refusal to enter without Rip resonates deeply with anyone who has experienced the wrenching sorrow of losing a beloved pet, reminding us of the enduring power of love beyond the realms of mortality.

The pain of pet loss is something I intimately understand. Recently, I mourned the passing of a beloved feline companion, and the grief continues to reverberate through my daily life.

Losing a pet isn't a singular event; it's a series of losses, each one reopening the wound of absence. With a cat, you lose them again when you wake up and are met with silence instead of their mews. You lose them again when you have one less bowl to fill with food. You lose them again when you come home and don't feel them rubbing against your ankles. You lose them again when they don't feel their purrs against your hand. You lose them again when they aren't lying in their favorite spot. You lose them again when they aren't beside you at night.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, "When a beloved pet dies, the loss can bring grief and intense sorrow. By physically showing your grief, you actively mourn the death of your beloved pet. This active mourning helps move you on a journey toward reconciling with the loss of your pet."

Grieving the loss of a pet is a deeply personal experience shaped by the unique bond you shared, the circumstances of their death and the personal decisions you make regarding their farewell. Your support system, individual traits and other life challenges also significantly influence how you navigate this grief. Your pet's role in your life, combined with your personality, cultural background and concurrent stresses, all contribute to the complexity and intensity of your mourning process.

For those currently grappling with the loss of a pet or anticipating this experience in the future, here are some practical suggestions compiled from sources including the book "Coping with Sorrow on the Loss of Your Pet" by Moira Anderson Allen, M.Ed., the Humane Society of The United States website and the community of r/Petloss on Reddit.


Decide how to handle your pet's remains. Options include home burial (this is legal in Alabama, but not in every state), pet cemeteries or cremation. If your pet passes at a clinic, you may be able to leave the pet at the clinic, but you'll need to check. Consider your living situation, finances and personal values when making this decision.


People experience grief in various ways, including:

  • Guilt: You may feel responsible for your pet's death, but this is often misplaced and unhelpful.
  • Denial: It's hard to accept that your pet is really gone, making it difficult to move forward.
  • Anger: This may be directed at circumstances or individuals involved in your pet's death.
  • Depression: Grief can lead to depression, which, while natural, can sap your energy and motivation.


Absolutely not. Intense grief over the loss of a pet is normal and natural. Don't let anyone tell you it's silly or overly sentimental to grieve. Pets offer comfort, companionship and unconditional love, so it's not surprising to feel devastated by their loss. Remember, your feelings are valid, and you're not alone — many pet owners experience the same emotions.


Be honest about your feelings. Recognize your emotions and allow yourself to express your grief. Cry if you need to. Acknowledge your pain, anger and guilt. Suppressing your sadness can prolong the grieving process.

To help yourself through the grieving process, here are a few ways to memorialize your pet:

  • Plant a native tree or flowering shrub in memory of your pet.
  • Create a memory box with your pet's collar or favorite toys.
  • If you choose to cremate your pet, purchase memorial jewelry incorporating your pet's ashes.
  • Commission a painting, statue, memorial stone, or plush animal representation of your pet.
  • Write about your feelings or pen a letter to your pet.
  • Write an obituary for your pet.
  • Share photos and memories of your pet on social media.

It's also important to note to focus on positive memories. Avoid replaying your pet's last moments, especially if they were traumatic. Instead, concentrate on the joyful times you shared. Remember that your pet is no longer in pain; now, you must take care of yourself.

For the cat our household lost, she had a habit of sitting on cabinet corners, hunched down staring down at her domain and those that occupied it. We called it "gargoyling" as she reminded us of the gothic architecture when she did this. So, we bought a small gargoyle cat statue that we painted and now sits on a shelf in our kitchen, always watching over us.


Talk to family or friends who understand your bond with your pet. If you need more support, seek out a pet loss counselor or support group through your veterinarian or local humane association. If you are part of a congregation, inquire if your place of worship offers bereavement support for pet loss.

There are also resources and support groups available online, including:


This might depend on your beliefs and the child, but it is better to be honest with your children about your pet's death. Explain the difference between death and sleep and avoid saying the pet "went away." Encourage them to express their grief and participate in memorializing the pet.


Pets often grieve the loss of a companion. After the loss, my cat's best playmate acted strangely, isolating herself from me and the occupants of the house. It took a few weeks before she began to behave normally again, though some patterns of her behavior have changed permanently I feel. Provide extra attention and love to surviving pets. Make sure to allow time for them to adjust to a new pet, if you choose to get one.


Generally, it's best to wait until you've worked through your grief before getting a new pet. Avoid getting a "lookalike" pet and allow the new pet to develop its own personality. Choose a new pet when you're ready to build a new relationship and never as a replacement for the old.

Coping with the loss of a pet is challenging, but these tips can help you navigate the grieving process and honor the memory of your beloved companion.

And, spoiler alert, for those curious about the fate of Simpson and Rip, well, it turns out that our pets love us and are always looking out for us, too.

As Simpson and Rip embark on their journey through the ethereal realms following Simpson's refusal to cross the gates, they encounter an angel. This celestial being assures the duo that they were sought out to be escorted to heaven.

Mr. Simpson, taken aback, questions the angel's assertion, recalling the belief that dogs weren't permitted. It's a pivotal moment as they realize the gates they had approached weren't the gates of heaven but rather a far darker destination.

"You see, Mr. Simpson," the angel says to Simpson, "a man, well, he'll walk right into Hell with both eyes open. But even the Devil can't fool a dog!"