Coping with pet bereavement

Lorna Cowan / 23 October 2015

The loss of a pet can be extremely difficult and overwhelming, but bereavement support is available.



Coping with the death of a pet can be extremely tough. Feelings of shock and loneliness are often overwhelming, especially if you’ve been a pet owner for many years or you live on your own. Your days just won’t be the same without the company of a faithful friend who loved you, no matter what. And then there are feelings of guilt too, made worse if you’ve had to put your pet to sleep. However, if you accept that it’s normal to feel this way, just like any bereavement time will heal the pain.

Know when to say goodbye

Sadly, our pets don’t live forever. They grow old or become sick, and at some point you may have to make the difficult decision to end their life. Take advice from your vet – painkillers may be an option for a while – but most pet owners will know when euthanasia is the kindest route to take.

For more about euthanasia and what it involves, visit the PDSA website, www.pdsa.org.uk, and download their useful guide ‘Saying goodbye’.

Allow yourself time to grieve

You often spend more time with a pet than anyone else, so it’s okay to feel as sad as you would if you lost a friend or loved one. Ignore thoughtless comments that it ‘was only a pet’ or ‘just get another one’, and take time out of your usual routine to grieve. 

You may find comfort talking to other people who knew your pet well, maybe family and friends, or even another dog walker.

Remember to watch over grandchildren, who could be dealing with death for the first time and have many questions.

If you need support, call the Blue Cross Pet Bereavement Support Service on 0800 096 6606 (free from landlines) or email pbssmail@bluecross.org.uk.

Remember your pet

Don’t rush and make decisions about what to do with your pet. Vets are usually very sympathetic at this difficult time and will look after your pet’s body until you decide if you want a burial or cremation. There are lots of different options available, at various price ranges, so ask someone to help you choose what’s right for you. 

The website of the Association of Private Pet Cemeteries & Crematoria, www.appcc.org.uk, may give you ideas.

Whether you bury your pet in a favourite spot in the garden, scatter their ashes somewhere special, or frame a collection of photos, make it an occasion and remember happier time – this will help you deal with your grief. For more advice, see www.livingwithpetbereavement.com.

Replacing a pet

Companionship and unconditional love come top of the list when people are asked why they own pets. But if you’ve looked after an animal for many years, and have built a special bond, you may not want another pet in your home. Take time to decide. As you get older, the thought of puppy training may fill you with dread, but there are elderly dogs and cats at rescue centres across the UK in need of love too.

If you don’t want the responsibility of owning another dog, but still fancy going on a walk and receiving a cuddle or two, find out more about BorrowMyDoggy, www.borrowmydoggy.com. Partnered with the Dogs Trust, it’s a trusted community of dog lovers, who help take care of pets in their local area.

Animal shelters near you may also welcome your time and support. Or get in touch with the National Animal Welfare Trust. It operates rescue centres in the south of England for unwanted, ill-treated and abandoned animals and birds, specialising in caring for elderly pets. Older members of the community are encouraged to foster the animals, or visit and take them for walks. See www.nawt.org.uk.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.