Do you have a friend who is grieving deeply over the loss of a beloved dog or cat? If you have pets of your own, you probably understand your friend’s pain and want to console him or her. When owners deal with loss, they may even feel guilty when there are so many tragedies throughout the world. But the grief can absolutely devastating, especially since most people today consider their dogs and cats as more than just pets. The sadness your friend is experiencing is likely close to or even equal to how he or she might feel about losing a human family member.
Furry family members
If you were raised to believe that a family's dog or a cat is "just an animal," you might not understand the gut-wrenching pain that your friend is experiencing over the death of his or her beloved pet. You might even think he or she is acting a bit melodramatic.
Yet it's important to remember that your friend's dog or cat may have been his or her only source of companionship and comfort on a day-to-day basis. That's not uncommon in today's highly mobile society, where people have moved away from their support system of family and friends. In fact, the only intimate relationship some people have on a daily basis may be with their dog or cat.
Even if you don't understand this deep bond that a person has with a dog or a cat, you should approach consoling your friend in a manner similar to how you would treat him or her if he or she had just lost a human friend or family member.
How to comfort a friend who lost a pet: do’s and don’ts
The following are some tips regarding what you should do and not do when a friend is grieving the loss of a beloved pet.
Be there for your friend. Even if you don't know exactly what to say when someone loses a pet, you can listen to your friend talk about his or her loss or even just sit in silence together while he or she processes his or her grief.
Send your friend pet condolences cards or a small gift, such as a plant or flowers.
Offer to help. Your friend may be too upset to cook or even to remember to feed himself or herself, so consider bringing something to eat. Your friend might also ask you to help with a few small chores. For example, gather his or her pet's belongings and then store them out of sight until he or she can handle seeing them again.
Acknowledge the fact that you may not have the right words for the situation. Everyone grieves in different ways, so what you say to one person may accidentally offend another. Let your friend know that while you may not always have the right words or answers, you are there during this time of grief.
Think of ways to honor your friend's pet. Today, there are numerous ways to memorialize a pet. You can, for example, buy a locket in which your friend can keep a clipping of his or her pet's fur, or you could present your friend with a framed picture of his or her dog or cat.
Call and check in on your friend on a regular basis. Consider asking if he or she would like to go out or would just like some companionship.
Help your friend with closure. When a human family member dies, there is typically a funeral, which can give loved ones a sense of closure. Your friend might appreciate a similar closure for his or her pet. For example, you and your friend could light a candle in his or her pet's honor. Or you could offer to help scatter the dog's or cat's ashes in a special place.
Be forgiving. Your friend may lash out at you for what you think is an innocent remark or for something you may or may not have done. Just remember, he or she is in a world of hurt right now; don’t take any angry outbursts personally.
Say that his or her furry family member was just a dog or just a cat. That minimizes the pet's importance in your friend's life, which also minimizes his or her grief.
Suggest to your friend he or she get another pet right away. Each person reacts to death differently. Some pet owners feel such a hole in their lives that they'll want to bring home another dog or cat immediately. Others are so devastated, they'll vow to never again get another dog or cat. Whatever decision your friend makes, try to be supportive and non-judgmental.
Tell your friend that his or her beloved pet is in a better place. Even if the pet was suffering with a disease, such as cancer, your friend may not be ready to accept this statement.
Place a time limit on your friend’s grief. Don't make suggestions to your friend such as, "It's been a month now. Shouldn't you throw out your dog's old collar?" Or "It's been a year. Isn't it about time you get a new pet?"
Say you understand how he or she feels. Even if you've lost a pet before, everyone's situation is a little different. A more sensitive way of expressing this is by saying, "I can't imagine what you're feeling right now."
Do not compare grief. Your friend is in pain. It won't help if you say things such as, "You could have it worse. You could have lost your brother like I just did." Allow your friend to grieve without making him or her feel as if he or she is wrong for being upset and sad about the loss of a pet.
Your friend may have a hard time recovering from the loss of an animal that was his or her constant companion and confidant. Be there for your friend — even when you're not sure what to say and what not to say when a pet dies. Your presence is what matters the most.
Lizz Caputo is a Content Strategist at Figo, animal enthusiast, and owner of a rescued senior American Bully. Her hobbies include checking out new restaurants in her area, boxing, and petting dogs of all shapes and sizes.