Over the years, a pet becomes an indispensable part of your family, your life, and your heart. They are a continuous source of warmth, positivity, and unconditional love, and losing them can feel like losing part of yourself. Nothing can prepare you for losing a loved one, and that includes your pet. While you know that death is a natural part of the life cycle, a pet’s passing—whether planned or unexpected—will impact you in profound ways.
As is true for most difficult life experiences, you will navigate your pet’s passing in your own way, and the path to healing will be different for everyone. Still, having a guide can provide immense comfort and become a helpful resource when your mind feels foggy from the emotional toll of your loss. Whether your pet is near their life’s end, or you have recently said goodbye to your beloved companion, we hope this comprehensive guide to a pet’s passing will help you navigate the difficult journey, encouraging you to celebrate your pet’s life, the bond you shared, and the memories you will always carry.
Ending your pet’s suffering
Throughout your pet’s life, you should regularly assess their quality of life (QOL) to ensure they are not in pain. This becomes particularly important as your pet ages, or if your pet is diagnosed with a chronic or terminal illness. Making end-of-life decisions for your beloved pet is extremely difficult, but this responsibility is essential to compassionate pet ownership. When your pet’s health declines, they rely on you to decide when to let them go and end their suffering. Making this decision can feel agonizing, but a QOL scale can help you objectively consider the factors that contribute to your pet’s comfort and wellbeing, assess their QOL, and make difficult end-of-life care decisions. In addition, you should discuss your pet’s QOL with your family veterinarian, who has the knowledge and insight to help you make the right decision for your beloved companion.
Saying goodbye to your pet
Euthanasia is the act of humanely ending a living being’s life to prevent their extreme suffering, which is often the result of a serious and irreversible medical condition. Once you have made the difficult decision to have your pet euthanized, you and your family must decide how and where you say your final goodbyes. Some veterinarians may require you to schedule the procedure at your veterinary hospital, and others offer in-home euthanasia services, which allow your pet and your family to spend their final moments together in the comfort of your home.
After your pet’s euthanasia, you have various options for their body’s aftercare, which are often based on your location, crematoria near you and their policies, and local burial regulations. Your options may include:
Pet cemetery burial
Memorializing your pet
Losing a pet is devastating, but memorializing their life can help you express your grief in a healthy manner, finding peace and healing amid the sadness. Consider these special pet memorial ideas:
Host a memorial service for your pet — A memorial service provides an opportunity for you to share memories, receive comfort from loved ones, and say a final farewell to your beloved pet. Invite family and friends—and well-behaved pets—who were part of your pet’s life, because knowing that your pet was so loved will bring you comfort. Ask guests to bring photos and their special memories, and focus on celebrating your pet’s life and the happy memories—remember, a memorial does not need to be entirely sad. If you plan to spread your pet’s ashes, you can do so at the memorial service’s completion.
Preserve your pet’s paw print — Preserving your pet’s paw print in salt dough is a meaningful way to always feel close to them. You can display their paw print on a shelf, create a special ornament, frame the print as custom artwork, or store this memento in a keepsake box.
Make a pet keepsake box — Gathering special memories and mementos of your pet for a keepsake box can help your grieving process. However, when you’re ready, consider donating the more practical supplies, such as food, bowls, and carriers, to a shelter or rescue. Create a memory box for more sentimental belongings, such as
Dealing with the loss of a pet
Mourning and grief do not follow a specific style or timeline—experience your pet’s loss at your own pace, and let others do the same. You and your family may cope by following these tips:
Reach out to others who have lost pets — You may feel understood and supported by connecting with others who are going through—or have gone through—losing a pet. Look for a pet-loss support group, whether online or in your community, to connect with others who have experienced the same loss.
Maintain a normal routine — Losing a pet can make your daily routine feel empty. Daily activities you once shared with your pet, such as going for a walk, won’t feel the same without them, but try to keep your routine as close to normal as you can. This provides consistency and keeps you busy, which can be a relief when you’re experiencing a loss.
Talk about your grief — Expressing grief and emotions can be difficult, but talking about your feelings supports your healing. Find time to talk with your family and remind them that their feelings are normal, and they only need to ask for help and support during this difficult time. To help you process your emotions, you may also benefit from speaking with a professional who specializes in pet grief and loss.
Helping children through the loss of a pet
A child may have an especially difficult time after losing a pet. This may be their first experience involving a loved one’s death, and their first feelings of grief. Younger children may not recall a time without their pet and may not understand why their beloved companion is gone. Losing a pet can be a powerful learning experience to help a child process other losses in their life. You can help your children understand and cope by showing them that grief is acceptable and necessary in response to a pet’s passing. Ensure you reassure your child that expressing sadness is OK.
Your pet’s passing is profoundly difficult, but you don’t have to make this journey alone. Whether your pet is nearing the end or has recently passed, use this locator tool to find a veterinary practice, and speak with professionals who can provide the expertise, resources, and support you need.