Mourning the loss of a pet: Words that help, words that don’t

September 18, 2019

The death of a companion animal leaves a gaping hole. Here’s our guide to communication that can help—or hurt—during this difficult time.


“Come on, it’s just an animal!”

It’s never “just” an animal. Your pet was a member of the family—there every day, at the door to greet you when you got home from work, snuggled up beside you when you watch TV, always ready to head out for a walk. Few living creatures shape our routine as much. When an animal passes away, our daily routines are turned upside down. We’re reminded of their absence throughout the day and each time our hearts sink a little lower.

“You can always get another one …”

In deep mourning, all we usually want is to have our animal back, not just to replace them which would feel like a betrayal. As with everything in life, time will help heal the wounds and maybe one day we’ll be open to the idea of having “another one”. For the time being at least, this isn’t in the cards.

“For me, when my Pistachio died …”

With all due respect, we don’t want to hear about your animal. We want to talk about ours—the crazy way they chased bees, the way they loved car rides with the windows down, the clumsy way they woke us up in the morning, the hurt look on their faces when they’d done something wrong. Your intention is great, but your timing’s not ideal.

“He’s better off where he is now”

Unfortunately, no one really knows. But we do recall how happy they were on their ripped up old cushion, perched on the windowsill spying on birds, or sprawled in front of the fireplace. So, it’s not really a consolation.

“At least you had him for a long time”

Is it less painful to lose your pet at a ripe old age than to lose them at the hands of an unjust killer disease when they’re in the prime of life? Not at all. Even if our animal had a long, happy life, we still don’t want it to come to an end. And the weight of having picked their final day can be a lot to bear. Without mentioning those who had to decide on the timing of their pet’s death—a truly heavy weight to bear.

“It’s not that bad. Some people lose their children.”

Of course, it’s worse to lose a child. But life isn’t a competition to see who can suffer the most! Knowing that some people face the terrible pain of losing their child doesn’t lighten our own suffering.


“I don’t know what to say but I’m here if you’d like to talk”

Frequently people don’t know what to say. And that’s fine. When you’ve lost a dear soul, more than anything you’re looking for support—a friendly presence and knowing you have someone you can count on. That’s all.

Jack was just so amazing”

It feels good to hear that our animal made a positive impact on other’s lives, that they were appreciated and recognized for being extraordinary. If you have a special memory, why not share it?

“I’m really sorry for your loss”

Short and simple, but always effective. Even if you’re not especially partial to animals and don’t “get” why someone could be so upset about the death of their dog, cat or turtle. Try to put yourself in their shoes and feel their pain.

“Would you like me to come with you to the vet clinic?”

This is the most generous gesture you can make. No one should have to face this daunting task all by themselves. You’ll not only provide a comforting human presence, you can also prevent them from leaving the clinic with an empty cage—or their animal’s collar—in their hands. And that’s worth its weight in gold.


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