Animal loss

Animal loss
Human hand and cat paw

The death of a pet or an animal to which one has become emotionally bonded can be an intense loss,[1] comparable with the death of a human loved one, or even greater depending on the individual. The death can be felt more intensely when the owner has made a decision to end the pet’s life through euthanasia. [2] While there is strong evidence that animals can feel such loss for other animals,[3] this article focuses on human feelings, when an animal is lost, dies or otherwise is departed.


Effect of animal loss on humans

There is no set amount of time for the grieving process to occur. However, mourning is much more intense for a pet upon whom the owner was emotionally dependent. Additionally, some pet owners may feel unable to express their grieving due to social mores surrounding pets. If the pet owner internalizes the grief, the suffering increases.[4] Also, there can be a difference between male and female reactions to the death of a pet. Men, especially in Western cultures, are socialized to internalize their feelings, and so though pet ownership is divided equally between males and females, males may feel it necessary to hide their grief.[5]

The stages of grief proposed by Dr. Elizabeth Kübler-Ross was designed in relation to human death, but can be adapted to describe the grief process for the death of a pet.[6] Indeed, pet death includes several lessons: 1) the relationship rather than the object (the animal) is central to understand the loss; 2) the manner of death/loss will affect the grieving process; 3) the age and living situation of the bereaved will affect the grieving process.[7]

Coping with death

Though well-meaning, phrases like "time heals all wounds" can simply upset the grieving pet owner. However, it is true that the one factor required for all coping strategies is time.[8] Coping also involves understanding the emotions surrounding the loss of a pet, and then accepting the emotions to focus towards positive solutions.

Coping strategies include:[9]

  • Avoid inhibiting grieving
  • Strengthen positive memories
  • Actively seek support from resources, organizations and individuals
  • If spiritual or religious, seek solace
  • Prepare in advance for the death of the pet

After the loss of the animal or pet, there are further coping strategies available for the grieving individual:

  • Consider changing your living environment by putting away pet-related items or rearranging the home
  • Adjust the daily routine or schedule to avoid pet-related "moments"
  • Express emotion through writing down experiences and memories
  • Memorialize the dead pet
  • Consider volunteer work or just helping out others around you
  • Multi-pet households can focus on the remaining pets

Types of loss

Although most pets are lost due to euthanasia[citation needed], there are several special types of loss:[10][11]

  • Pet is missing (considered an unresolved loss)
  • Pet is lost through divorce/separation
  • Pet is accidentally injured or killed
  • Pet is willfully injured or killed

Getting a new animal

One caveat is to carefully consider timing bringing a new pet into the home.[12] Additionally, it is recommended to consider where the bereaved is in the grieving process.[13] Choose the new pet for its own unique qualities rather than trying to replace the former pet.[14]

Workplace issues

Pet illness and death is gradually becoming recognized as similar to other forms of sickness and death in the family. In the UK, a variety of companies provide paid leave for such eventualities,[15] with employment tribunals backing this in some instances where employment terms did not specifically mention pet loss.[16]

Recent studies by insurers suggest that up to one in four pet owners are sufficiently affected by pet loss or illness to take time off, but that many feel this will be treated lightly and hence simply state they were sick. According to Petplan, 35% of people admitted to taking time off work to either settle new pets into the home or care for sick pets, and half of those admitted taking a whole week off,[17] and according to Direct Line one in four pet owners "said they have been too upset to go into the workplace when their four legged friend died" and "many of those who did go into work after the death of their pet said they were unproductive." [18] The latter survey also noted that pet owners in the UK take "around 8 million days off" due to grief at the death of a pet, and that "seventy-nine percent of people responding to the survey admitted they did not think their boss would be sympathetic, and the only way they could get time off work was by ... pretending to be ill." [17]

Pet loss resources

Resources for pet loss change regularly, but include grief counseling, support groups, online forums, hotlines and books. The Pet Loss Support Page maintains an updated list of recommended resources, for example.

Resources include:

  • Hotlines: Several veterinary schools around the United States have pet loss support hotlines, as well as various nonprofit agencies.
  • Online forums: Internet search engines using "pet loss support" as a search term will locate several online forums available for grieving pet owners.
  • Books: Books on pet loss are published regularly and should be available from online and brick and mortar booksellers.
  • Grief Counseling: Therapists with training in grief therapy can be located in local communities. In addition, therapists may also include support groups that meet regularly to discuss issues surrounding pet loss.

See also See also

Beliefs about non-human death


Religions are divided as to whether non-human animals are believed to have souls, reincarnate or none, and also whether animals will exist in the afterlife.

In the absence of a common religious belief, many pet owners have embraced the concept of the Rainbow Bridge. The concept, the origin of which is not clearly known, speaks of a metaphorical or mythical place of reunion where pets that die live in a paradisical version of limbo, rejuvenated and free of pain and suffering, until their companion humans arrive upon their deaths.[19][20] At this point, the pet(s) run to their companion humans, and they enter heaven together, never to be parted again. Among pet owners who have embraced this concept, those pets who have died are often referred to as being At The Bridge or ATB.


Some Christians take comfort in Bible verses or stories that seem to point to the existence of animals in heaven, such as references to "the lion lying down with the lamb." Another popular passage is the well-known Matthew 5:8, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." Also, many Christians believe that the book of Ecclesiastes chapter 3, verses 18-22 show proof of animals in heaven, or at the very least, showing potential for a loved one's pet to be in heaven. In addition, there are many passages in the Bible that hint toward this occurrence. However, the Bible is mostly silent on the concept of animal souls.[original research?]

In Mormonism, all organisms (as well as the entire planet Earth) are believed to have a spirit, but that beings without the gift of free agency (the ability to know and choose between right and wrong) are innocent and unblemished spirits who go straight to Heaven when they die.[21] Animals will be resurrected.[22]

Animal chaplains

Animal chaplains are becoming increasingly popular for helping the bereaved family members deal with the loss of their pet, to provide memorial services, give spiritual reassurance, and to provide grief counseling.


  1. ^ Pet loss and human emotion: a guide to recovery by Cheri Barton Ross, p.17
  2. ^ "A pet owners anguish", Pets in Peace, accessed April 25, 2011;
  3. ^ The emotional lives of animals by Marc Bekoff, p. 63
  4. ^ The Loss of a Pet By Wallace Sife p. 37
  5. ^ The Loss of a Pet By Wallace Sife p. 43
  6. ^ The Loss of a Pet By Wallace Sife p. 45
  7. ^ Death and Dying, Life and Living By Charles A. Corr, Clyde Nabe, Donna M. Corr p. 261
  8. ^ Coping with Sorrow on the Loss of Your Pet By Moira Anderson Allen, p. 32
  9. ^ Coping with Sorrow on the Loss of Your Pet By Moira Anderson Allen
  10. ^ Pet Loss and Children: Establishing a Healthy Foundation By Cheri Barton Ross, p. 64
  11. ^
  12. ^ Coping with Sorrow on the Loss of Your Pet By Moira Anderson Allen, p. 48
  13. ^ Starting Out Right with Your New Dog: A Complete Guide, by Susan McCullough, p. 16
  14. ^ "Euthanising a pet - Should I get another pet?", Pets in Peace, accessed April 4, 2011;
  15. ^ "A number of large businesses have begun to allow their employees 'peternity' leave, in order to look after sick pets or take them to the vets. London delivery company The Courier Service introduced a "peternity" policy last July that lets workers claim two days' paid annual leave. Denise Fresco, human resources manager, said: 'It is awarded in the same way people might need time off for a baby or to look after a child.' Meanwhile, the Bank of Scotland allow workers to take time off work for sick pets, so long as they organise cover. Royal Mail has also said that it will consider allowing 'compassionate leave' if a pet dies." Jan 2007
  16. ^ "In September 2006, Royal Mail had to pay employee David Portman an undisclosed amount for firing him after he took a week off work following the death of his dog. The week's absence, the last in a series of absences, happened in 2004 and Portman was dismissed from his job as a result. Portman’s lawyer argued that many of the previous absences were a result of workplace injuries and that Royal Mail's own procedures say that time off following bereavement is not counted against an employee's sickness record. The tribunal ruled Portman had been off for legitimate reasons and that Royal Mail had failed to understand and apply its own policy." Jan 2007
  17. ^ a b Jan 2007
  18. ^ The London Paper ( and The Scotsman, 9 Feb: survey of 1100 dog owners by Direct Line.
  19. ^ Planet Cat: A CAT-alog by Sandra Choron, Harry Choron, Arden Moore, p. 389
  20. ^ "Online Memorials", An analysis of Pets in Peace online memorials reveals 30% express a desire or belief that they will be re-united in an afterlife, this includes 2% that explicitly mention the Rainbow Bridge, breakdown calculated April 9, 2011;
  21. ^ Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 291
  22. ^ Sacred Truths of the Doctrine and Covenants Vol. II, p.38

External links

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