Pet Loss Resources and Support
The death of a pet can have a profound effect on individuals, families and other animals. We invite you to review the information on this page and access any of the resources that speak to you.
The experience of grieving
Grieving the loss of a companion animal can be a complicated process. Pets offer us love, companionship, joy and comfort. They occupy a very special place in our lives. Their death or illness is naturally a source of substantial grief and sadness.
Grief can begin before, during or after a death. The grieving process involves physical, intellectual, emotional, social and spiritual levels. We all respond differently to loss and there is no “normal” way to grieve the loss of a pet, nor is there a prescribed timeline that grief will follow.
The following are some ways that one may experience grief, in no particular order.
Physical: Crying, nausea, fatigue, body aches, changes in appetite, weight loss or gain, sleeping more or difficulty sleeping, feeling tense or jittery, restlessness
Intellectual: Difficulty focusing or performing usual tasks of daily life or work, denial, sense of unreality, feeling preoccupied by the loss
Emotional: Anxiety, sadness, anger, frustration, guilt, numbness, loneliness, embarrassment, hopelessness or helplessness
Social: Feeling withdrawn, difficulty engaging with your usual activities of interest, wanting to spend more or less time with friends and family, feeling isolated in your grief, seeking distraction from your emotions
Spiritual: Bargaining with or feeling anger toward your higher power, questioning your religious or spiritual beliefs, searching for meaning in this loss, questioning the afterlife
All of these are considered a “normal” part of the grieving process. Grief is a gradual journey which rarely follows a simple, straight path. It is perfectly normal to have a journey with grief that is more of a winding road with setbacks along the way. Your emotions may fluctuate from day to day, or even moment to moment. Be kind with yourself as your body and mind navigate this loss.
No one needs to face grief alone. There are many supportive resources to help, some of which are listed below.
Children and pet loss
Be mindful that children comprehend death differently than adults do. Their reactions and grieving journey will look different from an adult and will vary depending on their age. Rather than hiding information from a child, welcome them to involved in the conversation about the illness or death of a pet. Be honest and allow them to ask questions, even if you don’t have all the answers. Listening is the most important thing. It is okay to let your child see you sad and allow them to express their emotions, too. Allowing them to be part of memorializing the pet through creative processes like drawing a picture, writing a story or sharing memories can be healing for both the child and family.
Connect with others through hotlines, chats and support groups
The Cornell Pet Loss Support Hotline
Our hotline is staffed by volunteer veterinary students who have undergone extensive training with professional grief counselors. The very first pet loss support hotline was set up in 1989 at the University of California at Davis, and we have used their guidelines in the construction of our own.
The Pet Loss Support Hotline is available via Google Voice to support you Sundays and Tuesdays 6-9 p.m. EST.
Call us at 607-218-7457
Google Voice will prompt you to enter your name before connecting. To remain anonymous, you can say “anonymous” or just enter your first name.
Please check back frequently as our hours may change depending on volunteer availability.
Many if not all of the veterinary student volunteers have experienced the loss of a beloved companion animal and are aware of the profound sadness and confusing emotions that can result. They understand that every loss is unique and they are trained to acknowledge the normal grieving process that callers are experiencing.
- Michigan State University College of Veterinary Medicine: Days and hours vary, 517-432-2696
- Tufts University Pet Loss Support Hotline: Monday-Thursday 6-9 p.m. EST, 24-hour voicemail, 508-839-7966
- Chicago Veterinary Medical Association Pet Loss Helpline: Leave a voicemail at 630-325-1600
University of Illinois: Staffed by veterinary students Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday 7-9 p.m. CT, 877-394-2273
Chicago Veterinary Medical Association: Staffed by veterinarians and staff members, leave a voicemail at 630-325-1600, calls are returned 7-9 p.m. CT
University of Pennsylvania: Managed by veterinary students Mondays and Thursdays 6-8 p.m., visit their website here
Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine: Staffed by members of this college Tuesdays and Thursdays 6-9 p.m. EST, 540-231-8038
Cornell's Pet Loss Support Hotline is maintained primarily by private donations. It is through the generosity of individuals, groups, veterinary practices and associations, private foundations and pet-related industries that the hotline is made possible.
If you would like to make a donation, which is tax-deductible as provided by law, you can make a gift online here.
To make a donation by mail, please send the following information to us:
"I/we would like to make a donation in honor and memory of name of special animal or person."
Please send your name and address, along with the donation. Make checks payable to the Pet Loss Support Hotline. The mailing address is:
Companion Animal Hospital
College of Veterinary Medicine
Ithaca, New York, 14853-6401
Thank you for your support.
Online chat groups and other resources
The Argus Institute’s Human Animal Bond Trust
A pet loss group that meets Thursdays 6:30-8 p.m. MT via Zoom
Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement
Offering chat rooms and video support groups
Michigan State University Veterinary Medical Center
A pet loss support group that meets the second and fourth Wednesday of the month from 6:30-7:30 p.m. Visit their website or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Lap of Love
Zoom support groups for pet loss or anticipatory grief, behavioral euthanasia, unexpected loss, individual sessions, as well as a pet loss course. Appointment dates and times vary.
The Pet Loss Support Page
Providing resources on pet loss, quality of life, euthanasia, bereavement and more
HoofBeats in Heaven
Groups and chats about horse loss.
Facebook has many informal groups for pet loss. Type “pet loss” or a related term into the search bar on the Facebook page. You will find many people who want to connect with others who have had a loss.
Will my other animals grieve?
In some situations, you may have another animal which has been acting strangely since your pet's death. Here is a short list of things to look for in an animal that is grieving:
- Anxiety, restlessness or a need to stay by the owner
- Changes in eating, drinking, sleeping or exercise habits
- Depression, heavy sighing or disinterest in usual activities
- Destructive behavior
- High-pitched distress vocalization (especially in young animals)
- Searching the yard, house, and other familiar areas for the animal that has died
The best way to help your animal is simply to give them time and allow them to grieve with you. It may be helpful for you as well as for your pet to spend time together talking about or silently remembering the one who has passed on. Trying to spend extra time and attention with your animal will be good for you both, in addition to playing special games with them, giving them special treats and so on.
In cases of severe grieving, when an animal stops eating, cries incessantly, self-mutilates (cats especially) or seems especially anxious, your veterinarian may be able to suggest medication to relieve the anxiety associated with the loss.
Ways to memorialize your pet
Below are ideas of ways to memorialize your pet’s life. There is no right or wrong way to celebrate and honor the life of your pet. These are some ideas you may consider.
- Scatter their ashes in a meaningful place.
- Place an engraved or painted rock in your pet’s favorite part of the yard.
- Keep their urn in special place and put a favorite photo of them and any other special items (collar, ID tag, toy) nearby.
- Have a key chain, jewelry, ornament or other keepsake made that can hold some of your pets ashes, hair or whiskers.
- Plant a flower or tree where you choose to scatter or bury their ashes, or in their favorite part of the yard.
- Write down memories of your pet. Ask others to share their favorite memories of your pet.
- Make a scrapbook of photos of your pet, including some favorite memories.
- Write a letter to your pet, sharing your emotions with them and anything you felt was left unsaid.
- Put your pet’s ID tag in a special place to you: your wallet, key chain, etc.
- Make a donation in memory of your pet to a cause that is special to you.
- Volunteer time at a shelter, barn or rescue.
- Create art or music to honor your pet's life.
Dogs and cats (children)
- Dog Heaven by Cynthia Rylant
- Cat Heaven by Cynthia Rylant
- A Dog Like Jack by DyAnne DiSalvo
- I'll Always Love You by Hans Wilhelm
- The Tenth Good Thing About Barney by Judy Viorst
- The Invisible Leash: Ana invisible String Story About the Loss of a Pet by Patrice Karst
- The Fall of Freddie the Leaf: A Story of Life for All Ages by Leo Buscaglia, Ph.D.
- My Pet Memory Book: To Help a Child Through the Loss of Their Pet by Sophie Wallace
- Where the Tomorrows Go by Manoj S. Abraham
- When a Pet Dies by Fred Rogers
- Ida, Always by Caron Levis and Charles Santoso
Dogs and cats (adults)
- The Pet Loss Companion by Ken Dolan-Del Vecchio and Nancy Saxton-Lopez
- The Loss of a Pet: A Guide to Coping with the Grieving Process when a Pet Dies by Wallace Sife, Ph.D.
- Loving and Losing a Pet: A Psychologist and a Veterinarian Share Their Wisdom by Michael Stern, Ph.D., and Susan Cropper, D.V.M.
- Coping with Sorrow on the Loss of Your Pet by Moira K. Anderson
- Healing the Pain of Pet Loss: Letters in Memoriam by Kymberly Smith
- Going Home: Finding Peace When Pets Die by Jon Katz
- Goodbye, Friend: Healing Wisdom for Anyone Who Has Ever Lost a Pet by Gary Kowalski
- Grieving the Death of a Pet by Betty Carmack
- It's Okay to Cry: Warm Compassionate Stories That Will Help You Find Hope and Healing After the Death of a Beloved Pet
- Kindred Spirit, Kindred Care: Making Health Decisions on Behalf of Our Animal Companions by Shannon Fujimoto Nakaya, D.V.M.
Strands of Hope: How to Grieve the Loss of a Horse by Susan Friedland
Grieving the Loss of your Horse: How to Survive your Journey by Rebecca M. Crow
Beyond the Rainbow Bridge: A Thoughtful Guide for Coping with the Loss of a Horse by Kimberly Gatto
When should I get another pet?
Some people wonder when the best time is to get another pet or whether they're dishonoring the memory of their deceased animal by adopting another.
Perhaps the best answer to that question is that there is no "correct" time to get another animal. What is disturbing to many pet owners is the pressure from concerned friends to fill the empty place in their home and life as quickly as possible, to "get over it" and find a new pet.
The timetable of an individual's recovery from loss is intrinsic to the person themselves and their relationship with their pet; some feel that they can and should get another as soon as possible. Perhaps they were waiting through some illness to get a new young animal in the house. If so, this was done out of love and courtesy to the previous pet, and the joy that a new puppy or kitten can bring should not be tinged with guilt for having done so quickly. For others, years can pass before the time feels right to get a new animal. The place occupied by that pet was so large, and the loss so overwhelming, that finding emotional space for another is not possible.
When considering getting a new animal, be sure that you are prepared for the time and emotions needed to be given to this new pet. No animal could ever hope to replace the special relationship that was shared with a former animal. Expecting this would be cruel to the new animal, as it is simply unrealistic. However, every animal, like every person, brings all of their uniqueness to a new owner. Going to pet shops and shelters, looking around and waiting for an animal to strike your fancy may be the best way to go about acquiring a new pet. If this makes you uncomfortable, or brings up too many bad memories, it is okay to stop and wait. When the time is right, you will know and a new animal will find you.
Information about euthanasia
To find some information about the process of euthanasia and suggestions about how to make the decision to allow the veterinarian to euthanize your animal, please utilize the following resources. If you have any questions regarding the process of euthanasia, please contact your local veterinarian, who should be happy to provide the answers for you. You could also call the Cornell Pet Loss Hotline at 607-218-7457.
When an owner and veterinarian decide that a pet is suffering or unlikely to make a recovery, euthanasia offers a way to end a pet's pain. The decision is difficult for both the owner and the veterinarian, but we should recognize that sometimes this is the kindest thing we can do in the final stage of a pet's life.
Understanding how the procedure is performed may help an owner in this decision. It may also help an owner decide whether they wish to be present during the euthanasia. Initially, a pet is made as comfortable as possible. Some veterinarians will perform the procedure in a pet's home. If the animal is brought to the hospital, veterinarians often chose a quiet room where the pet will feel more at ease. Sometimes a mild sedative or tranquilizer is first given if the animal appears anxious or in pain. Frequently an indwelling catheter is placed in the pet's vein to ensure that the euthanasia solution is delivered quickly. The euthanasia solution is usually a barbiturate, the same class of drugs used for general anesthesia. At a much higher dose, this solution provides not only the same effects as general anesthesia (loss of consciousness, loss of pain sensation), but suppresses the cardiovascular and respiratory systems. As the solution is injected, the animal loses consciousness and within minutes the heart and lungs stop functioning. Since the pet is not conscious, they do not feel anything. Most times, the animal passes away so smoothly, that it is difficult to tell until the veterinarian listens for absence of a heartbeat. The eyes remain open in most cases. Sometimes, the last few breaths are what's termed "agonal," meaning involuntary muscle contractions but again, the pet is not aware at this point. After the animal passes, there is complete muscle relaxation, often accompanied by urination and defecation. This is completely normal and is something an owner should expect. In addition, after death, chemicals normally stored in nerve endings are released causing occasional muscle twitching in the early post-mortem period. Many owners who chose to stay with their pets are surprised how quickly and easily the pet is put to rest.
The decision to stay or not stay with a pet is a very personal one. Some owners feel they could comfort their pet in its final minutes. Others feel their emotional upset would only upset their pet. Those who choose not to stay may wish to view the pet's body after the procedure is complete.
Euthanasia is emotional for veterinarians as well. Sometimes, the veterinarian has known the pet for a long time or has tried very hard to make the animal well again. James Herriot stated the view of most veterinarians in All Things Wise and Wonderful:
"Like all vets I hated doing this, painless though it was, but to me there has always been a comfort in the knowledge that the last thing these helpless animals knew was the sound of a friendly voice and the touch of a gentle hand."
- James Herriot
Written by Dr. Laura Eirmann
Unfortunately, treating catastrophic disorders in large animals, because of their size, can be an expensive, lengthy process. Some conditions, such as long bone fractures, are not readily treated because of the confinement requirements, potential for infection and problems that can develop in other limbs.
If it is economically impossible or impractical to consider treatment, this should not be a source of guilt or worry. For an abdominal crisis, it may be appropriate to perform an exploration of the abdomen to determine the severity of the problem before deciding whether to continue. Regardless, if euthanasia is indicated, the pharmaceuticals that are available ensure that it is a quick, painless procedure.
An intravenous catheter is placed by the veterinarian for delivery of drugs which will euthanize the animal. Some veterinarians prefer to use a butterfly catheter, which is a small needle attached to tubing to perform the procedure. The animal may or may not become ataxic (wobbly) upon delivery of the drug. The drugs will cause first anesthesia, or loss of consciousness, then a stopping of the breathing and the heartbeat.
Unfortunately, due to their large size, most large animals tend to drop somewhat suddenly after the drugs are given by the veterinarian. Veterinarians administering euthanasia to a horse or a cow will often find a quiet, grassy or straw-laden area in which to put the animal to sleep so that the initial fall is not so difficult to view. Frequently following euthanasia, muscle tremors and involuntary jerking take place. The owner may be disturbed by this but should understand that these are unconscious movements. The animal is actually unconscious (feels nothing) just before the initial fall.
Movement of the recumbent large animal after euthanasia can be difficult, so it may be helpful to perform this close to the place the owner has chosen to lay the animal to rest.
Written by Dr. Susan Fubini