Woman holding plaster paw print
Grieving the loss of a pet is different for every single person, but it’s always difficult. The support of friends and family who sympathize and care can make the grieving process easier, but a thoughtless word from someone who doesn’t understand why a pet owner is just so sad can be extra hurtful.

Not sure what to say to a friend who is grieving the loss of a pet? Try this: Show up with a favorite snack, say you’re sorry for the loss, share a happy memory about the beloved pet and offer to listen. In the end, you don’t really need to say much of anything — but there are a few things you never want to say to someone who’s just lost a pet.

1. So, when are you getting another animal?

Everyone grieves in his or her own way, and while some people find relief by bringing home a new furry (or feathered) friend quickly, others need time to mourn before opening their hearts and homes once again. There’s no right (or wrong!) way to move forward, but now is not the time to talk about it. And please remember that when and if someone does add a new animal to their family, they are not replacing the pet who died. Don’t ever suggest otherwise.

2. It was just a dog (or cat, hamster, bird, etc.).

It can be hard to understand the feelings that serious animal lovers have for their pets. We don’t regard them as property; we think of them as family and we love them accordingly. So when we lose a pet, it’s not like losing a ring with some sentimental value — it’s like losing a part of ourselves. To hear someone denounce not just our loss but also our reaction to it? It’s salt in the wound and it’s not helpful.

3. It’s not like you lost a child.

Well, that’s just awful. If we have a child, then at the very least, you’re putting a terrible idea into our heads and possibly making us feel even more guilty for grieving the loss of a pet so heavily. And if we don’t have a child — for whatever reason — then we really don’t need someone telling us that we can’t imagine what that grief would feel like. The whole, "Unless you’re a parent, you couldn’t possibly understand," argument should be shelved, especially at a time like this, thanks.

4. You need to move on.

While there are ways to express concern if you think someone’s grief has turned a corner and they might need help (like sharing information about grief-support resources with them or helping them to find a support group or mental health professional), let’s ditch the stigma that surrounds mourning the loss of a pet. It’s normal to feel sad — devastated, even — for some period of time, and that can differ greatly for each person. Some people might feel pretty much back to normal after a few days, while others might find themselves bursting into tears months or even years later. Say it with me now: "It is OK to be sad about losing your pet."

5. That’s why I don’t have pets. Those short lifespans are too heartbreaking.

I’ll bet you almost anything that the person you’re talking to has thought (or even said aloud) that they can’t go through this pain again, and they just can’t have more pets. The years of joy and love our pets give us prior to their passing truly do make up for the pain we feel at the time of goodbye, but in the throes of grief, it’s hard to remember that. I know you’re just trying to commiserate, but if you don’t have pets, I’m certain it’s for more reasons than just the heartbreak at the end.  

6. He was really old; it was just his time.

If the pet was old when he passed away, there might be some comfort in knowing that he lived a good, long life, but that might also mean that we shared a lot of memories with that pet, making his passing feel more tragic to us than it might to outsiders. When you can’t remember life without someone — human or animal — it certainly adds to the sting of saying goodbye. However, that doesn’t mean that the death of a younger pet is easier. It doesn’t take long to fully bond with an animal, and our grief may be compounded by the shock of losing a young animal. Bottom line: No time is a good time to lose a best friend.

7. Maybe you should’ve [insert any suggestion — literally anything — here].

Oh. Oh, no, you did not say that (or any variation, like, "Did you try _____?" or "Oh, I know a specialist you should’ve seen!"). I know you didn’t say that. Whatever you’re suggesting we should have done — more tests! fewer treatments! more time at the dog park! euthanized sooner! waited it out! tested for something earlier! — it is too late. If there’s something we could’ve beaten ourselves up about, believe me, we’ve done it. Ad nauseum. And if you’re bringing up something we hadn’t thought of? Well, why on earth would you do that? That doesn’t help at all.

In the end, the best thing you can do is offer your love and support without judging the depth of our emotion. You don’t have to understand it; just please don’t question it.

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