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Here’s what you can do—and what you shouldn’t do—for your friend grieving the death of a dog or cat.

By Austin Cannon
January 14, 2021
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When your friend's or family member's pet dies, they're going to experience grief and sadness. It's admirable that you want to offer condolences for the loss of this pet—seriously, you're a good friend—so we're going to try to help you help your loved ones through their grief.

Remember, what you want to hear while grieving might not be the same for your friend. Instead, ask if your friend needs help with anything, pose open-ended questions about their pets' lives, and just be present for them as they explore the stages of their grief.

This also might be a new experience for you, and you should know that there are some things that, while they might seem useful, can be unhelpful. Chief among them: This isn't something you can fix.

"It's so hard, but really try to resist the urge to make it better," says Leslie Stewart, PhD, a licensed counselor and director of the Animal Assisted Intervention program at Idaho State University.

Stewart, who's also on the Daily Paws Advisory Board, along with Daily Paws Pet Health and Behavior Editor Haylee Bergeland, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA, RBT, have some additional tips you could find helpful if you're comforting a loved one whose pet has died.

What to Say When Someone's Pet Dies 

The most important thing you can do when someone is grieving the loss of their pet is to just be there for your friend. To start, Bergeland says you can offer up a "What can I do to help you?" or a " I am so very sorry for your loss; I am here if you need me."

"Just letting someone know that you are there if they need you is helpful," she says.

Talking with a friend or loved one is an important part of the grieving process, Stewart says. Hearing them relive memories or tell stories about their departed pet can really help them feel better. As a friend, that's what you can ask for: open-ended questions that spark remembrances and maybe even a few tears.

Offering a Message of Condolence for the Loss of a Pet

If you're unable to support your friend face-to-face and you want to send a condolence message for your loved one's loss of their pet in a card, Bergeland says some quotes can provide comfort, including these ideas:

  • “Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.”
  • “A dog does not live for your whole life, but they make your life whole.”
  • “Our love for our (dog/cat) knows not its own depths until the hour of separation.”

Other Ways to Support Your Loved One Experiencing a Pet Loss

Fix Them Some Comfort Food

When you lose a loved one, your brain goes into "crisis mode," Stewart says. That means you can forget normal day-to-day things, including eating. So yeah, if you can whip something up that you know your friend likes to eat, do it. You can bring it to their house and share it as they talk about their loss. "You can also offer to bring them groceries … or offer to babysit the kids for a night or two," Bergeland recommends.

Help Your Loved One Memorialize Their Pet

Stewart also recommends that people grieving their pets should find a way to memorialize their pets, including actual funeral and burial ceremonies. If that's what your buddy or relative wants to do, help them plan and execute the event.

If your friend wants, you can also help them make a photo collage or memory box, two other things Stewart recommends for grieving pet parents. 

Take Action

"Offering to be there if they need you, offering to help however they need, or to accompany them to support groups, et cetera, are all helpful versus just saying things like 'Sorry for your loss.' Offering an action, instead of just words, is always best for anyone grieving," Bergeland says.

What to NOT Say When Someone's Pet Dies

Even our best intentions can sometimes produce the wrong result. It's even natural for us to want to "fix" what our friend or loved one is going through, but you should avoid that "righting reflex," Stewart says.

"From the receiving end of it, it's often terribly unhelpful," she says.

There are also things we could say that sound helpful or reassuring but actually aren't, Bergeland says. Those include, "Well, you gave them a good life," and "They were lucky to have you." It makes it sound like the departed animals were just a pet, not a family member. 

Keep in mind that a pet dying is not "similar" to losing a best friend or beloved family member. It is losing a best friend or beloved family member, so you definitely don't want to go the "it's just a pet" route. That's one of the worst things you can say to someone grieving a pet, along with phrases like, "There will be other dogs/cats." It's insensitive and borderline cruel to someone experiencing a great loss. 

Instead, offer actions and kinder, more understanding words because your friend needs help, even if they might not admit it.

"Some people aren't whole in human relationships but find the wholeness, that love, in a relationship with a pet," Bergeland says.