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What to Say to Somebody Whose Pet Has Died

Learn what to say to a person whose pet has died. Should you buy a new pet for somebody who has just lost their pet. How to talk to a person who just had their pet euthanized.

Whether it is at work, or a friend, chances are you will someday encounter a person whose pet has died and have no idea what to say to them. The last thing in the world this person wants to hear is somebody saying “Why are you upset, it was just a dog”, or cat, fish, or whatever. You must be sensitive to the love they had for their pet.

This article is not only on what to say to a person who has lost a pet, but offers other considerations as well.

Understand the Owners Possible Guilt

Pets can die many ways, health problems, accidents, or euthanasia. Very often when a pet dies the owner feels some level of guilt. They may feel they let the pet down somehow, not getting it to the veterinarian fast enough, or not having the funds to “save it”. Sometimes owners face the fact that they had to tell the veterinarian to euthanize their pet, thus ending its life.

Owners often struggle with guilt that they could have done something different, and may even feel guilty that pets lives are so short (with the exception of certain birds who often outlive their owners).

As somebody who is talking to a person who has lost a pet it is important that you understand that the owner may feel guilty and try to sympathize with this because in some cases it is true (as when a person should have got the pet to the veterinarian sooner, or should have taken better care of it, and so forth). However this is not the time to remind them that they did something wrong.

In the event that the pet was euthanized as a result of an car accident, it is best to offer sympathies and say something like “You had no other choice”. Do not encourage them to be angry at the car driver as this is adding another negative emotion onto their guilt, and to be fair the driver was not to blame for the pet being on the road, that was the owners doing. They must deal with their own guilt about this over time. If they wish to talk to you about their guilt is is best to lend an ear at this time.

You should comfort a person who is feeling guilt as the result of their own actions by saying "You cannot change the past, but you can learn from this.  Try not to focus on feeling bad, let us just remember your pet for now."

Sympathize at Their Level

When a person looses a friend, or family member, other people may not know what to say, and sometimes avoid bringing it up. It is best to offer your sympathies at a level the person will appreciate, just say “Sorry for the loss of your pet”, ideally using the name of the pet. If they want to talk about it further they will. Some card companies make cards for pet bereavement. A poem called “The Rainbow Bridge” is also often used to help people deal with pet death.

Offer your honest thoughts, some of my own are "That's the thing that is so hard about pet ownership, we love them so much and their lives are so short.", or "It's so tricky sometimes to know when a pet is suffering, so many of them try hard to hide their pain.". 

Let them Talk

Most pet owners love talking about how special their pet was. You should allow them to talk if they feel they want to. It is best to listen.  While you can offer snippits of memories you had with pets you have lost to show that you also understand the pain of pet loss, it is best that you do not take over their ability to talk about their recent loss.

Offer Help

Sometimes a person may need help dealing with the pet's body. This might be the case if a pet was hit by a car and killed and the person is in shock and not thinking what they should do. They may want somebody to take the body for cremation, or burial. You may be able to help with this. If you are unsure what is typically done with pet bodies in your area you can call the veterinarian and ask.

Do Not

  • Do not say to the person “It was just a cat get over it”, as this is insensitive.
  • Do not say to them “Are you going to replace it”, they may get another pet later, but this is not a “replacement”, and it is too soon for them to consider.
  • Do not get them another pet. If a person wants another pet you can offer to pay for it later, however you should never get them one as a surprise. If they do get another pet, its best they do not get one too similar to the one they have just lost.

Other Reading

What to do When a Child's Pet Dies

When is it Time to Euthanize a Pet

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Comments (9)

Very useful and helpful. Thanks.

I feel like you had my family in mind due to the fact our pet cat Sassarfras died recently. Your words spoke to me in a special wau, and I will show this great piece to my family members.

I've had several pets - dogs and cats through the years that I've lost. I am amazed that after several decades, I still recall the behaviors that made each pet unique and loveable and remember special experiences I had with them. I've suggested to a few people something that has worked well for me. That is to make a mental photo album of memories. Recall in your mind's eye special moments shared and think of putting them in this mental photo album. Remember the pet when they were young, then that fumbling adolescent, then the adult....etc. That way, whenever the sadness comes to you again, you can refer back to your mental photo album and cry and remember those moments. It can be done quite privately. Offering up a prayer of thanks for the joy brought to your life by the pet is good too, if prayer is a part of your life. It works amazingly well for most people.

Like what you wrote here, good job

Your great directives of do's and don'ts are exceptionally wonderfully kind. The only things bad about pets is when they are sick or dying. YOu have covered this so well.

Sensitive subject Brenda but you came up with solid advice.

Well written and explained. Voted up.

I've had many pets pass on. It's never easy. They are like family and best friends to me. Excellent article, voted up!

Wow, what a coincidence since our pet dog just died today of old age. It's really sad and it breaks my heart so bad. Thanks for sharing this!

Pets are like humans too. Very comforting advices, Brenda.

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