Coping with the loss of a dog

Whether you know it is coming, or your dog passes away unexpectedly the feeling of devastation when you lose your faithful friend is natural. Unless you are a dog owner it is impossible to understand the sense of loss experienced by a dog bereavement.

The grief is very real with many asking “Is the way I am coping with the loss of a dog normal?” Everyone is different when it comes to dealing with grief and it can be something we find very difficult to come to terms with

Prepare Yourself

When your dog has been diagnosed with a terminal illness or they are coming towards the end of their life, have a discussion with your vet. Many people suffer from guilt at making the heart-breaking decision to have their best friend “put to sleep” so talk to your vet, ask him why it is necessary; His reasons will help you with the grieving process later re-affirming your decision

What is Euthansia?

Although it can be upsetting euthanasia causes no pain and very little distress to the animal. The process can be carried out at the surgery or some vets will come to your home. (this might be something to discuss beforehand) It usually involves an overdose of anaesthetic given by injection which literally puts your furry friend to sleep.

If the dog is nervous or picks up on the owner’s distress a sedative may be offered. The dog loses consciousness almost immediately and death follows shortly after. The dog may make involuntary movements, gasp and or urinate. These reactions don’t mean he is still alive, they are just reflexes and perfectly normal.

Euthanasia is quick and simple it and can prevent weeks or months of suffering and a painful death.


Many dog owners feel guilty after their four-legged friend dies focusing on self-recrimination instead of the love and care they lavished on their four-legged friend.

We remember the times we were too busy to play, the time we shouted at them for chewing the remote control, the holidays we had without them and not being able to save their lives and these thoughts dominate the 3 nights you sat-up all night when your dog was ill, the extra 30 minutes on cold winter’s mornings just to reach their favourite park.

This is especially so if they have had to make the heart-rending decision to have them put to sleep. “Should I have done it sooner?” “Could I have noticed something was wrong earlier?” and perhaps the worst one of all “Did I make the right decision?” It is important to realise that this is a natural feeling in the grief process after losing a dog

What are the stages of dealing with grief?

Everyone experiences grief differently but it is now becoming more accepted that the loss and sadness someone feels at the death of their dog is identical to losing a human.


This does not mean you do not understand that your dog is gone. It is more like a numbness, shock, and disbelief that the dog is not around anymore. As with humans who may make 2 cups of tea instead of one when their partner dies you may find yourself looking around for your canine companion. Denial is our brains way of protecting us from the full shock and emptiness that comes from the death of a dog while we learn to adjust.


This usually follows the initial shock and in actual fact, is a helpful emotion as it shows you are moving forward. Life is unfair. It sucks! Why you? Family and friends who think that after a week you are moving on make you even angrier as it seems your feelings and emotions are being dismissed or under-valued. It is important to realise that although it may not make sense anger is a necessary emotion to enable you move forward to pet grief recovery.


This often accompanies the guilt we feel at the loss of our pets we bombard ourselves with questions “what if’s?” “If only I had or hadn’t done this?” Wishing we could turn back time and reverse the things we did or decisions we made. This is an essential part of the grieving process as it forces us to make sense of what happened.

Typical thoughts during this stage include:

  • “What if I’d noticed my dog was ill sooner?”
  • “If only I had been with my dog it might not have happened”
  • “Should I have seen another vet and had a second opinion?”
  • “I would do anything to see my dog one more time”
  • “Please, let this be just a nightmare”
  • “If only I’d taken my dog to the vets earlier”


Depression is a natural feeling when suffering any loss and you may find yourself finding it difficult to get up in the morning, withdrawing from friends and family who don’t understand and insist that you “snap out of it” or try to cheer you up constantly. The best thing they can do is accept your sadness without trying to make it better, someone listening to your thoughts and emotions can be a tremendous help, try writing your feelings down in a journal. Pet loss forums, where you can speak to other dog owners who understand and are in the same position are a great way of coping with the emptiness you are feeling.


This doesn’t mean you have got over the grief but rather you have accepted your dog is no longer part of your life. You may find yourself thinking of Fido with a fond smile instead of bursting into tears. It will be easier to look at photographs and you will start to experience more good days than bad. There is no set timescale when you should start to feel better so don’t put yourself under pressure you will move on only when you are ready and even when you do it doesn’t mean your beloved hound is forgotten.

How long will grief last? 

It will take, as long as it takes. There is no simple formula for how to get over losing a dog, or a set time limit for grieving for a dog. Because of the special relationship many of us have with our four-legged friends the loss of a pet can often be as upsetting as losing a human member of the family.

It could take weeks or months. The good news is you don’t have to forget your beloved canine companion. He will always be with you in your heart where your love for him will remain.

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