Grieving The Loss Of Your Dog -
7 Actionable Steps
On 20th November 2022, my dog passed away. Blue has been with me for half of my life and was one of my best friends in the world. Losing her was (and still is) a great source of pain in my life. And if you’re reading this, I imagine you’re going through the same pain now.
I’m so sorry that your dog has passed away. It can be hard to know what to do during this time. So I’ve written this blog to help you navigate grieving the loss of your dog via the resources and research I’ve done to help myself.
I tried to make this list as actionable as possible but I warn you that, perhaps, not everything will resonate with you. Or you might dismiss a tip now that might be invaluable advice for you later. Grief is chaotic, haphazard and non-linear. I am no expert but these are the things that have helped me so far.
This might be a heavy topic but I hope this article is comforting to you in some way. Let’s begin.
Saying Goodbye To Your Dog
Before we talk about the aftermath of the death of your dog, I want to zoom out a bit. You may have lost your dog very suddenly due to a freak accident. If so, I’m so sorry this has happened to you. You dear reader will want to skip ahead to the tips about grieving your loss.
But if your dog has been sick for a while or hasn’t yet passed, this section is for you.
In my research, I learned there’s a specific type of grief called “anticipatory” grief. (1) This is when you anticipate the loss of someone or something. You can have a special kind of sadness that is difficult to plainly explain. If your dog is sick and you may need to say goodbye soon, here are some ideas on how you can say goodbye.
Create lasting memories
Whether it’s playing your dog’s favourite game (if they are up to it), feeding them a special treat or creating a painting from their paw print, you can seal their final days, weeks or months with you in some way. I did the paw print idea. This was simply painting my dog’s paw in blue and pressing it onto a canvas. I am so glad I did this while she was still alive, as I now have a piece of her in my house at all times.
Spend time together
One of the things I regret in Blue’s last few weeks was not spending quality time with her. Honestly, it was too painful to see her so sick. Ultimately I avoided spending too much time with her because her heavy breathing was a constant reminder of her worsening condition - even if she was in good spirits. I think it’s natural to be avoidant when we know our dogs are in pain, and we can’t face it. Or we keep going as if nothing is wrong. But I encourage you to lean in as much as you can. You’ll be thankful for that extra cuddle or play time when the time comes.
Know when the time has come
If you have never had to euthanise a pet before, it’s very difficult to know when to say goodbye. Each person measures this point of no return differently. It’s best to discuss with your vet the best options and what an emergency could look like.
7 Tips For Grieving The Loss of Your Dog
I’ll reiterate here that I am not a grief counsellor or expert on this topic. This is just a chaotic list of what’s working for me. I hope it helps you too!
1. Don’t disenfranchise your own sadness
It’s strange losing a dog. In my case, I feel the same flush of emotions and confusion as if I’d lost a human friend. And that caught me by surprise.
I thought I was well prepared for Blue’s passing given how long she was sick and how logically I knew it was time. But nothing could truly prepare me for the moment itself.
It hurt. A lot. And you’re likely hurting too.
There is nothing wrong with you. You’ve lost a great love in your life and you need to feel all of the emotions that come up.
Avoid shaming yourself for being this upset “over a dog”. You and I know that your dog wasn’t just a dog. They’re your companion, teacher, support, friend, family member and confidant.
That’s no small loss.
2. Be selective about who you share your grief with
The passing of your dog is a deeply personal moment. You can choose to share with others however you see fit.
However, I suggest two guides:
- Share with at least one person
- Be mindful of who that person is
Sharing helps us to contextualise our grief and feel less alone. The worst thing you could do is bottle it in. You absolutely need someone to talk to during this time. Even if you have a therapist, I’d still suggest sharing with a trusted friend or family member so you don’t feel isolated in your everyday life.
Now, not everyone will understand what you’re going through.
I certainly didn’t understand how painful this was until I went through it myself. I’ve had friends who have lost childhood dogs and felt puzzled from the outside as to how deeply saddened they were. But I get it now!
It’s not someone else’s fault if they don’t understand your pain.
But don’t let their lack of understanding disenfranchise your pain.
You need to find the right people who can lend their ear when you go through this tricky grieving process after the loss of your dog.
For me, I published a tribute on social media and allowed my friends and family to reach out if they chose to. Some were really open to listening to how I felt and those are the people I turned to when I needed someone to talk to on my darker days.
Of course, sharing on social media is highly personal. You can just share with your inner circle.
Though I’ll caveat that the next tip may encourage you to widen that circle a tad.
3. Support can come from the most unexpected places
I know this seems like a contradiction to the previous paragraph - and it probably is - but bear with me.
One of the most surprising parts of this process was discovering friends and family members who are amazingly supportive during a crisis.
In my case, an old friend called me after Blue died. We spoke for 2.5 hours! Not just about Blue and my memories of her, but he also made me laugh and allowed me to offload my heavy mental state for some time. He let me speak as long as I wanted to. He listened with a gentle ear. I never would’ve expected that from him of all people!
Yes, you may have best friends or super close family members who have shown up for you before, but not everyone is good in a crisis or with bereavement.
Sometimes the loss of your dog triggers other people who have lost their dogs. They can’t be there for you because it’s a painful memory for them too. That’s okay!
Likewise, there may be someone on the periphery of your life who knows exactly what to say to you right now. You may have discounted them in your selection of a support system for this delicate time. If you open up a little bit, you can discover people who are willing to come to your aid when you need it.
4. Find ways to honour your dog
This could be as simple as exchanging stories and looking at old photos of your dog with close family members. Or it could be remembrance ideas as grand as creating a memorial plaque and having a funeral (2).
A friend of mine sponsored a bench in her local park in her dog’s name after her dog died. It was a beautiful tribute that also gave back to the community.
One of my simple ways of honouring Blue is having my nails done in navy blue. It sounds frivolous but as a writer, I am looking at my hands tap away all day. I look at my nails and it’s a subliminal reminder that Blue is always with me.
Here are some other pet remembrance ideas of how you could honour your dog’s death:
- Getting a tattoo
- Keeping a lock of your dog’s fur
- Getting a symbolic piece of jewellery
- Commissioning a drawing or painting of your dog
- Creating a photo album of photos with your pup
- Having a blessing at home whatever that looks like for you e.g lighting a candle
- Creating a piece of art inspired by your dog
5. Express yourself
If you’re not a creative person, don’t click off! There are several ways to express yourself that are accessible to everyone.
My way of expressing myself is by writing this blog. I wrote the outline for the blog and video 4 days after Blue died. It was the only thing that stopped me from crying and got me out of bed. Seriously!
Just writing out these 7 points and feeling that I could help others with the research I’d done made me feel a little better.
What can you do to express yourself? Here are some ideas:
- Home decor
6. Remember that everyone grieves differently
Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross famously pioneered the concept of the 5 stages of grief. Those are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.
What we’ve gotten wrong over the decades since this was written is that these stages aren’t linear. You can cycle through several a week. Or even cycle through all of them on the same day. Grief is unpredictable that way.
On top of that, everyone who had a relationship with your dog will have a slightly different bond with them. Even if you live with your family, each family member will process the loss of your dog differently. This is because every relationship is unique. No one has the same bond that you do with your dog.
All this to say that your grieving process may be hugely different to others and that’s okay. Avoiding judging them and avoid judging yourself. There is no “right” way to grieve.
7. Claim your grief
In my research of grief counselling by David Kessler, there is a concept of claiming or naming your grief. (3) This is essentially taking ownership of your grief and recognising that your life is different now.
This excellent video from Jackson Galaxy suggests journaling on these three questions to help to understand what you’re feeling (4):
- E.g Blue has died and I’ve lost my best friend.
- Example: I have renewed my commitment to my work at Gentle Dog Trainers as I want other owners to have this strong bond and long life with their dogs. I also have a different outlook on life.
- Now that Blue is gone, I will keep her paw print to remember her. I will also keep her gentility and warmth in mind as a way I’d like to move through the world.
PRO TIP: I don’t recommend doing this journaling exercise until you’re out of the first reactionary stage of grief. The reactionary stage feels like a freefall of emotions. It could take a few days, weeks or months to get to a more stable place. Once you’re over the hump, you can try claiming your grief to make sense of it all.
Final Thoughts: Always Loved, Never Forgotten
It can be tricky to figure out what to do when your dog dies. You feel like the rug has been pulled from under you. During those initial couple of weeks, you might be in freefall. But trust that you’ll be okay.
I hope this article gave you some ideas on how to honour your dog after they’ve passed away. If nothing else, please know that your grief, your pain, is valid. Don’t let anyone diminish how you’re feeling.
Take care of yourself.
Related: The Cost To Put Your Dog Down In Australia.
- Eldrige, L. November 5, 2021. “How Anticipatory Grief Differs From Grief After Death”. Very Well Health. Retrieved November 7, 2022. https://www.verywellhealth.com/understanding-anticipatory-grief-and-symptoms-2248855
- Marrs, M. February 24, 2022. "Mourning & Remembrance For Pets". K9 Of Mine. Retrieved. Retrieved November 7, 2022. https://www.k9ofmine.com/how-to-deal-with-losing-a-pet/
- Ochwar, N. November 15, 2019. “Author adds a sixth stage of grief, one he’s had to live”. LA Times. Retrieved November 7, 2022. https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/books/story/2019-11-15/finding-meaning-david-kessler
- Galaxy, J. April 23, 2022. “Grieving Your Cat, Dog or Any Other Animal Family Member - Tips, Tools and My Story.”. YouTube. Retrieved November 7, 2022. https://youtu.be/LyvDA5kmtw4