Here’s What to Say When Someone Loses a Pet
Losing a pet can be deeply sad and even traumatic, regardless of whether the animal was a furred, feathered or finned creature. Here's a primer on what to say when someone loses a pet.
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If you’ve ever been through it yourself, you know that the loss of a beloved pet can be devastating. It’s a sad, painful experience that can make the bereaved feel lonely and isolated. If you’re in the orbit of grieving pet parents, you may struggle to know how to help or what to say when someone loses a pet—or may wonder if anything you say will even make a difference. But your presence and words of comfort are essential to helping them grieve and process their loss.
Whether they’re openly sharing their grief or suffering in silence, chances are, they’re going through a range of emotions, says animal chaplain and pet-loss counselor Kaleel Sakakeeny. “When our pets inevitably die, the physical bond is broken, and pet parents experience extreme distress and grief,” he says. “The loving, familiar shared reality [with their pet] is gone, leaving them and their homes bereft and empty.”
Guilt often plays a part, he says. “Maybe the veterinarian lacked the compassion the pet parent needed, or maybe the pet parent felt they acted too soon or too late to euthanize their sick and distressed pet.” If the pet died when the pet owner was not present, that grief and guilt are even more compounded.
And this is where you, as a friend, family member, neighbor or co-worker, come in. Knowing what to say when someone loses a pet helps validate their grief and provides much-needed comfort. Even if you can’t be present in person, your condolence messages after a beloved animal’s passing will be heard and, hopefully, appreciated. Here’s a look at the etiquette of comforting a grieving pet lover and what to say to someone who lost a pet.
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How do you comfort someone who lost their pet?
There are some concrete ways you can comfort someone who has lost their pet, but keep in mind that every pet lover handles the loss of their animal companion differently. “Some people are closed off and don’t want to talk about it,” says etiquette expert Jules Martinez Hirst. “Others can’t stop crying and sharing stories of their beloved pet.”
If you want to make sure you’re being a compassionate friend, try one (or more) of the methods below.
Visit in person
If circumstances allow, take the time to visit the grieving pet lover in person. “Be present,” says Sakakeeny. “Show up. Offer to take a walk, sit with them, let them feel your presence.”
He says the person may want to tell stories about their life with and love of their pet or maybe even recount the last days and hours of their pet’s life. “Take cues from your friend,” he says. “If they are comfortable talking about the love, the antics, the joy and the sadness of their pet, then listen and affirm.”
Offer your support
Martinez Hirst says you can offer concrete help during this difficult time. “Help around the house. Bring food over. Take out the trash,” she says. “Letting them know that you are there for them provides the comfort and security they need during this tough time.”
If the timing feels right, you might offer to wash the deceased pet’s bedding and tuck it away, or help the pet parent select a special place in the house to keep the late fur baby’s dog leash, collar or favorite toys.
Make a donation in their pet’s name
Donating money to a pet rescue organization is a lovely way to remember a deceased pet while helping other animals. The Humane Society of the United States, along with countless regional and local animal shelters and rescue groups, will put your donation to good use. Some will even send a note to the grieving pet owner to let them know a donation was made in their pet’s name.
Gift a special pet remembrance
Once you’ve gauged how your friend is taking the loss of their pet, you can consider a personalized sympathy gift that memorializes their cat, dog or other animal companion. It might be a framed photo, an engraved brick or stone for their garden, or some other item that recalls their pet.
Best Friends Animal Society offers several personalized items that can be sent to the pet parent’s home or installed at Angel’s Rest, their pet memorial park in Utah.
Say the right thing
Whether you’re comforting a bereaved pet parent in person or in writing, knowing what to say when someone loses a pet—and, just as important, what not to say—will ultimately help them grieve, process and overcome the loss of their furry companion.
What to say in person
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It can be tough to figure out what to say to someone who’s grieving, but before spouting comforting words for the loss of a pet, focus on being a good listener and being present. “Providing a shoulder to cry on or being a listener of special memories will help the owner grieve,” says Martinez Hirst. “The empathy you provide will do wonders.”
Sakakeeny agrees. “Honestly, the less said, the better,” he notes. “The greatest comfort is to be there for your friend.”
When it’s time to speak, here are some suggestions:
- I’m so sorry about the loss of your dear [pet’s name]. I know how much he meant to you.
- [Pet’s name] was such a great [cat, dog, etc.]. I know how much you’ll miss her.
- I know [pet’s name] was part of the family. Give yourself all the time you need to grieve.
- The death of a pet is always a terrible loss. I want you to know that I’m here for you.
- You gave [pet’s name] such a happy life. I hope you can find comfort in knowing that.
- I know what a special bond you and [pet’s name] shared, and I understand how hard this is.
- [Pet’s name] touched all our lives with his sweetness and antics. We’ll all miss him.
- Losing a pet is like losing a family member. If you need to have a good cry, I’m here.
- [Pet’s name] was the best. There’ll never be another like her.
- I know how difficult things are right now. Be sure you remember to take care of yourself during this sad time.
What to say in a sympathy card
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The etiquette around a pet’s passing isn’t quite the same as funeral etiquette for humans, but there are some best practices that’ll help you comfort without making any faux pas. Good manners involve knowing what to say when someone loses a pet and taking the appropriate steps to recognize the role the pet played in its owner’s life.
“Sending a sympathy card is a nice acknowledgment of the pet and the important bond the pet had with the owner,” says Martinez Hirst. “It is important to acknowledge this bond and let the owner know how important the pet was and that the pet will always be remembered. If possible, expressing your availability to talk or visit is a nice touch.”
Here are some ideas for what to write in a pet sympathy card:
- We know dear [pet’s name] is at peace now, but we also know how much you loved and miss him. If you need anything, please don’t hesitate to reach out.
- May the memories of all the happy years you shared with [pet’s name] offer you comfort at this difficult time.
- In honor of your beloved [pet’s name] and the special bond you shared, I’ve made a donation to [pet charity name] in her name.
- I’m so sorry to learn of [pet’s name’s] sad passing, and I want you to know I’m here whenever you need a hug or would like to talk.
- I know how much joy [pet’s name] brought to your lives, and I hope your happy memories help you through your grief.
- [Pet’s name] was just the best [dog, cat, etc.], and we know how special he was to you. Please accept our sincerest condolences at this sad time.
- Pets hold a special place in our hearts, and [pet’s name] was such a sweet and loving companion. Please accept our sympathy for her loss.
- We all loved [pet’s name], no one more than you. Please allow yourself time to grieve this sad loss, and let us know if there’s anything we can do to help or comfort you during this time.
- I have the fondest memories of watching [pet’s name] play in your backyard. I will miss him, and I know you will too. Please accept my sympathies.
- You gave [pet’s name] the best life, and she died knowing how much you loved her. I hope your happy memories with her will soon outweigh your sadness at her loss.
What to say over text
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Martinez Hirst considers a “sympathy text” the last resort for conveying condolences. “Text messaging does not allow the reader to feel your emotion or tone,” she says, noting that, at worst, it may be misinterpreted. “The reader interprets the message in their own way, and it may not be in the way the sender intended.”
Still, if a drop-in visit is out of the question and you’d rather not mail out a card, sending a text is better than nothing. Here are a few suggestions for how to comfort someone who lost a pet over text. Note that most of these are conversation starters that invite a reply from the grieving owner, which helps show you care.
- I heard about [pet’s name], and I’m so sorry. I’m here if you need me.
- Hey, I’m so sorry about [pet’s name]. Can I call you later today and see how you’re holding up?
- I heard about [pet’s name]. Are you doing OK? I know how much you loved him.
- I’m just checking in. I know how hard it is to lose a pet, and I want you to know I’m here if you want to talk about [pet’s name] or anything else.
- We all loved [pet’s name] so much and are so sorry to hear of her passing. Sending love and hugs to you and your family.
- I’m so sorry about your dear [pet’s name]. I’d like to make a charitable donation in his memory. Do you have a favorite organization to which I could donate?
- Losing a pet is just the saddest thing. If you want to talk (or have a good cry), please know that I’m here for you.
- Hey, how are you holding up? I know how much you miss [pet’s name], and I hope you’re doing OK.
- Just thinking of you. I know it’s hard right now, but please remember all the wonderful moments you shared with [pet’s name].
- [Pet’s name] was such a sweetie—and left us way too soon. We’re thinking of you and hope you’re managing with his loss.
What not to say when someone loses a pet
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Like texts that can be misinterpreted, well-intentioned comments meant to help a grieving pet parent may actually make things worse. Comments that make light of the pain and grief the pet lover is experiencing can make the person feel “minimized and disenfranchised,” says Sakakeeny.
If your statement doesn’t provide empathy, support or understanding of what the owner is going through, adds Martinez Hirst, just skip it. And if you’ve accidentally said one of these things to a pal whose pet has recently died, be quick to apologize.
Topping the list of things not to say to a grieving pet lover are the following:
- It’s just a dog/cat/hamster. Wrong. The deceased, dearly loved pet was a family member and possibly a best friend, never “just” an animal. We get that not everyone agrees with this sentiment, but minimizing a pet minimizes the person’s grief.
- You can always get another one. Eventually, yes. But unless your friend has expressed interest in immediately getting another pet, save your breath. Or at most, offer this: “Whenever you think you’re ready, I’d be happy to visit the animal shelter with you.”
- Don’t you think you’re taking this too hard? Sakakeeny calls this statement “seriously insensitive and deeply wounding.” Again, if you don’t understand the depth of the human-pet bond, it’s best to offer a simple “I’m sorry for your loss” and move on.
- They had a good, long life. While the statement may be true, Martinez Hirst says it can still “be interpreted as shallow and dismissive. The same goes for “they’re in a better place now.”
- When I lost my dog… Don’t start sharing your own pet-grief journey with your mourning friend or talk about how awful your experience was or how quickly you recovered from the loss of your pet. It’s not a competition.
About the experts
- Jules Martinez Hirst is an etiquette expert and co-author of the book Power of Civility. She offers modern manners classes and is dedicated to providing students and employees with tips and techniques to handle proper etiquette in today’s highly competitive, global marketplace.
- Kaleel Sakakeeny is an ordained animal chaplain, pet and loss counselor, nondenominational pastor and credentialed grief educator. He runs Animal Talks, a Boston-based nonprofit offering pet-loss support.