Grief – The Do’s and Don’ts of How to Compassionately Help Someone Dealing With Pet Loss

Me, back in 2014 when I began to draft Purr Prints of the Heart, a book to help those dealing with pet loss.

I’m not a professionally trained pet loss expert, but I am an expert at experiencing pet loss and the grieving process. Over the course of my life, I’ve had countless beloved pets – cats, dogs, rabbits, guinea pigs, and more. I’ve also lost many of them, so I know just how devastating the loss can be. I know the deep, dark pain that resides in the very core of your heart as a result, making it seem impossible you will ever be able to move on and be happy again, as well as the emotional demons that can invade your every thought as you replay the death over in your mind. I know the subject so well, I wrote a book on it: Purr Prints of the Heart – A Cat’s Tale of Life, Death and Beyond, including a guide for coping with pet loss for people who may need help with the grieving process (endorsed by Bonnie Poirier, pastor at Ministry of St. Francis of Assisi, along with Marty Tousley of Grief, and Alice Villalobos, DVM / Quality of Life Scale), and I also created a national day to honor those pets we’ve lost – Rainbow Bridge Remembrance Day, held August 28 of each year.

I also know the burden of pet loss of others. As a cat author, cat blogger, and cat advocate, I am frequently visiting social media platforms and blogs pertaining to cats and other animals (cats are my area of expertise, but I love all animals). The pet community is large, warm, open, and loving. We share cute pictures and silly stories of our beloved kitties, doggies, bunnies, and other furry, finned, scaled, or feathered friends, but we also share the pain and heartache, and there is not a day that goes by that I don’t see a post in which someone has lost a pet. It’s not something frequently discussed, but how we react to the person who lost the pet can impact their grieving process.

Let’s be honest. Death makes most of us uncomfortable. It’s an awkward subject – we want to comfort the person dealing with the loss, but what do we say? What is that magic response to make them feel better because no matter what you say, Fluffy the cat is not coming back. Even if you’re an animal lover and can empathize, it’s not easy to know what to say. Truth is, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all response, but there is some basic etiquette as to what you should, or shouldn’t say, bearing in mind that there are unique factors to each loss that will play a significant role in how you handle it.

For example, the circumstances of the death. If a pet is lost to a sudden and unexpected death there may be more feelings of anger, denial, and sadness. Pet guardians might perhaps blame themselves that they caused the death or that they didn’t do enough to save the pet, and a misguided, albeit well-intentioned response could trigger even more anger, guilt, and depression with them. The age of the pet, the age of the person who lost the pet, whether it was the first pet loss ever experienced or the person was expecting the death, as in a pet with a chronic aliment – all are factors in how a response should be given.

The guardian’s personal life is also a factor in how they will grieve and will affect how they respond to your reaction to them. Maybe they’re someone who doesn’t have a social outlet and Fluffy was their only friend or maybe the animal was a loyal and devoted worker companion that was a necessary part of their daily living routine. All these scenarios, and countless more, affect someone’s feelings and the ways in which they grieve and it’s natural for them to go through some, or all of these range of emotions, such as despair, anger, guilt, denial, depression, and sadness.


First, whether a friend, family member, co-worker, an acquaintance you have never met, but know from social media, etc., support them based on the type of griever they are because how someone deals with heartache can help you determine how to engage with them. If the person is an inward griever, they will probably be more distant, wanting time and space to recognize and deal with their feelings, maybe even detaching themselves from you and others. An outward griever is more open, generally relying on, and reaching out to family and friends for love, support, and empathy. It’s important to recognize the differences. Listen and observe to provide them with the best care and comfort you can, depending on their cue and wishes.


1. Provide the opportunity for them to talk about their feelings. If Fluffy’s death is imminent, allow them to express concerns before, during, and after the loss. If Fluffy’s death was unexpected, let them express their feelings after it happened, allowing them to share their experience as many times as they need to – even if you’ve heard the story of dearly departed Fluffy a thousand times. According to Psychology Today, say things like, “It makes sense that you are grieving so much, considering the bond you shared.” This shows you recognize the importance of the human-animal bond and also normalizes the experience for your friend, letting them know they can feel comfortable talking to you about their grief. This is also important because sometimes significant people in the person’s life – a spouse, a family member, a co-worker – might not perceive the death or loss in the same manner as the griever, which can then cause them even more pain and stress. Having a compassionate reaction from someone who they feel they can trust and confide in is important to allow healing to begin.

2. If you knew Fluffy, share stories and fond memories about what you remember about her and reminisce together, whether in person, on the phone, or on social media. If the person who lost the pet is someone you know through blogging or the pet community and a tribute post is shared, take the time to drop by and express your condolences in the comments. Explain how Fluffy positively impacted your life or how/why you will miss her. If you have a picture of Fluffy, share it, making your condolences even more personal.

3. Be personal and use the pet’s name. Fluffy was a significant part of the mourner’s life – a family member to them – so acknowledging Fluffy’s name is a show of respect and caring.

4. Being there for your friend in a time of tragedy means you often must listen more than you talk, but if the grieving person isn’t offering many details, don’t push. Everplans, a company dedicated to helping people with end-of-life and other personal matters recommends, “If they’re open to speaking, and you’re genuinely interested, then it’s okay to ask some questions or inquire about details. You don’t want to pry, but at the same time, it could help the grieving to discuss what they went through and not keep it all bottled up.”

5. If it feels natural, cry with them or show signs of affection if it seems appropriate. Physical connection, like a hug, holding their hand, or a gentle touch on the shoulder, gives a feeling of comfort without having to say anything. If you can’t see your friend in person or they may not want physical or verbal condolences, you can show you care in other ways. For example, you can share resources or information about pet loss support groups or send them poems or heartfelt quotes about losing a loved one. Give them ideas on how to memorialize Fluffy or how to celebrate her life, or rituals to help them get through the difficulty of the day, such as by lighting a candle, writing a love note to the pet, planting a flower garden, making a garden stone mosaic, keeping a journal, designing a keepsake piece of jewelry, and more.

6. A grieving person may become sullen, quick to temper, or have a negative attitude or display unusual behaviors. Do not take these reactions or moods personally and be patient with them. Try to put yourselves in their shoes – reassure them there is no right or wrong behavior for grieving and that everyone’s grief is unique. Your friend may even resort to humor. But don’t think they are playing off their loss. Humor can often provide the same emotional release as crying or act as a buffer to the pain.

7. Be mindful your friend might have emotional setbacks, so be there for them if they do. Grief is typically cyclical, coming in waves or in a series of highs and lows. The lows tend to be deeper and more profound in the beginning and then they gradually become shorter and less painful as time goes by. Grief can also be triggered years after a loss by certain events or stimuli that spark a memory such as a special anniversary, a holiday, seeing an animal that looks like the pet that died, a TV show or commercial, a song, a movie, social venues such as Facebook, or a particular sight or sound. Be sensitive to those moments and react with kindness and sympathy as such.

8. Send flowers or a memorial gift, or a donation in the deceased pet’s name to an organization close to the mourner’s heart. You could also send a condolence card with personal comments about the pet and how he/she will be missed. There are numerous sites online for pet loss that carry books, cards, jewelry, mementos, and more and the gesture will show how much you care and understand the pain and loss your friend is feeling. If you’re a blogger, you could create a special blog post in memory of the pet or post a comment or picture on social media, expressing your sympathy to the person who lost the pet.

9. Call them on the phone to let them know they’re on your mind and you are wondering how they’re doing. Offer to help, too, and rather than assuming what your friend wants, ask them what they need or how you can help to possibly relieve a bit of stress from their life. Many times, a friend may ask you to research pet afterlife arrangements because it’s a touchy subject that may cause them more emotional pain.

10. If you live nearby, ask if you can stop by and offer to bring something to them, but don’t just bring it. Allow the choice. Maybe they have some errands that need to be attended to, or a load of laundry to be done, or need help with some daily tasks like grocery shopping, house cleaning, or making dinner. You could even ask, “Have you eaten recently? I’d love to bring you something.” Grief can cause someone to detach from the simple realities of life, even stopping to eat altogether, so it’s important to check in with your friend, in a non-judgmental manner, to make sure they are still engaging in basic self-care. If said supportively, this can bring comfort. Maybe even go for a walk with them, as it may be hard for them to do that alone, especially if it’s a milestone “first,” such as the first time your friend visits the park alone, one where their dog chased a favorite ball. Just be sure not to take it personally if your friend isn’t ready for that support, as some find more comfort in processing through it alone.

Easier said than done. You want to send a card to express your sympathy at the loss of Fluffy, but what do you write to let your friend know you understand they miss their cat and you’re sorry? Or you want to comment on Facebook, but what do you say? It’s a public forum and you don’t want to write something inadvertently insensitive or inappropriate. Sending a comforting message may feel intimidating, but your words can reach further than you expect, and you want them to display the same emotions and feelings of comfort as you would in person. Here are a few examples of some fitting phrases:

“Sending purrs (barks, wags, etc.) and prayers to you.”

“I’m so very sorry for your loss. He/she (insert pet’s name) will be missed.”

“They were lucky to have you as their owner (pet-parent; pet-mom/dad; guardian) and best friend.”

“Sending loving thoughts your way.”

“Wishing you peace and comfort during this difficult time.”

“If you need to talk, please don’t hesitate to reach out – I’m always here for you.”

“Losing a part of your family is never easy.”

“I know words cannot make you feel better, but I’m thinking of you and I’m here for you.”

“If there is anything I can do, please let me know.”

“Please know I’ll be thinking of you during this difficult time.”


Even with all the above advice, best intentions, and well-crafted sentiments, no matter what we say or do, there is not a magic wand to bring Fluffy back or make someone’s pain and grief go away. But how and what you say to someone experiencing the loss does matter, as it can affect the course of their grieving process and there are some general phrases, tones of conversation, and mindsets that should not be used when trying to help someone reconcile the loss of a pet:

1. Pet loss is not a contest or competition. If you’ve also lost a pet, don’t make what you experienced more important or more traumatic/difficult or the same as the loss the mourner is feeling. You can tell them you understand/empathize, but you do not know exactly how they feel because no one can ever experience pain, grief, and loss in the same way. Grief, as like a snowflake or thumbprint is completely unique. Don’t say, “You think you’ve got it bad…” or “When my pet died…” Comparisons are attempts to minimize the loss or to force the griever to alter their feelings and behavior.

2. Do not tell them that time heals all wounds. Yes, it might eventually soften the pain, but during times of grieving, it is not realistic for a person to take comfort from that sentiment and the timeline for healing can be dramatically different depending on the person and circumstances.

3. While maybe it might be the case, especially if the pet was suffering, don’t say “He/she is in a better place” or “Think of only the good times” or “It’s probably for the best.” The only place a pet guardian really wants their pet to be is with them, happy, and healthy. Just say something like, “I can only imagine how hard it was to say goodbye. My heart goes out to you during this difficult time. Please let me know if there is anything I can do for you.”

4. Don’t give grief a timeline or impose when you think someone should feel better. Telling someone “It’s been two months (or however long); you shouldn’t still be so sad” is only going to make them feel worse if they are still dealing with the pain. If anything, you should check in with them every so often in the days, weeks, and months to come, as they may be feeling isolated, alone, or just need someone to talk to.

5. Never project blame or judge the person who lost a pet. Don’t say, “If I were you, I would have done it this way.” or “Why did you do that?” They are already feeling the weight of the world on their shoulders and spending many a restless night agonizing over every decision they made, and many pet guardians can easily second-guess their actions and place undue shame on the choices they may have made. Having to make the choice of euthanasia is especially difficult,  leaving your friend wondering if they made the right choice, or if their pet is angry with them for the choice they made. Nobody knows what they would have done and there is not a right or wrong answer.

While it was important I get a paw print of Harley in memory of her, her death was unexpected and it took me years to be able to even look at the memento, as I blamed myself for her death, thinking maybe I could have prevented it, which I now know is truly not the case.

6. Do not use euphemisms that tend to trivialize or reduce the extent of the loss. Don’t say, “Everything happens for a reason” or “Time will heal” or “He/ she isn’t suffering anymore” or “Life goes on” or “Only the good die young” or “All clouds have a silver lining” or “It’s a blessing” or “You were lucky to have him/her this long.” Most of us have said some of these things at one point or another with good intentions, and some of these comments are true. Life does go on. Time often does heal or at least lessen the pain. The ending of suffering is good. But when a person is experiencing an acute sense of loss, logic is not comforting. It’s not helpful to say, “Faith teaches us to be strong.” or it was “God’s way.” If given the choice, people would prefer to be less strong if it meant they could keep their pet. It also questions why God sometimes takes the young or the healthy, leading to feelings of anger, confusion, and resentment.

7. Do not try to ‘fix’ the grieving person or make it all better — no one can ever do that. Don’t scold, lecture, or give pep talks to them when they are feeling down, and don’t encourage them to make major changes in their life. Do not suggest they medicate their pain with alcohol or tranquilizing drugs. Grief must run its course and avoiding the immediate symptoms can lead to complicated and unresolved problems down the road. Give information about a local pet loss support group to attend (visit or call the ASPCA Pet Loss Support Hotline at (877) 474-3310. While it is kind to share your own compassion and support, additional support services are beneficial in ways you are not qualified for. If the person who is in grief is suicidal, it is your moral and ethical responsibility to refer them to a mental health professional (National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255).

8. Don’t ever say, “all black cats look the same – just get another one” and do not get a new cat for your friend. This mindset does not acknowledge the unique relationship with the pet the person has lost. How Fluffy snuggled at night on the couch with the person, or Fluffy who had that special meow, saying “hello, please give me a treat” anytime her human walked in the kitchen. People need to grieve and be validated for the feelings they are having about this specific loss. It is impossible to recreate lost relationships with another being who is, in and of itself, unique (even if the same breed). Telling a person that they can simply replace a relationship by getting a new pet is insensitive and there can also be feelings of extreme guilt from the griever, that they are trying to replace the pet with another as if they are interchangeable. One day they may be able to open their heart and home to a new companion, but it needs to be on their terms, and when it feels right.

Even though I had other cats to comfort me, all my pets are unique, none of them taking the place of another, and having to make the difficult decision of letting my Ragdoll cat Jazz go was one of the hardest in my life.

9. While not everyone understands the human-pet bond, losing a pet is not any less significant to them than someone who has lost a parent, child, sibling, etc. Do not make comparisons or make the grieving person feel their pain is any less real, or valid because it is an animal and not a human. With better healthcare, food, and technologies available, many cats and dogs can now live for 15 plus years – a lifetime of bonding, memories, and shared experiences and in many instances, the relationship a person shares with their pet can be far deeper and more profound than a relationship shared with a person.

10. If you truly don’t know what to say, or don’t understand the grief, or don’t understand why the loss is such a big deal, or are not “an animal person,” then just be respectful. A simple “I’m sorry for your loss” is all that is necessary.


For any of you either looking for a personal way to help someone through the grieving process, or if you need help yourself with grieving, please consider reading Purr Prints of the Heart – A Cat’s Tale of Life, Death, and Beyond. While clinical, self-help books on grieving serve a great purpose, sometimes a true-life experience that someone can directly relate to is the best way to help a person process their feelings, so they don’t feel so alone in the complex range of emotions they are experiencing. Purr Prints is a warm, spirited, and poignant tale written in the meow voice of Mr. Jazz that has touched the hearts of those who have read it. Please visit our books page for information on how to order the book, including options for personalization for those who would like the book autographed in tribute to a lost pet. We also have two custom-designed cards created for cat loss sympathy on our Zazzle Boutique. Please see the links to follow.

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  1. Grief is the hardest thing for me. So many times in the past, when a person has lost a beloved cat (or dog, etc), I’ve been caught between feeling the loss too deeply and not knowing what to say that’s adequate for the loss – so I don’t say anything. After losing Bear, I see how important an “I’m so sorry for your loss” can be to someone grieving. Had I known how much comfort one comment can bring – I wouldn’t have worried about the words, the tone, being good enough or worried that my comment won’t mean anything because I don’t know the person that well. I just didn’t know. When I lost Kitty, I didn’t have friends to be there for me – I was getting divorced – and I was alone. Letting people be there for me is difficult too. But the way people have been there for me this time has meant the world to me (and that’s a massive understatement). I’m definitely keeping a copy of this post for my own reference – as well as sharing it for others.

    • Deb says:

      Bear’s loss was the impetus for this post, Katherine. I saw how you were sharing your pain, I saw how others interacted with you, and I felt it was important to address how to engage with someone who has lost a pet, as I think so many of us struggle with knowing what to say/do, not realizing how and what we say can impact the person grieving. My heart goes out to you regarding Bear – thank you for sharing him with us and I’m always here if you need me.

  2. Sue Brandes says:

    Thanks for your post. I am having a very hard time with the loss of Tubby. It was sudden and I had to make a hard decision.

  3. Such an important post. I am still grieving for my furbabies that I have lost. Which brings me to one more suggestion…don’t forget the person who may be grieving the loss of a pet. When the loss happens, you may be there for the person, giving your condolences, providing a shoulder to cry or lean on. But a few months later…that person may still be grieving…I know I am…and no one is there for them. Yes, life move on for everyone…but when you’re the person grieving, you feel like everyone has forgotten you. And you are once again, grieving alone. So even a few months later…reach out to that person who may still be grieving…ask how they are doing, provide that shoulder again. Let them know they aren’t alone and you are still there for them if they need it. ~Island Cat Mom

    • Caren says:

      Sue, I love that and I totally agree with you. I’m here for you!! I feel exactly the same (((hugs)))

    • Deb says:

      You are so right, Sue. I’ve updated the post and appreciate your suggestion. I’m here for you if you need me. Purrs and Hugs, Deb

  4. Brian Frum says:

    Those were really nice tips and it really is never, ever easy.

  5. Leah says:

    Wise words, Deb. I always feel I don’t know what to say. And I miss all the kitties we’ve lost, even after many years.

    • Deb says:

      Thank you, Leah, it can be very hard to know what to say. I’m glad I was able to provide a platform to discuss this with others.

  6. jmuhj says:

    Thank you for this wonderful post, Deb — and I am so very sorry for your losses. In my family, cats ARE family — never “pets” — and we are never “owners” but family members. They are first in my heart and soul, and there are so many up there watchin.’ We WILL be reunited, as will everyone dealing with these most difficult of all losses.

    • Deb says:

      Jmuhj, yes, all the pets in our family are family, too, and the heartbeat of our home. My heart goes out to you as well for all your losses. Love and purrs to you…

  7. George Beach says:

    Very good information. Thanx, Deb. You’re such a beautiful person.

  8. Caren says:

    Extremely important tips as well as being heartfelt and full of understanding and warmth. I also will refer back to this post in the future. I think for me, one of the most annoying and insensitive things I had said to me (on more than one occasion), was when Cody passed, not long after I was asked why I had not done a tribute post for him yet. Seriously? My cat hemorraged (sp?) to death and our condo looked like a crime scene from his blood loss and maybe two weeks later I was asked that? I HAVE blogged about Cody, but in the sense of a “formal” tribute? No. It is almost a year and I am NOT OVER IT. I will NEVER BE OVER IT. It is still hard for me to write about. Writing about a pets passing is cathartic to some, but NOT FOR ALL. I remember Ingrid King told me when Cody passed (because I felt guilty for NOT having done a special tribute)……that a tribute was not necessary, that I must do what is right for ME…….and what I am up to handling.She had said when/if I ever wanted to do a tribute was up to ME. She totally understood and made me feel so much better. I have blogged about Cody a few times since he passed….I’m dreading his year anniversary because no matter what I write about it, it makes me re-live that horrific morning all over again. Losing Cody in a violent and horrific and unexpected manner and then losing Dakota to cancer 9 days later was almost too much to bear. I barely blog anymore because while I adore Roary and Levi, it isn’t the same. Thank you for your understanding.

    • Deb says:

      Caren – I’m glad Ingrid was able to give you the advice and comfort you needed to understand it is not your responsibility to the world to blog about losing Cody if you don’t want to. Yes, Cody was absolutely beloved to so many of us, but if it brings you too much pain to write about it, reliving traumatic memories, then you don’t have to. Do it, only if/when you want to. To this day, I’ve yet to really open up about losing Harley, as her death was so traumatizing to me, so I understand and respect your decisions. Hugs to you my dear friend.

  9. Excellent post. #6 is especially important. I hate it when people use those cliques.

    • Deb says:

      Yes, cliches can sometimes be hard to take comfort in, but when someone doesn’t know what to say or do, those types of sentiments can happen. Hopefully, this article will provide guidance for them.

  10. meowmeowmans says:

    What a beautiful post, Deb. Thank you. Dealing with loss is never easy, and you’ve expressed gently and eloquently answers to many of the difficult questions about grieving our beloved pets.

  11. Jo Singer says:

    I so appreciated this article. The information and suggestions you shared are so important and helpful especially when, for me, a trained pet bereavement counselor cannot find anything to say-which is shocking to me. I have, actually , sent “Purr Prints” to friends who have lost a beloved fur baby. Several years ago, when we lost Dr.Hush Puppy, and I couldn’t pull myself out of the darkness that surrounded me, and Puppy’s brother, Sir Hubble Pinkerton was grieving deeply, my husband Marty read your remarkable book aloud to Hubble and me. It was healing for the three of us. Hubble truly understood and felt the book’ s energy and compassion. Thank you for that…I will never forget it.

    • Deb says:

      Thank you for your thoughtful and kind comment, Jo. I too, remember when you lost Dr. Hush Puppy and you read Purr Prints of the Heart to help with your grieving. We will always share that bond and I’ll never forget it either. Love to you and Marty and your feline gang.