5 Proven Tips For Coping When Your Dog Dies

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Grieving the loss of your beloved hound brings enormous sadness, stress, and anguish. Feelings of loneliness are overwhelming, and all-consuming. The devastation can be compounded by the fact that many people just don’t understand why you feel such despair. 

Unfortunately, many people don’t really know how to deal with grief and loss. Try to avoid these people during the initial stages of your grief. It doesn’t mean they’re unlovable, but they’re simply not up to the job of taking care of you right now.

How Do I Get Over the Grief of Losing My Dog?

You will feel vulnerable and raw. The last thing you want, when you reach out for support, is to be met with apathy. Who is it safe to talk to? Is there a trusted friend or family member you can speak to about your heartbreak and sorrow, who will ‘get it’? 

I liken grief to the sea tides. At first, the waves threaten to engulf and even drown you. Having someone you can share the initial stages of shock and grief with, will keep your head above water. The tide will soon subside, but it will be back, just as big, and you’ll need that person again. This will repeat over and over in the first days after you lose your dog. You won’t be able to breathe properly.

You need to be able to cry, say your dog’s name, cry, talk about them, cry, say over and over how much you love and miss your dog. Cry, and cry some more. 

Eventually, you will notice that the waves are not so high, and they come in a little less frequently. Your breathing will be a little deeper, and you will start moving ‘through’ the process.

Some other strategies you might explore when you feel ready:

  • Make a scrap-book or photograph album of your dog
  • Write poetry or a story based on your dog’s life and personality, it could be a story for children!
  • Volunteer at a rescue organization as a way of honoring your dog, and giving back
  • Do something for yourself, a positive change such as learn something new, or get fit
  • Think about your dog, and talk to your trusted humans about them

Why Does Losing a Dog Hurt So Much?

Your dog is always ‘in the moment’. Your bond with your dog is a loving and effortless connection. It doesn’t have the many complexities and complications of our human relationships, which can often use up our energy, and become a roller-coaster of emotions. We have to ‘work’ on our human relationships, which can be wonderful, but sometimes problematic. 

Dogs, on the other hand, are constant and unwavering in their devotion, companionship and love. And this is no matter how you feel, look or act towards them. Dogs are just happy to be with you. If we could speak their language, they would be saying, “I’m here, I love you, shall we go?, this is fun!” 

They teach us to be better people. To love, and be loved back. That, after all, is the true essence of happiness and joy.

Is It Wrong to Love My Dog More Than I Love Other Humans?

Studies have shown that humans have more empathy for dogs than they do other humans. This is because for many humans, dogs are part of the family and occupy the same emotional space as children. We are very protective of the vulnerable, who often can’t take care of themselves. This makes us think we love them more. It’s normal to feel this way.

Some people do love their dogs more than other humans. That’s normal, as well. Love is love. Whoever said that humans deserve it more than dogs or other animals.

How Do Dogs Make Our Lives Better?

Having a dog gives you a sense of purpose. You have lots of things to do together. Walking, playing, sharing. The companionship of a dog is known to benefit children as well as adults. Stroking and touching a dog fulfills our need to have contact with another warm, living being. They help you to keep fit and active. They are a universal talking point, with many social interactions taking place when you’re out on walks.

Being with your best mate lowers cortisol levels. This results in less stress, as your body is not placed in a state of high alert and alarm.  Also, the oxytocin system is activated, which is thought to be largely responsible for many biological and emotional advantages

Oxytocin is known as the ‘love hormone’, and it plays a role in human behaviors such as recognition, trust, love and bonding. 

There is a known reduction in epinephrine and norepinephrine. This means that people with dogs have an improved cardiovascular response to stress, meaning less chance of adverse outcomes. Our heart rate and blood pressure are slow to rise, reducing the effects of stress on the body.

Is It Normal to Feel Guilty After a Dog Dies?

It’s absolutely normal to feel guilt when your dog dies. It’s just our way of trying to make sense of things, to put everything in order. Our mind wants to calculate, ‘something bad has happened, and this is why’. It wants to tell the whole story, and resolve the ‘problem’.

If your dog was euthanized, you may torture yourself that you should have waited longer, or that you left it too long before alleviating their suffering. Perhaps your dog died naturally, or in an accident. You may feel there was something you could have done to prevent their death. 

This guilt is felt by everyone who loses a dog. It will lessen as you work through your grieving. Try not to dwell on the hurtful aspects of your dog’s death. If it was traumatic, you will naturally go through a process of revisiting the event. It’s your mind’s way of coping and moving through it. Be kind to yourself. Find something to be grateful for. 

  • The years you had with your dog
  • The great age they reached
  • The wonderful life you had together
  • They didn’t suffer at the end
  • You were holding them when they died 
  • They had a happy life with you
  • The love you shared
  • You did the absolute best you could for them, even at the end

You’ll also feel guilty when you start to emerge from the darkness and loss. You feel disloyal because you feel a bit better. This is also completely normal. You will move through it.

Rest assured, you are not leaving your dog behind. You are only adjusting to life without them being physically there.

5 Tips For Coping When Your Dog Dies

  1. Find a Safe Place or Person

Cry, rage, talk, despair. Without any reserve. Let it out. Talk about your dog. Say their name. Reach into your memory banks to bring them closer to you. Smell their blankets, toys and bed if you need to. It will be excruciating, but it will help you start to move through the despair. It’s all valid and normal. Repeat, repeat, repeat, as necessary.

  1. Be Kind To Yourself

Accept every emotion you experience for what it is. Normal and natural! The tides of grief will come and go. Humans have coped with this process for as long as we’ve inhabited the earth, and made dogs our beloved companions.You will feel as though you’re trying to swim through molasses. Do only what you can manage. Do nice things for yourself. Be the person you need someone else to be for you, right now.

  1. Collect Your Dog Up Into A Memorial

Making a scrapbook or photo album really helps to sort your mind out. I like to get as many photographs as possible and put them in one folder or slide-show, or even a printed album. I put all my dog’s stuff, bed, coats, toys, etc in one place. It helps to have a special area to go where they are right there, waiting for you. Anything you can do to draw them in and keep them closer is very comforting.

  1. Help Someone Else 

Being of service to others who need help and support is a great way to feel your life has meaning. You may have a shelter or rescue organization close by where you can do a few hours volunteering. If you’re not ready for other dogs, help a friend, neighbor or local care-home out. Older people are lonely, and a walk round or friendly chat means the world to them. 

  1. Know You Have Not Lost Your Dog Forever

If you’re a dog person, there’s a chance you will say goodbye to many dogs in your life-time. Your heart will break apart, and that is the gap you will place your beloved dog into. As my pain subsides, and my heart stops hurting so much, I imagine my dog snuggled up in the wound. 

As my heart slowly heals, it envelops my dog and keeps them safe in my heart, forever with me.  I do this, and I touch my chest when I want to cuddle them. Our hearts know no bounds when it comes to love. You can fit a billion dogs in there. They are never lost to us.

Final Thoughts

“To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose, under heaven” (The Byrds)

Coping with the loss of your dog is a process, sometimes taking weeks, months or years. Remember, you are not alone. Having someone to be next to you as you start the process of grieving is invaluable. There are online support groups if you can’t find someone you trust.

Try the strategies I have mentioned. It won’t happen quickly, but eventually something will start to shift for you. You will feel joy again. You will be happy, and when you think of your dog it will only be with love and happy memories. Know that you did your best for them. You love each other. They are still there.

Don’t run out and get another dog to fill the gap. You will compare the new dog to the lost dog, and they will never measure up. Give yourself space to grieve. You’ll know when it’s time to love another hound. When it is that time, consider saving a life by adopting a shelter dog. You will never be sorry. Above all, take care of yourself. You are not alone.

24 thoughts on “5 Proven Tips For Coping When Your Dog Dies”

  1. Wonderful article, Laura. Lots of great, thoughtful advice. I’m sure it will help a lot of sad and grieving pet owners. We’ve all been there, and I’m sure we will sadly be there again one day. Hxxx

    1. I can’t thank you enough for this. It’s Tuesday, and I just lost my babygirl this past Saturday. I am sitting in my office, hoping no one will talk to me as I wear my shades. I didn’t come into work yesterday…but honestly, can’t be home another day. Nothing feels right. But, here I am. Missing my girl….#thatssoraven – Thank you, so so much!

      1. Hi, Laura. Thank you for your message. I’m so sorry you have lost your girl. It will feel insurmountable for you at this early stage. Take each day, and look after yourself. You are not alone. Nothing is supposed to feel right for you at the moment. Your world is utterly diminished. Your grief is testament and honor, to the love you and your girl have for each other. Love and thoughts. Laura

  2. So helpful and reflects how we feel when the furry member of our family passes. We have a little border now who is 11 and love him so much

  3. It truly is devastating to lose a fur baby. We love ours so very much and are dealing with the pain and bewilderment of finding out one of our precious ones has terminal cancer. To say we are devastated doesn’t begin to describe it….

    1. I’m so sorry to read this, Jamie and Amy. It is absolutely devastating to know that your precious dog is terminally ill. You can always gather some comfort from the fact that they have had the best life with you, and you with them.

  4. Thank you for this amazing article. I just lost my pup yesterday due to a horrific accident and I feel shattered into a million pieces. She had just turned four-years-old a few weeks ago. This truly helps me go through the grieving process and know that things will get better one day at a time.

    1. Megan, I am so very sorry to hear about your beautiful girl. I know how broken you are, right now. My heart aches for you. Don’t try to rush your grief process. You are not alone. Lots of love to you.

  5. Thank you so much for this beautiful article. I lost my twelve year old pup yesterday. She was absolutely amazing and wonderful. Even though she had been dealing with serious health problems for a long time, it still came as a horrible blow to me and my family. We are all soul-crushed and trying to process. This will be very helpful to all of us as we move through the grieving process.

    1. Janet, I’m so sorry to hear of the loss of your beautiful girl. Twelve is a great age for a dog, but it’s still always too soon to lose them. You and your family will have an emotional journey for a good while. It will get easier, I promise. You are not alone. Bless you all, for your love of your dog.

  6. Thank you so much for your article. I will confess, and not ashamed of it. But, before, I used to think these grieving “procedures” were not “practical.” However, my “scientific” minded attitude showed me how wrong I was. I’ve never owned a dog; albeit I’ve taken care some of my friend’s years ago. Seven years ago, I adopted my first. Her name was Abby, a dachshund. She proved me wrong in all of these assumptions. I grew up loving her more than I loved myself. I pampered her, spoiled her, so much friends would often say I was over doing it. Yet, I’ve never stopped. After 7 years, my little princess, love of my life, Abby, went to heaven at age 16. Albeit, she was 16, she never acted like it. She developed pulmonary hypertension due to pneumonia and after a week of ICU and hoping for a recovery, she was getting not well, and the doctor told me she started to exhibit early stages of possible suffering. So, I also experienced the other aspect of being a dog owner: the one that decides to give the OK for her to be euthanize. I feel guilty that I feel if I had to or not, and etc. It’s been a day since she left alas, and now I cry here and then, and now experiences exactly what you said the process is for a person grieving. I have taken, thus, your advice, and all. Thank you.

    1. Hi, and thank you for your message. My heart feels your heaviness. Like you, my career is science, but the love between you and your dog is not scientific, as you say. You are on the start of your grieving journey. You are not alone. Take each day as it comes, be kind to yourself, and know it’s normal and OK to miss Abby. You were blessed to have each other. Lots of love and thoughts. Laura.

  7. I just lost my beautiful 12 yr old Shepard 2 days ago. It was just the 2 of us since the day I bought her 12 yrs ago. She was my rock and the lover of my soul. It feels like my heart has been ripped from my chest
    Thank you for letting me know that this is not abnormal to feel this intense grief and feelings of guilt. Don’t know how I will go on without her.

    1. Hi, Lauren. Thank you so much for your message. I’m so sorry you have just lost your beautiful girl. Your heart is in pieces, and will be for a long time. The pain you’re feeling is testament to the love and bond that you and your dog have, and will continue to have. She is always yours, and you hers. You will adjust to life without her physical presence, but she will always be in your heart and soul. Feel absolutely OK about your grief. You are not alone. Take care. Laura

  8. lost my loving boy two days ago, feels like an eternity. i never dreamed it would hurt this bad or doubting myself, could i have tried more meds to have kept him here longer?
    did i put him down to quickly? about a month ago i had appointment to put him down, that morning he acted like nothing was wrong, p laying and acting normal and had a month before he got bad again, three days before i got him in he got so bad i couldn’t
    believe how miserable he looked and then the day to take him in his head was up and looking around with curiosity. could i have had another month, did i do the right thing? he wouldn’t eat or drink or play but i cant stop doubting myself. i just want my boy back i just want to die and be with him.

    1. Hi Laurie. Thank you so much for your message. As you can see from all our other comments, your grief and pain is absolutely normal, and you are not alone with this. Your feelings of doubt are also normal. We all feel that we could have done more, waited longer, waited too long, should have seen the signs, etc, etc. It’s how we try to process and make sense of the devastating thing that has happened to us. I want to reassure you that you did exactly the right thing for your boy. That extra month you had was a special gift, but he was ready to go and rest. Dogs will always instinctively look better than they actually feel, if possible. They are very stoic. You read the situation perfectly, and did the right thing for your beloved dog. You will get through this, I promise. We have all felt exactly how you feel now. Take care. Laura

  9. Matthew Wilkinson

    I lost Dennis 2 days ago. I adopted him 14 and a half years ago when a medical condition put me in a wheelchair. He had to adjust to life with a disabled guy… not a lot of running or playing, but he didn’t seem to mind. I hireds sa dog walker so he could get some exercise and change of scenery, but he was happiest when he got home from his walks — he’d run through his dog door and immediately check where I usualy sit to make sure I was there, then go to his water dish to drink some water. He was happiest just laying next to my left leg, his snout on my thigh, which was how he spent his days (I am paralyzed and can’t walk). He started to show signs of dementia (disorientation, getting lost in the apartment we’ve been in for 7 years, bumping into corners) and the vet estimated he was 16 and it would only get worse, so I gave the green light to let him go to sleep one last time. I held him while they did it, and he even started snoring after the first shot! I “know” intellectually I did the right thing, but I feel empty; everywhere I look, I “see” his absence. It feels like life will never be okay again. I had to stop several times while I wrote this because I was crying so much I couldn’t see the screen; I have shortness of breath, and my neck and collar bone feel like they’re encased in cement.

    1. Hi Matt. Thank you so much for your message. You describe the physical pain of your grief so vividly, I can feel it myself, again. I can’t tell you how sorry I am, that you have lost your pal, Dennis. What a gift you were to each other. What a success story for anyone’s life, and bless you, Matt. You did absolutely the right thing for him. That is the measure of true love. I can’t say anything that will ease your pain. You are not alone. You are not alone. The pain will ease in time, but the fact that my own grief returns with every message I receive such as yours, proves that the love is never gone. We carry our dogs with us forever. Take care. Laura

  10. Dear Laura,
    I lost my most sweetest loving girl, Zoe yesterday. I adopted this beautiful Maltese about 9 years ago, she may have been about 4 years old then. She was taking medication for right heart failure and medications gave me 4 more precious months with her. I left to do some errands that could have be done the next day but decided to do them one day earlier. I left Zoe who was exhausted from vomiting for 2 days. She was sleeping and breathing ok so I left and came home about 2 hours later. She was still laying close to where I left her in the same position but when i approached her I saw that she had passed. I yelled in grief and felt that I had betrayed her. I wasn’t there for her.. I cried but felt so guilty and then lonely. It was hard to sleep. I woke up early and searched for help and found you.
    Thank you for your insightful beautiful words. I really like your advice about putting all her things in one area to help the healing process. Just writing this note to you is helpful. Aloha from Honolulu

    1. Dear Kurt
      I’m so sorry to hear about Zoe. What an awesome partnership you had together, and such love. Zoe was not let down by you, Kurt. Quite the opposite. Dogs do know when it’s their time to go. She would have relaxed and let herself peacefully go, once you had gone out. She would have been waiting for the right time, and you provided it for her. She was no stranger to illness, and how wonderful to have that precious extra time with her. Bless you, both. You are not alone, Kurt. You have absolutely nothing to feel guilty about. What a special girl you had. Lots of love x

  11. Thank you…..A million times Thank you for this article. After 17 years, my Odie died yesterday. He was my kid before I had kids. I feel guilty for not giving him the attention he used to get once my son was born but reading this lets me know I’m not alone. My husband found him and I haven’t asked him how or where Odie was when he found him because I can’t help but feel that I should have been there. I don’t know who to talk to so I searched for some guidance on losing a pet and found you.

    1. Dear Ana
      Thank you so much for your message. I am so sorry to hear of your darling, Odie. What a beautiful and long life he had with you. 17 years is the lifetime of a happy, healthy dog, so your‘s and Odie’s life together is a success story.
      You’re so right. You are not alone. Only a dog lover knows the pain of losing a best friend. Unfortunately this intense grief we feel is testament and proof of the enormous love between us and our dog. You do not have to feel bad about being distracted by motherhood. Odie was your family. He knew that.
      Be kind to yourself, Ana. Lots of love x

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