/ Death

What to Say (& Not Say) to Someone Who Lost an Animal Companion

Published October 5, 2012 in Dr Peto Says, Monthly Care Tips, What's New |
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Pet loss is a delicate topic, and even if you have been through it yourself, it is difficult to know what to say when someone you know experiences the death of an animal companion. Here’s some helpful content which offers some great insight on what to do.

Say This

“Your pet was so lucky to have you.”

During times of grief many people look inward and ask themselves if there was anything else they could have done differently. Reminding someone of what a wonderful fur parent they were, and that their pet enjoyed the best life possible, can help to alleviate any guilt a fur [parent] may be feeling.

Don’t Say This

“When are you getting another pet?”

This implies that a pet is like a piece of furniture – if it breaks or gets old you just throw it out and get a new one. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Our pets provide the kind of emotional connection that, for some, can resonate deeper than what they feel with human beings. Pets demand that we be selfless and in return we are rewarded with unconditional love. That is not something that can be erased immediately.

Say This

“Do you remember when…?”

Sharing a personal, heartwarming or funny story about a pet with a grieving [caregiver] can help move the focus away from the loss to a remembrance of happier times.  And it is those happy times that will help many fur [parents] get through the tough times ahead.

Don’t Say This

“What’s the big deal? You have other pets.”

As any fur [parent] will tell you, each pet is different and brings something unique to our lives. Would you tell a parent that has lost a child, “Don’t worry about it. You have other kids?” Of course not. Be sensitive to the loss irrespective of how many pets a person might have.

Say This

“Is there anything I can do?”

It might sound cliché but if it is truthful, and you are willing to help, just knowing there is someone there if needed can provide a great deal of comfort to a grieving fur parent.

But if you say it you need to mean it. If someone reaches out to you with a request after you have offered, and you are not able or willing to help, you can damage a relationship forever.

Don’t Say This

“Are you really going to have [him/her] cremated?”

Just like it is with the passing of people, everyone has their own particular desires for how to handle the services. In the case of pets, cremation allows us to “keep” our pet with us forever. By implying to someone that their choice of cremation is foolish speaks to a personality void of understanding the desire for some type of physical presence.

Say This

“You did everything you could do.”

Many fur [parents] feel enormous guilt upon the passing of the pet. Perhaps they feel if they’d taken their pet to the vet earlier the outcome may have been different.

Guilt is also often felt when it comes to end of life decisions, one of the hardest things a fur [parent] may have to go through. Letting the fur [parent] know they responded appropriately and with love can go a long way in helping to soothe a grieving [caregiver].

Don’t Say This

“It’s just a dog (cat, rabbit, hamster, etc.)”

This will invariably come from the person who has never [had] a pet. They cannot begin to understand the connection we feel with our pets and probably do not view this statement as crass or insensitive.

But you have to wonder if they would say the same kind of thing if they were talking about a family member or friend passing.

Do This

Sending a condolence card will be seen by most any grieving fur [parent] as a very thoughtful act. This is not the time for an email which is impersonal.

Include a brief, handwritten note and include a photo of the pet in happier times if you have one. Another kind gesture is to make donation to a pet charity in the name of the [fur parent]. If the dog or cat died from cancer a donation to an animal shelter or [another] worthy organization can mean the world to a grieving fur parent.

Heartbreaking Animal Mourning Rituals

Published August 1, 2012 in Love For Earthlings, What's New |
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The complex social structures of gorillas and their higher level of thinking makes it easier for them to form strong connections to their children and pack members. As a result, gorillas have been recorded exhibiting sadness and concern for their dead, sometimes even burying the bodies.

One heartbreaking example is Gana, who could not accept the death of her child. Gana carried the infant’s body with her around a German zoo for days, trying to restore life to it multiple times, and protecting it from zookeepers.


Elephants are extremely emotional animals, easily bonding with other elephants or the humans who care for them. These deep attachments can lead to terrible grief when a loved one dies.

Elephants are known to shed tears, bury their dead, go into depression and starve themselves in reaction to a loss. One elephant at an Indian zoo was so distraught over the death of her friend that she refused to eat or drink, leading to her own death.


Geese are very serious about commitment, devoting themselves to one bird for a lifetime. After a goose dies, its mate will undergo a rigorous mourning process, including weight loss, separation from the flock and submission to other geese.

Eventually, the goose will find a new mate in another bird that has lost its partner. One goose made an unusual choice for her new mate, choosing to leave her flock and bond with humans working at the zoo.


Sperm whales form close relationships with the members of their pods, even following those who stray from the group so they would not be alone. If a member is removed from the group through death, the remaining whales become mentally agitated for long periods.

Research shows that this turmoil is so far-reaching that the teeth of the animal will become weaker during these periods.


Scientists have found that baboons’ physiological response to death is very similar to humans, with both seeing an increase in stress hormones called glucocorticoids. To lower glucocorticoid levels and cope with loss, baboons also respond like we do: they seek out friends.

The animals will expand their social circles and spend more time with other baboons, engaging in activities like grooming.


Stereotypes say that cats are loners, but observation has shown that many felines grieve when they lose their owner or cat friend. This process can include running away, not eating, excessive meowing and house-training mistakes.

One example of an inconsolable cat is Muschi, who lost her unlikely bear friend, Mausi. Zookeepers said the cat refused to leave the bear’s old exhibit, and would not stop meowing for her companion.


Sea lions have been seen to cry out in anguish when their babies are taken by predators. A sea lion will continue wailing in mourning after its child has died. The same behaviour has also been seen in sea lions dealing with companions taken by hunters.


The bonds a human can form with a dog are deep, and research indicates that canines feel them too. Studies show that dogs can feel grief, especially after the loss of an owner. The pets will react to their emotions by not eating, sleeping more than usual and generally being lethargic.

Some dogs will also show a lack of acceptance that an owner has died, and will try to stay with him or her. This was seen with a dog that belonged to a slain Navy SEAL. The dog, Hawkeye, refused to leave the side of his owner’s coffin during the funeral.


Chimpanzees’ close genetic makeup to humans means they get some of our faults as well. The primates are known to become distressed when they lose close members of their groups. The animals will often cry, refuse food, mope and separate themselves during grieving periods.

One poignant example of chimpanzee mourning was the case of Dorothy. When the older chimpanzee died and was taken away from her rescue centre, all the other chimps gathered seemingly to say their goodbyes and to watch the body leave.

Excerpted from Animal Planet