What To Do When Your Dog Dies
Knowing what to do when your dog dies is the hardest and most soul-crushing part of being a pet parent. I wish I had a magic wand to take the grief away. The moment your dog dies feels like a bolt of lightning to the very essence of who you are.
Your heart is not only broken into a million pieces, but you feel as if you can’t take one more movement or breath forward without your dog. I know because I stood next to my Cocker Spaniel when she died, and part of me died with her. I know what to do when a dog dies because I’ve been there.
The most unfortunate part of loving a dog is the fact that in most cases, you will outlive your dog. If your dog recently died, perhaps even today, you are in a state of angst, shock, disbelief, anger, and maybe relief. If your dog was suffering and in pain or there was no hope, perhaps you made the decision to euthanize your dog.
There is no wrong way to grieve unless it directly hurts you or someone you love. I’ll explain more about that and how to handle the extreme level of grief that washes over you after a dog dies. Step by step, we can get through this together, but it’s a process that will take time. Unfortunately, there is no fast forward to the grief process. There are, however, some things you can do right away to deal with the death of your dog.
How To Handle Grief When Your Dog Dies
The best thing you can do for yourself is to take each second as it comes. When your dog dies, you are the one coming home to a house or apartment without your beloved pet. The emptiness and silence are deafening, even if you have other pets.
It hurts like your entire soul is on fire. You had no idea the pain would be so intense and feel so all-consuming. You aren’t sure if you should cry, scream, hide, run far away, or perhaps you feel dizzy, confused, angry, and uncertain of how to even breathe or take a step without your dog.
Just like with life, everyone handles grief differently. You may be devastated and feeling a whole host of painful feelings and gut-wrenching angst. Some pet parents may feel a small level of comfort if their pet was suffering or in pain and is no longer hurting. You are likely in a state of shock or disbelief that this really happened. Can your dog really be gone?
When my first Cocker Spaniel died, I never thought I’d survive. My spirit and soul were crushed into pulverized pieces of hurt, anger, and the worst pain I’d ever experienced. Here are some things you can do immediately to handle and process the grief after your dog dies.
- Walk one step at a time and let your emotions free. I felt frozen in time, as if walking without my dog made things too real. I wasn’t sure if I ever stop crying. I cried until I vomited. I cried until I had no tears left and then I moaned, froze in place in bed, and completely lost my appetite. For days. Days on end.
- Try not to be alone. It is hard to think of yourself when your dog dies. If at all possible, be around someone who can take care of you. You don’t want to ignore your own health and get sick. That isn’t something your dog would want. You must eat and drink and care for yourself even if it feels like you are a bottomless hole of emptiness. I know, as I’ve been there.
- Cry and get it out. Then do it again. Crying is the body’s way of releasing the deepest and most pain-filled sensations.
- Rearrange your plans. Call off sick from work, tell your family and friends what is going on, and reach out for whatever help you need. Help might come in the form of someone making sure you are eating and drinking.
- Embrace your grief. There is no timetable on grief. The most unfortunate part of grieving is the lack of a fast-forward button. Don’t try to ignore your feelings and pain. Own the pain as you own the bond between you and your dog. Not even death can destroy the bond of love between human and dog. Love never ends.
- Keep busy if that helps more than removing yourself from work. Some people prefer a distraction, so if work is your jam, go for it. Whatever helps you get through each minute.
How To Get Through Each Minute After Your Dog Dies
My Cocker Spaniel died on a Saturday in an emergency situation where we had to call our veterinarian because she physically rapidly declined.
Once my dog passed away, each moment afterward seemed like a blur though I remember the nightmare of emotions as if they happened yesterday. In the minutes and hours after my dog died, this is what I did and how you can cope, too:
- Don’t drive if at all possible. My spouse drove to and from the veterinarian, and I have no idea how she gathered the strength to do so, but she did. If you don’t have to drive to and from the vet’s office if your dog is euthanized, then please don’t. You won’t be concentrating or in full pay attention mode.
- Don’t fear what you are feeling. The part I don’t remember about my dog dying is the writhing in physical and emotional pain I felt. I allowed the veterinarian to stop her breathing and stop her pain. I took on the pain so she didn’t have to suffer any longer. Grief takes many forms. As long as you aren’t hurting yourself or anyone else, do not fear what you are experiencing.
- Don’t get angry with people who are trying to help. A friend of mine tried her hardest to help me and others reached out to say how sorry they were. I just wanted to be left alone. Don’t worry about what people think or trying to respond to folks on social media. You likely won’t even feel like yourself when grief and shock take over.
- Breathe. You might be reading this article after a Google search. Your eyes might be filled with so many tears that they burn or sting. Maybe you can hardly see through your tears. It’s a good idea to take some conscious breaths. My wife kept telling me to breathe, just breathe. This went on for days in my household. Slow, deliberate breaths will keep the oxygen flowing.
- Find your spot. You might feel better, even for a few seconds, if you lay down. You might feel better if you pace. You might take comfort in snuggling your dog’s favorite blanket or stuffed animal. Just do that thing. You might need to do that thing over and over for days at a time.
What To Do If Your Dog Dies Suddenly
If your dog’s death is sudden or unexpected, you feel shocked and disbelief on top of grief. Dogs die in a variety of ways, and most pet grief articles deal with the death of an elderly or sick pet.
I can only imagine the terrifying feelings of grief, shock, disbelief, and guilt you are experiencing. Guilt grabs you by the throat and attempts to suck the life from you, but there are things you can do to cope and get through the pain.
You want to understand how something like this could happen. Your dog is so innocent and whatever the circumstance, you want to know why you couldn’t stop your pet from dying. Tragedy compounds the pain and amplifies its chokehold on you.
I spoke with two dog moms whose dogs died suddenly and tragically. Sometimes the worst things happen to the best people and their dogs. I wish I understood why. It isn’t fair, and it is far from anything I can comprehend.
Please read my article on how to cope when your dog dies suddenly for further insights, help, and dealing with the pain you are feeling.
How To Cope With People Who Don’t Understand
Here are some things people told me to my face, through email, on the phone, and on social media after my dog died. You might hear the same things, so I want to prepare you.
- Do. you think you’ll get another dog?
- She/he was just a dog.
- It’s not like you lost a parent or sibling.
- I’m not sure what I can do for you or how to help you.
- At least she’s not suffering any longer.
I’m not sure if these people mean well, if they realize how their words sting like bees, or if they even care. I wonder if maybe someone said those words to them or if maybe the world is just a cold, cruel place where people simply don’t care that their words are destructive.
The old me used to just brush those comments off, but the new and improved version of me lets people know how hurt they made me feel. When they know better, maybe they’ll do better next time around. I try and have hope for humanity, stupid comments, and ignorant people.
If co-workers, family, or friends don’t understand or hurt you with words, let them know how you feel. Your fresh grief will be raw and you may say things you later regret. I have experience with that.
You can also distance yourself from people you know don’t mince words. My grandmother, for example, had no problem saying my dog was better off and dogs “aren’t worth it.” Her generation didn’t view dogs as we do these days. She had dogs later in life, too, and she treated them well. But there is a generational gap sometimes and I let her off with a free pass. Finally, I had to tell her not to say that or I couldn’t be around her. Sometimes people have no idea their words hurt like pouring salt into fresh wounds.
Feel free to borrow any of these one-liners if you must be around people who simply don’t understand your grief or the bond you share with your dog:
- “What you said hurts me deeply, as I love my dog the same way I love a person, so I’d appreciate it if you didn’t say that again.”
- “Please don’t make my pain any worse by saying things like that.”
- “No, I can’t replace my dog just as you can’t replace your mom, dad, or loved one.”
It might be best to distance yourself from people who don’t share your love of animals or the bond shared with your dog. Gravitate towards those who do understand, who do get it, and who are there for you. Some of my closest dog-loving pals are on social media, so I would reach out to them.
Is It Normal To Feel So Much Pain When Your Dog Dies?
Yes, the pain of a dog dying is indescribable. I also try to refrain from writing or saying “you lost your dog.” We don’t lose a dog. Our dogs die. People die. They aren’t lost. We didn’t lose them the way we lose a set of keys or an earring. They are dead, not lost.
You feel as if you are bleeding from the inside out and that the horror will never stop. When the pain became too unbearable for me, I sought the services of a grief counselor.
My pain, she explained, is completely normal. We all process grief in different ways, at different speeds, and there is no wrong way to grieve (unless you can’t function at all and need emergent help.)
This is what I did when my dog died and I felt helpless.
When Does The Pain of Losing My Dog Stop?
You never get over the death of a dog. You learn to carry the pain with you, and it evolves to become a part of you. A love as deep as that shared with a dog is not forgotten. It is not dealt with and put away. It shapes you, becomes a hidden wound, and you wake up one day realizing it won’t be going away.
The weirdest part of a dog dying is the understanding that the love remains, the body dies, but the relationship with your dog evolves from earthly to otherworldly. I never stop talking to my deceased dog. I keep her love and memory alive in dozens of ways every day.
I tried many different coping mechanisms to channel my grief. Some helped, and some were desperate tries to ease my sorrow. I’ll share the links with more details on ways to deal with a dog dying, but here is my shortlist:
- Excessive sleep: I felt like sleeping was the only way not think about her death
- Visiting a psychic: Indeed, I wanted her to tell me my dog was okay and transitioning
- Grief counselor: A woman who understood loss is loss, pet or person
- A checklist: In the throes of grief, it’s hard to recall what to do to work through it, so I made a dog grief checklist and stuck to it.
What To Expect Weeks and Months After A Dog Dies
Like everything in life, there is a cycle to grief as well. People will stop asking how you are doing, how you are feeling, and if there is anything they can do. I’ve been in that situation and I’ve been on the receiving end. I know how it hurts.
How dare the sun come up? How dare people laugh and live their lives? How dare the world go on and continue to function without your dog in it? It sucks. It simply sucks and what time taught me is not to forget, but to feel the pain more deeply.
The weeks, months, and years after my dog’s death taught me that the pain becomes a part of you. It becomes a battle not to let the way your dog died out shadow the way he or she lived. Those final moments tend to ruminate in your mind, right? Your dog would not want to be remembered for how they died, but rather how they lived.
It’s easier said than done and like anything new, it takes a lot of practice. The weeks and months that follow your dog’s passing are cold ones. Time does not heal all wounds, and whoever said that is clueless. Time is a slap in the face that reminds you the next time you will be with your dog is not in this lifetime or on this earth. Time does a lot of other amazing things, too.
Time is too slow for those who wait, too swift for those who fear, too long for those who grieve, too short for those who rejoice, but for those who love, time is not.Henry Van Dyke
Time cannot take from you that which you have lived, who you have loved, and the bond that transcends the rainbow bridge, the heavens, and even worlds apart.
There are stages to grief, but they don’t operate in a linear fashion and some of us get stuck in a stage. We know dogs are members of the family, so their passing is monumental. What worked with grief models years ago have evolved.
How Not to Let Pet Grief Control Your Life
I learned the death of dog meant gaining a new identity: survivor and wounded warrior. No amount of tears, pain, anger, or sadness would bring her back. In the sense of being gone meaning her physical presence was no longer on this earth, this was it.
The length of time you grieve has nothing to do with the measure and strength of your love. Some folks believe if they don’t grieve all the time, then perhaps they didn’t love their dog enough. That is totally false.
Your dog lived in the moment and for the moment. My advice to stay present is a page right from the dog’s daily living manual (if dogs had one). Dogs stay present and live in the moment. Your dog loved you on this earth and he or she will love you where they are now. They will love you forever. Long after death, love remains. Life is amazing that way.
Here is a library of resources I wrote along with the order in which to read them. I wish you peace, comfort, hope, strength, and courage in this journey you are on. You are one of the millions of pet parents whose dog dies every single year. You are not alone but it can feel that way. Your dog was one in a million. No one can ever take that bond of love away. Not even death.
Should I Get Another Dog After My Pet Dies?
Some people want to rush right out and get another dog. Others swear they will never bring another dog into their lives because the pain is unbearable. I fall into the latter category, which lasted about 30 days.
No matter how many times I told myself “never again,” I realized that I could never not love this way again. Each dog is an individual. Grief has no specific timeline. If you are considering bringing another dog into your life, be sure you are emotionally ready and financially secure.
My heart felt like a piece of me was missing. I missed my dog and pined for her physical presence in my life. I also missed the part of me that died with Brandy. I knew in that moment that Brandy would always be my canine daughter but that my life needed a dog to feel fulfilled.
A friend of mine swore off dogs after her beloved rescue dog died at 15 years of age. She has held steadfast to that notion, as she does not believe her heart could take the death of another. Death is so final, some say. For others who believe, there is hope and the knowledge death is final on earth but a beginning in heaven.
Never get another dog if you aren’t ready. You don’t want to compare dogs nor feel sad or angry at your new dog. Your heart will let you know if and when it’s time for another.
Like people, no two dogs are the same. Your deceased pets would never want you to suffer in agony and grief as a testament to your love for them. I honor my deceased dog by giving my love to another dog, fully knowing that doesn’t extinguish the love and bond I have with her.
“It came to me that every time I lose a dog they take a piece of my heart with them. And every new dog who comes into my life, gifts me with a piece of their heart. If I live long enough, all the components of my heart will be dog, and I will become as generous and loving as they are.
If Your Dog Is Deceased
Read what to do when a dog dies
If Your Dog Is Alive
Read how to cope with the fear of my dog dying
If Your Dog Died and The Holidays Are Coming
Read how to survive the holidays after a dog dies
If Your Dog Died Accidentally
Read how to deal with the accidental death of a dog
If Your Dog Grief Won’t Go Away
Read anatomy of a grieving dog mom
Beautiful post ; it applies to the loss of any pet. Grief is such an individual path, and the time to pursue it is so specific to each individual, as you said. Purrs