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The University of Tennessee

The College of Veterinary Medicine

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Grief & Pet Loss


The loss of a companion animal can be devastating. With approximately 75% of American households owning pets, and with many of them considering their pets to be family members, the moment when the relationship ends can rightfully cause a great deal of grief. It can also be very lonely because this form of grief isn't often recognized by employers and family members to be real grief.

When the animal companion is the most significant source of social support for a person or the link to another significant person, the feelings of loss can be even more intense. The loss of the beloved animal re-opens feelings of loss associated with people and times in personal histories.

In veterinary medicine, the opportunity to humanely euthanize a suffering animal can create very conflicted feelings in the animal companion caregiver. Many owners feel uncomfortable at having the power to make decisions to end the life of their animal companion. Many people who euthanize experience some guilt wondering if they did the right thing. Financial concerns about whether to pursue treatment for an animal's illness or provide minimum care to reduce pain with the plan to euthanize the animal and everything in between, all create difficult decisions and feelings of guilt in animal owners.

Farmers can also feel grief if they have to cull a herd. Although they may not grieve for one special animal, herds are often in a farming family for a long time. If disease breaks out, and the animals must be culled, this is a significant loss to the farmer and the farmer's family both emotionally and financially.

Lastly the intensity of grief over the loss of a companion animal can sneak up on people. The person may think, It was just a dog. Why am I so upset? This self-reproach can make the healing process even more difficult. On the other hand the loss of an animal often causes people to feel grief that they were unable to feel at other losses in their lives. This is a wonderful opportunity for healing. There is a saying that notes, You heart has to break before it can get bigger. Taking time to grieve and heal over the loss of a beloved animal can help people improve themselves as human beings.

If you are an owner feeling the pain of decision-making for your animal or grief over the loss of your companion please follow the link for help.

If you are a social worker and want to learn more how to help others, please reference the following annotated bibliography and explore this website for additional resources.


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