How to cope with losing your dog

Updated 08 July 2024
Read time: 13 mins
article author
Written by Charlotte Niblett

If we’re lucky, our dogs can be with us for up to 13 years, if not longer. They’re by our side for some of life’s major moments, and they truly cement themselves as an integral part of the family.

As much as we don’t want to think about it, there will come a day when we will have to say goodbye to our beloved furry friend, and for those who have never experienced the loss of a pet, it really can impact your life in many ways.

As each of our dogs are different, so are the ways we deal with their loss. We’re not saying it will ever be an easy process, but we’re here to support you with some ways that can help you through this difficult time - and make things a little more manageable for you and your family.


Dealing with the loss of your senior dog

Just like that, your beloved companion has grown a little salt and pepper and doesn’t move around quite as quickly as they used to.

Some people may think that having a senior dog might make saying an anticipatory goodbye a little easier. However, when you’ve been lucky enough to have a lifetime of unconditional love, it can be just as hard when the time does come.

Although difficult, caring for a senior dog near the end can indeed make it easier to prepare for their eventual passing. This could be knowing the signs that may indicate their final days are here, or placing focus on making your dog extra comfortable.


Your senior dog: Looking for signs

As hard as it will be, looking out for signs that your senior dog is in their few final days can provide a kindness in your grieving process, as it gives you the time to make the necessary preparations.

Signs that might tell you that your senior dog is nearing the end of their life include:


  • Difficulty walking or being unsteady on their feet.

  • Unable to control their peeing and pooping, resulting in regular accidents around the house.

  • Extreme lethargy and fatigue.

  • A lack of eating and drinking, and unmotivated by their favourite treat.

  • Seizures and tremors.

  • Noticeable swelling or tumours on their body.

  • Dull coat and glassy eyes.

  • Diarrhoea and/or vomiting.

  • Extreme and sudden weight loss.

  • They want to be on their own a lot more.

When you know that final goodbye is around the corner, you can make necessary preparations to ensure your dog is as happy and comfortable as possible - as well as gradually easing yourself into this new, and difficult process.

These preparations may include;


  • Make your dog extra comfortable with bedding, blankets and even their own private area.

  • Making your vet aware of the situation.   

  • Switching up their diet may help support them during their final days, by aiding their ailments.

    Senior dog food should focus a little more attention on nutrition and functionality, with healthy ingredients and added supplements to help with aspects like pain relief and mobility.

  • Make your home safe and easy to manoeuvre for your senior dog. This could include keeping them off wooden flooring that could be slippery, keeping them on one level to avoid stairs, or moving the location of their food and water supply.

  • Focus on pain relief if necessary.

  • Having honest conversations with younger members of the family that it’s nearly time to say goodbye.

How to look after yourself when losing your dog

As you make the right preparations for your dog’s final days, it can be easy to forget someone else - yourself. During this difficult time, be sure to prioritise your mental health and do what you can to help yourself and others around you who may also be hurting.

To be kind to yourself through this process, you could;


  • Take some time just for yourself, like getting some fresh air, meditating, finding distractions or giving yourself a break away from the situation.

  • If possible, take some time off work.

  • Don’t forget to talk. Airing your feelings to friends and family about the situation could surprisingly make you feel a little lighter.

  • Remember the good times. Take time to think about all the precious memories you had with your dog, and everything you’re thankful for.

  • Celebrate your dog’s life. Take time as a family to discuss ways you can commemorate them once they’ve passed.

Losing your dog through euthinasia

Regarded as one of the last loving and kindest things you can do for a dog who’s in pain and suffering - losing them through euthanasia still isn’t any easier.

However, it does give you a sense of control over the situation. One you can prepare for.

Although in many cases putting your dog to sleep is the best decision for their health and quality of life, it’s heartbreaking for any family.

When’s the right time to choose euthanasia for your dog?

For anyone with a dog, euthanasia is hopefully a last resort. And despite being the most humane thing to do in many cases, it can still carry feelings of despair, grief and guilt.

However, vets will only recommend euthanasia if the treatment they’ve offered isn’t helping, or if alternative treatments aren’t working and your dog is continuing to suffer.

How to prepare yourself for putting your dog to sleep

The final decision will always sit with you and your family. However, your vet is there to offer their expert advice and support. If you’re faced with the impossible decision of having to put your dog to sleep, here are a few things you can do to prepare;

  • Discuss your decision with the whole family. Be honest and talk about why there aren’t any other options left, and the concept of being humane.

  • Approach younger children with care, preparing how to tell them in advance.

  • Talk about the realistic outcomes if you don’t opt for euthanasia. Is your dog going to have a good quality of life? Will medication cure them? Are they going to be in pain? Are you in a position to provide around-the-clock care and medication?

  • Talk to your vet about the process and get the answers to any questions you may have.

  • Discuss who will stay with your dog during euthanasia, as it may bring some comfort to both you and your dog.

  • If possible, take some time off work to process what you’re going through.

  • Discuss how you’d like to commemorate your dog, for example, whether you’d want them cremated or buried.

  • Prioritise your mental wellbeing.


Coping with the sudden loss of your dog

Sadly, not all dog owners are fortunate enough to see their dogs grow old. The unpredictability of life can bring instances where they can be lost in tragic accidents, or by sudden illness.

Losing a dog in any capacity is one of the hardest things a dog parent can go through, but a sudden loss can be very difficult to process.

Losing your dog suddenly can certainly turn your world upside down. But there are small things you can do to ensure you’re taking each day as it comes, and prioritising your mental well-being.

The following can help you cope with the sudden loss of your dog;

  • Give yourself time to grieve.
    Don’t ever brush off your loss - dogs play such a huge role in our lives and how we approach grief and sadness will differ from person to person.

    Take all the time you need to grieve; put off other events, taking time for yourself, or even taking some time off work if possible.

  • Rely on your vet for support.
    They’ll understand better than anyone what you’re going through and will be able to provide expert advice and answer any questions you may have.

    If you’re struggling and need to speak to someone regarding your grief, be sure to check out the Blue Cross charity pet bereavement helpline. This will provide an open, non-judgmental space for you, with experts to help you through your grief.

  • Put aside some time to think about the next steps.
    As a family, you can dedicate some time to celebrate your dog’s life, whether that includes recalling the good times, deciding how you’ll keep their memory alive or commemorate them, or even asking the vet if you’re able to save a lock of fur or even a pawprint.

    If your pup is cremated, this is often offered as a part of the cremation service.

  • If you have any other pets, make sure to give them lots of love.
    Not only will it make you feel better, but they’ll also be impacted by the change.

  • If you have your children, prepare something to tell them.
    This might be that your beloved dog has crossed the ‘rainbow bridge’, or anything else that might be easier for young children to understand.

How to help children to understand losing your dog

Your dog becomes a part of your family, and many children would never have known their home without their furry friend. So when the time comes where you have to say goodbye to your dog, how do you explain this loss to young children?

No matter how you approach informing your children, there’s going to be some upset. However, there are ways to delicately approach the subject that avoid lots of tears and misunderstandings - especially for very young children.


  • Try to be as honest as possible. Telling white lies, like saying your dog’s ‘gone to live on a farm’ or ‘ran away’ may cause even more confusion, or make them believe they’re coming back. This will only cause more upset if questions continue to persist.

  • Use the Rainbow Bridge analogy. ‘Crossing the Rainbow Bridge’ is a common way for people to let others know their pet has passed away. Letting young children know that your dog has ‘crossed the rainbow bridge’ is a kinder way to approach telling them about their passing.

  • Let them express their feelings. Grief shows itself in very different ways, especially with children who may have never come across death before. Allow them to express their feelings in any way they want - whether that’s to cry, feel angry or be in denial.

  • Support them however they feel, don’t be afraid to show your own feelings and be there to offer love, patience and answers when they come to you. And hey, a cuddle wouldn’t hurt - and would probably do you some good too!

  • Use books as a support. It’s likely that your child will spend time thinking about what’s happened. There are lots of different materials and books out there, which could really help them to understand and unpack their feelings. Whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, take some time to choose a book or story that you think they might connect with.

  • Help them remember. Celebrate your dog’s life with your children by talking about the good times, asking them their favourite memories or encouraging them to make something for a shrine or memorial. By getting them to think creatively, you can keep them occupied whilst your family begins the mourning process.

Helping your other dog through loss

A recent study shows that nearly a quarter of all dog owners own more than one dog. This means that the passing of your dog could likely mean your other dog is also suffering a loss.

Having multiple dogs in the family home often encourages unbreakable bonds and companionships between canines, and it’s believed that like humans, dogs can feel mournful when their best buddy passes.

Signs of a mourning dog might include:


  • Not as playful or lethargy.
  • Lack of appetite.
  • Whining
  • Appearing to be more needy or clingy.

The change of environment, atmosphere or even in your behaviour can also impact your pooch. This means helping your other dog through this difficult time is really important.

Ways you can help your other dog include:

  • Give them lots of attention.
  • Try to keep their routine as normal as possible.
  • Provide lots of distractions to keep them entertained.
  • Keep treating good behaviour and encouraging positive reinforcement in this time of change.

Ways to commemorate your dog

Although feelings of sadness and grief are inevitable, the loss of your beloved dog brings forth a time for celebration - celebrating the life they had, and the overwhelming joy they brought to your home.

That said, there are plenty of ways you can commemorate your dog, and help you to remember them as the years tick on. Creating something to signify your dog’s life not only helps to represent the impact they had, but also helps you along the difficult journey of mourning your loss.

Ways you can commemorate your dog after they’ve passed include:

  • Creating a memorial. Did your dog have a favourite place to walk? A preferred snooze spot in your garden? You could consider creating a memorial in this space to honour your dog’s life. This could be in the form of a bespoke plaque, something to plant or a kind gesture to other dogs - like offering tennis balls in a public place.

    Make sure to check with your local council before erecting anything in a public space.

  • Creating a photo album or scrapbook. You’re sure to have reels upon reels of pictures of your pooch. So why not spend an afternoon placing some of those photos in frames or placing them in a scrapbook? You can discuss your favourite memories and all the good times they brought forth whilst you do so.

  • Displaying their favourite belongings or collars. Clearing out your dog’s things will surely be one of the hardest things to do after they’ve passed. Be sure to save some of their favourite things, like a toy, blanket or even their collar to display in remembrance. These can either sit on the shelf as an everyday reminder, or in a display case or frame.

  • Preserving their paw or nose print. If you’re lucky enough to be able to say goodbye to your dog before they pass, you could take a final print of their paw or nose to have a part of them forever. This can either be an ink print or in soft clay.

  • Bespoke art or jewellery. With dogs having a special place in all of our hearts, it’s easy to find small businesses that make bespoke jewellery or art from a picture of your dog. This makes for a beautiful token which you can keep forever. Some companies can place some of your dog’s ashes in a piece of jewellery. Wearing this could offer some real comfort, knowing they’re always with you, continuing on together through life’s journey.

  • Spreading their ashes or holding a burial. If you decide to cremate your pup or bring them back home, you could hold a service to spread their ashes or give them a final resting place. Although rare, pet burial grounds do exist, but the current most common method is cremation.

    Always check with your local council before spreading ashes or conducting burials in a public place.


Should you get another dog after your other passes away?

If your house is feeling empty after the loss of your dog, then getting another dog may help fill that void - and continue your love for furry friends. If the death of your dog left your other dog without a companion, introducing a new pup to the family could also be a great way to tackle their loneliness.

That said, before getting a new dog, it’s advised that both you and your other dog take some time to adjust to the change. Don’t rush into getting a new dog straight away, be sure to take the time to mourn and adapt to your loss. 

Guilt will likely play a big part when considering, or actually bringing a new pet into the family. This is completely natural - but try not to let it eat you up. You must do what feels right for you. If you do decide to get another dog, they will never be a replacement for the dog you lost. But your love can be shared, and your nurturing nature can be redirected into another beautiful being, to create a wonderful life for them.

How long after your dog passes away should you get another dog?

It’s advised that you shouldn’t get a new dog immediately after one has passed away, just to give you and your family some time to grieve and adjust. However, this doesn’t rule out the possibility of ever getting another dog. 

Grieving time will differ from owner to owner, so it could be weeks, months or years before you feel comfortable enough to welcome in a new pup. Either way, always give yourself, and any other pets in the house, ample time to grieve.

How do I get over the grief of losing my dog?

You should never rush the grieving process, especially when the amount of time it takes to process loss will differ from person to person. Dogs make a huge impact on our lives, so their loss will of course affect us in some way, and you should never dismiss your feelings. Take this time to;

  • Focus on your mental wellbeing
  • Be with friends and family
  • Talk about what’s on your mind
  • Celebrate your dog’s life

Your grieving process might be a long one, but always take it one day at a time.

Why do they say pets cross the Rainbow Bridge?

Pet’s crossing the ‘Rainbow Bridge’ is a concept that has grown in recent years, especially on social media. It’s thought to have stemmed from tales in mythology and has been adopted by dog owners as a kinder way of announcing their dog has passed. This analogy, which creates pictures of a peaceful afterlife for our dogs, is a great way to aid grief and to inform younger children of a dog’s passing.

Can losing a pet affect your mental health?

Absolutely it can, and shouldn’t be taken lightly. Our pets make up a huge part of our lives and family, and their passing can create a huge hole. So, when the time to say goodbye comes around, it’s crucial to prioritise your mental health and well-being. Take time to yourself, speak to your family and friends, take time away from the situation and even seek help if you’re finding yourself struggling during this difficult time.

Check out the Blue Cross charity pet bereavement helpline to speak to someone about your grief today.

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