Winter 2015

Consoling a Grieving Pet Owner

What to say to someone who has lost a beloved companion

Claire Sharp, a faculty advisor to the Pet Loss Support Hotline at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, responds to a reader’s question about what to say to someone who has lost a beloved pet.

Q: My mother’s elderly cat recently passed away. The cat had kidney problems for a while, so it was not unexpected. But my mom is devastated. How do I console her?

People often think there is a “right” thing to say when talking to someone whose pet has died. But really, all that most grieving pet owners need is someone who listens and understands that they are sad.

Being a sympathetic or empathetic listener is the best thing you can do for your mom. Ask her how she is doing and really hear her out, even if it’s not the first time she’s told you how sad she’s feeling or if it has been days, weeks or months since her cat died.

Again, there are no magic words. Some helpful phrases might include: “I am sorry you are feeling sad. I know how hard it is to lose a pet. I know how special Fluffy was to you.” These demonstrate that you recognize her feelings and that her grief is normal.


Illustration: Ward Schumaker

Avoid saying things such as, “You can always get another cat.” Don’t try to solve the problem. Your mother is sad over the death of her companion—a loss that can’t be “fixed.”

Instead, gently redirect your mother’s thoughts to the happy times she had with her cat. Invite her to look at adorable old kitten pictures with you. Or remind her of a funny story she once told you about the cat. Memories of a long, happy life together can comfort us and make us smile after a pet dies.

Tufts’ Pet Loss Support Hotline (508.839.7966) also can provide some guidance. First- and second-year veterinary students, trained by a licensed psychologist, are available Monday through Friday from 6 to 9 p.m.

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