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I Miss My Dog: Grieving for Your Lost Companion

Written by: Dr. Karyn Kanowski, BVSc MRCVS (Vet)

Last Updated on May 22, 2024 by Dogster Team

Broken with grief female dog grieving owner holding the lovely pet collar and deep weeping about animal loss. Home pets relatives and love concept.

I Miss My Dog: Grieving for Your Lost Companion

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Dr. Karyn Kanowski Photo

WRITTEN BY

Dr. Karyn Kanowski

BVSc MRCVS (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Having a dog can be one of the most rewarding, uplifting, challenging, and joyful experiences that life has to offer, and losing them is one of the most difficult. As a pet owner and a vet, I have seen—and been through—more than my fair share of loss, and some are tougher than others. I know how overwhelming the grief can be, and when you have really been hit hard by the death of a pet, it can have lasting consequences.

I have witnessed a full array of reactions throughout my career: silent stoicism, restrained tears, hysterical crying, and one or two borderline psychotic breaks. I have held hands, hugged, cried, and even laughed with owners as we processed the death of their pets and remembered their lives.

I have always had pets in my home; growing up it was cats, and now I live with a blended canine and feline family. I can’t imagine living in a house without animals. For me, it would not be a home. But the consequence of a life shared with a pet is that you will inevitably have to grieve their death.

So today, I would like to talk to you about the grief of losing your dog, by sharing the story of losing my own.

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Expected or Not, It’s Always a Shock

drawing of family with dog
Image Credit: Ground Picture, Shutterstock

Unless you only have one dog in your lifetime, the sad truth is that you will experience the grief of losing a companion several, even many, times, and every time will be different.

Saying goodbye to an elderly dog is, in some ways, easier to come to terms with, knowing that they had a good, long life and are free of any pain and misery. Their death is likely not unexpected, and you may even be with them when they are euthanized. But this also means that they have probably been with you for a very long time, and suddenly being without them can be a shock.

When a young dog dies through illness or injury, there is the shock of a life cut short and the grief of the years you will never have together. Everyone’s experience is different, and everyone’s grief is valid. Our emotional attachment to our dogs cannot be measured in time. Whether you’ve been with your dog for 12 months or 12 years, grief is grief. Yours might look different from someone else’s, but it is just as real.

The Grieving Process and How to Cope

Understand that the grieving process is not linear, and you may go in and out of the various stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Despite what some may say, you will likely not experience them in that order—or you could; it depends on the individual. However, regardless of how strong these feelings are and how hopeless the grieving process can feel, there are some ways that you can cope.

  • Acknowledge your grief and give yourself to feel all of your feelings and express said feelings.
  • Although it might feel comforting at the time, try not to replay your last moments with your pet, especially if they were traumatic. Instead, it is better to focus on all the life you shared together and your favorite memories.
  • Remind yourself that your pet’s pain has passed. Now that you’re the one in pain, it is time to take care of yourself.
  • Memorialize your pet, if possible. Whether you spread your pet’s ashes, create a memory box, plant a tree in their memory, or commission a painting, these are all healthy ways to remember and honor your beloved pet and help you move on.
  • Try to reach out to others who can be sympathetic or offer help, including support groups.
Pet Grief Support Groups

My Own Experience With Losing My Dog

Never in a million years did I think I would have a Chihuahua, but thanks to a little dog named Potato, I don’t think I will ever have any other breed.

Potato, or Tate, as he was more commonly known (also Tater, Tater Tot, Potate), entered my life when his owner could no longer look after him. He had epilepsy, and she was struggling with the cost of managing his condition, as well as the toll it was taking on her mental health. She loved her dog, and she experienced her own grief when she gave him up, but it was because she loved him that she wanted to do what was best for him.

I brought him home for what was supposed to be a couple of nights until we could find him a permanent home. Within 24 hours, I knew that we would be his permanent home (though it took my husband a week to come to the same conclusion). I simply was not prepared for how funny, quirky, affectionate, feisty, and helpless this little creature was, and I had never loved anyone or anything as much as I loved him.

Tate came into my life when I was going through a really difficult time, and he became the one thing that I could rely on to be a source of comfort and positivity, which was a lot of responsibility to place on his tiny shoulders. He had only been with us for 1 year and 4 months when he had a massive seizure that he did not recover from. I was at work when it happened. The guilt of not being there when he died, and the guilt of being able to save other people’s dogs but not my own, overwhelmed me. I spent hours holding his tiny body, unable to picture my life without Tate in it, blindsided by grief I was not ready for.

Even now, more than a year later, thinking about him hurts my heart.

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Opening Your Heart Again

Everyone has different ways of grieving and moving forward, and for most people, that process, at some point, includes welcoming a new dog into their lives. For some, a new addition happens quickly, with the joy and distraction of a new friend helping to alleviate the sadness. Others may have been anticipating this loss and have already introduced a new dog into their home in the hopes that the wisdom of the elder may be passed onto the young. Then there are those who wait months, even years, to be ready for another dog. Truthfully, there is no right way or right time, only what is right for you.

After we lost Tate, the emptiness almost consumed me; it was a grief like nothing I had experienced before. He had brought me so much joy and given me something to look forward to every day, and when he died, it felt like he’d taken all the joy with him. I knew that he could never be replaced, but I needed something to fill the hole he’d left in our lives.

I found myself struggling between the need to have another little creature in my life to cuddle and love, and the fear of one day feeling this low again. And it is something that continues to trouble me.

My next dogs—Ned, and later, Fred—have gone above and beyond in terms of filling our house with laughter and love, but Tate is still present in my mind. I miss him terribly, sometimes feeling guilty for how much I love Ned and Fred, as though it is some sort of betrayal of the love I had for him. And even though it is likely well over a decade in the future, I also find myself worrying about the inevitable day when I will lose them too. But I cannot let that fear win, and fortunately, Ned and Fred make it hard to feel sad for too long!

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Final Thoughts: There Is No Right Way to Grieve

My story might resonate with some of you, and for others, it might sound completely over the top, and that’s okay! Every person is different, every dog is different, and every relationship is different.

It might be an unexpected bond or a dog that has helped you through a difficult time (or both!) that makes the grief over one pet’s death more overwhelming than another. You might maintain a more compartmentalized relationship with your dog, or you may consider them family; there is no one right way to love our dogs, and there is no one right way to grieve their loss.

What is important is that you allow yourself to go through it. Talk to other dog lovers, your family, or your friends, and if you find yourself feeling stuck or overwhelmed, reach out to a professional grief counselor—it is quite literally what they are there for. There are hundreds of groups and hotlines, with a few listed at the end of this article.

I still miss my Tate, and I expect that I always will. But it hurts a lot less than it did, even a few months ago, and I will always be grateful for the joy he brought to my life, and for introducing me to life with Chihuahuas.

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Featured Image Credit: Soloviova Liudmyla, Shutterstock

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