Can’t Live Without Your Dog? How to Survive Your Pet’s Death

How to Survive Your Pet's Death

This is my dog Georgie, who I know I’ll feel like I can’t live without. She’s only 2 now, and I hold on to every walk we have together.

If you think you can’t survive without your dog or cat, you’re not alone. These tips for living after your pet dies are inspired by a question from a reader…

“I have no family, I’m divorced, no friends, am very depressed, and my dog is the only friend I know,” says Jeff on Should You Put Your Dog to Sleep? “She needs to go to heaven but what about me after this is over? Who can be with me to do this, are there any organizations to help? I don’t think have the courage to do this alone and I fear for myself when it’s over.”

If you believe in God or you’re spiritual in some way, you may find Animals and the Afterlife: True Stories of Our Best Friends’ Journey Beyond Death helpful. Some pet owners don’t believe their dogs or cats go on to an afterlife after they die, while other pet owners are comforted by the thought that their animals have souls.

Here are a few practical tips for surviving your pet’s death…

How to Live Without Your Dog

“Time always brings eventual relief from the pain and your life will return to normal,” writes Gary Kurz in Cold Noses At The Pearly Gates (a book that offers many spiritual ways to survive pet loss). “There will be a time when you feel guilty for feeling better, but event hat will pass. Nothing will ever take away the sense of absence, but the disabling and relentless grief will subside and eventually disappear. I know it may not seem that way now, but…it has proven true every time.”

Time helps, my friend. It may not be the best consolation, but it’s true.

For the first few weeks, avoid visible reminders of your pet

Though it helps some people to keep their dog’s collar and tags, it may be too sad for you. People mourn, recover, and remember in different ways.

Here’s what pet bereavement counselor Wallace Sife writes in The Loss of a Pet: “Get rid of your pet’s toys and other things…they are mostly painful, and not good for you at this time. If you can’t throw them out yet, put them out of sight in a drawer or a box in a closet or basement. The real memory is in your heart.”

Seeing your pet’s collars, leashes, dishes, and beds in their usual places may make it harder to heal. Maybe one day you’ll donate them to friends or an animal shelter, or use them for a new pet. But for now, it may be best to put them out of sight.

Find other creatures to care for

Do you live alone and feel like you have no friends, family, or neighbors to lean on? Think about getting another pet.

“My responses to each of my pet’s deaths differed in duration and intensity, depending on how quickly the end came, how much we suffered during their decline, and how many other pets I had,” says Sid Korpi, author of Good Grief: Finding Peace After Pet Loss. “The silence of the house when our dog Ludwig died was deafening because we had no other dogs at the time. It was tougher than when Mortimer left us, because we had our two Westie girls, Blanche and Keely. I didn’t love or miss Mortimer less intensely, but I was forced to pull myself out of my pain when the girls needed me. They reminded me life has to go on whether we’d like to wallow in the past or not. I’d feed them with tears rolling down my cheeks.”

If you get another dog or cat, remember that they’ll never be the same as the one you lost. You’ll need to balance mourning the death of your dog with embracing a new, different dog.

Give yourself a sense of purpose – a reason to live

Maybe you don’t have other animals to take care of, and maybe you don’t want to take care of anyone else. That’s fine, but remember that being needed is something all humans need. “One of the basic human satisfactions is the feeling of being needed, and attending to an animal gives many people a daily sense of being useful,” writes Gary Kowalski in Goodbye, Friend: Healing Wisdom for Anyone Who Has Ever Lost a Pet. “It is important to know you make a difference, at least to one appreciative creature. For some people, losing a pet can mean losing a sense of purpose.”

Have you lost your sense of purpose? Find ways to make your life meaningful. Ask your friends and family what makes their lives worthwhile and interesting, and try something new every week.

Strive for a healthy, balanced life

Do you think your life is meaningless without your pet dog or cat? If you have absolutely nothing else to live for except for your dog, then you may need to seek help. It’s not healthy to get all your life, love, and meaning from a your pet. I love my dog with all my heart, but I also love my work, my husband, and my writing.

To be truly healthy and happy, you need to be balanced. And that means finding happiness in several different parts of your life, not just from your dog.

If you feel like you can’t live without your dog, you’re not alone. One of my most popular articles is about surviving the pet death – it was so popular, I interviewed veterinarians, grief experts, counselors, and pet owners and wrote Letting Go of an Animal You Love: 75 Ways to Survive Pet Loss.

If you haven’t created a pet memorial, think about it. It will help you survive your pet’s death. Read 7 Types of Pet Memorials – Stones, Urns and Online Pet Tributes for ideas.

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Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen
Welcome - I'm glad you're here! I can't give advice, but you're welcome to share your experience below. I'm a writer in Vancouver; my degrees are in Psychology, Education, and Social Work. I live with my husband, two dogs, and cat. We are childless, & have made peace with it. It helps to love Jesus :-)

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4 Responses

  1. Laurie says:

    Dear Sham,

    I’m so sorry about your dog, and for the pain you are in. It’s awful to see your dog suffer.

    Have you read my article about knowing when it’s time to put your dog to sleep? In that article, a veterinarian said that if your dog is suffering, then it’s time to let him go. It’s heartbreaking, but you can’t keep letting your dog suffer.

    Please read the article — the link is at the very beginning of this article about living without your dog.

    If I had a 3 year old daughter, I would tell her that our poor beloved dog is sick, and went to be in doggy heaven. I wouldn’t say anything about euthanasia unless she asks. I’d keep it simple and straightforward: our dog is really sick, and we have to take him to the doctor. He might not come home because he’s so sick – it’s time for him to pass on from this world into the next. If you’re a spiritual family, you can talk about how your faith will help you heal, and about how you’ll see your dog in heaven after you pass on.

    Death isn’t bad. It’s scary because it’s a mystery — but what if it’s a thousand times better than life?? We don’t know what death brings, and I think it’s a mistake to assume it brings “bad” stuff that we should fear.

    I hope this helps, and wish you all the best as you decide what to do about your dog. You WILL survive the loss of your beloved pet, but it will take time to heal.


  2. Sham says:

    Hi, I have a 4 year old toy poodle whom I love dearly. He sustained a slipped disc which compressed on his spinal cord. He did not have an accident, he just woke up one day like that. He was a very active boy and this injury has caused him to be paralyses from waist down, and incontinent. It’s been 1 year since and he hasn’t recovered. Recently he started developing sores due to the friction and urine when he moves in his enclosure. And they seem to be getting worse. He gets snappy as well and I can’t teach him how to use a wheelie because of that. No one wants to groom him as he barks n snaps. I am having a hard time deciding what to do. He is suffering in this body he was given, and has no control of it. I can’t bear to see him suffer anymore. But I have a hard time coping with deciding to end his suffering. I have been crying non stop for days, I have stopped playing with my 3 year old daughter as well because of this. Also how do I explain to her what I’m gonna do to him?


  3. Laurie says:

    Dear Maureen,

    I’m glad we connected on Facebook. I want to post my response to you here, so other people who feel like they can’t live without their dogs know they’re not alone.

    It’s a horrible feeling, like you betrayed your dog by not doing enough to save his life. My heart goes out to you. I want you to remember that you did the best you could — you did not deliberately put your dog’s life jeopardy! It was an accident. If you had known it would turn out this way, you would have done things differently!

    I wish I could make you feel better, but I just want you to know that you didn’t cause your dog’s death. It was meant to happen for some reason, and I know your dog would want you to remember him with love, joy, and peace.

    Losing a dog is one of the most heart wrenching things to happen to us. A friend told me that losing her dog was worse than losing her parents. I think this is because our dogs rely on us for everything, and are so committed to us! Undying love, eternally. I’ve lost dogs and cats, and it helps me to think that they’re happier now than they were on earth. I have to believe there is a Heaven for our lost dogs and cats, and that their souls will be reunited with ours after we die.

    It’s important to let yourself mourn and grieve your loss. You loved your dog with all your heart, and a huge part of your life is now missing. Mourn and cry and wail — that’s what I did. Eventually, you will feel better, and you’ll remember D. with joy.

    I’ll keep you in my prayers.

  4. Maureen says:

    I lost my beautiful beiley tues night, I mad the terrible mistake , my husband and I didnt know, he had been crying at night for long time, so we started giving him Ibuprofen, my RX from and ear infection, then he started getting really sick, I dint relate it to that, I think I killed my own boy, I am in so much pain, dont think I can go on, cant eat, get out of bed, nothing….what do I do…
    Maureen 954-589-0606

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