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Why Losing A Dog Can Be More Painful Than The Death Of A Family Member

Written by: Justin Palmer
Justin Palmer is a Certified Pet Food Nutrition Specialist and co-founder of Inspired by his rescued husky, Splash, he dedicated himself to learning about extending both the length and quality of her life. Splash lived and thrived until 18 years old, and now Justin is on a mission to share what he learned with other dog owners.Read more
| Published on August 2, 2019

Has a friend ever confided in you that the loss of their dog caused more grief than the death of a close relative? Have you ever felt this way yourself?

Society has conditioned us to feel ashamed of such emotions, but research suggests we are more than justified when we deeply mourn the loss of a furry friend.

When our first family dog, Spike passed away, my father suffered terribly. He would come home from work and just sit in his car, unable to face walking through the door without our little Poodle mix to greet him. He took long walks and visited online pet loss support groups. He woke up crying in the night.

Related: Check out our pet memorial store for thoughtful gift ideas

This was the same man who years later would practically carry me out of a family funeral when my own grief buckled my knees. At the time I was confused by his varying reactions, but a recent article from Business Insider sheds light on the subject. Turns out it’s actually quite normal for humans to experience more intense pain at the loss of a pet than that of a close friend or even a relative.

For many people, the death of a pet is comparable in almost every way to the loss of a loved one. There is even research to back this up, yet there are virtually no cultural rituals to help us cope. When a human passes away there are obituaries, eulogies, religious ceremonies, and gatherings of family and friends. We are given time off work – some employers even offer bereavement pay. There are so many ways in which we are encouraged to mourn and express our emotions.

When a pet dies, we often have none of these traditions or sympathetic supporters to turn to. Most people are expected to return to all of life’s responsibilities right away, with little or no closure. The house is strangely quiet and filled with bittersweet memories. We have lost a best friend and faithful companion, but the depth of that pain goes almost unacknowledged.

Pet owners are made to feel that their grief is dramatic, excessive, or even shameful. After all, “it was just a dog.” The incredible human-animal bond we have formed with dogs is overlooked. Our pups provide us with constant positive feedback. They adore us simply for being “us.” They lower our blood pressure and elevate our mood. How could we not be devastated when that is lost?

There is also the matter of the sudden life changes that occur when a pet passes away. There are no more 6 AM wet-nosed wake-up calls, daily walks, or warm greetings after a long day at the office. For many people, their pets give them a sense of purpose – even a reason for being. When that suddenly vanishes, it is understandably life-altering.

Another interesting factor pointed out by Business Insider is a phenomenon known as “misnaming.” It describes our tendency to accidentally refer to a child, partner or loved one by our pets’ names. This indicates that we place our dogs in the same mental category as our closest family members. When they die that is essentially what we have lost. A cherished family member.

The death of a pet means the loss of a source of unconditional love, a devoted companion, and a provider of security and comfort. Our dogs are sewn into the very fabric of our day to day lives. So yes, it hurts. Sometimes even more than the death of a friend or family member. And there is absolutely no reason to feel ashamed of that.


6 Things Your Deceased Dog Would Want You To Know

At we often write about coping with the loss of a beloved pet. We do this because we understand that saying goodbye is one of the hardest things you will ever have to do, and we hope that somehow our words can provide a bit of comfort. Having experienced the love and compassion of dogs and cats all my life, I believe they would want us to keep these 6 important messages close to our hearts after they have gone.

1. They understand your sadness, but would rather see you happy

When we are upset, our pets feel it. They seem to know what we need, whether it’s a flood of kisses, gentle kitty headbutts, or just to feel their presence by our side. After they pass away, it’s these moments when their absence hurts the most. Try to remember that although they shared in our pain, they also shared in our joy. Their greatest happiness was sharing in our moments of bliss, and that’s what they would want for us going f

2. They know you loved them & did the best you could for them

Our pets feel our love for them in everything we do. From the tone of our voice to the gentle way we stroke their hair. They see past our flaws and insecurities to the people we truly are inside. They don’t need hundreds of toys and custom dog beds to feel how much we care. To them, we are perfect, no matter what circumstances we struggle with during their lives.

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RELATED: 50 Unique Gifts or Memorials for Someone Who Lost a Pet

3. They don’t want you to have regrets

We hope that our pets will live long, full lives free of pain or disease until their time is up, but unfortunately that’s not the way it is. Whether they pass quietly in our arms of old age, or are taken too soon, they appreciate every moment and would hate to think that we feel any guilt or regret about our time together.

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4. They know you would have been with them every second if you could

It’s normal to look back after losing a pet and wish that we’d spent more time showing them how much they were loved. Maybe we worked too much, or skipped our daily walks from time to time. Our pets don’t judge us for our choices, but they definitely appreciate our sacrifices.

Related: Looking for some thoughtful pet memorials to keep their memory alive?


5. They loved you more than you can comprehend

Our pets are so sincerely and unselfishly devoted to us that it is almost beyond our comprehension. Many have gladly laid down their very lives for their humans. As hard as it is to say goodbye, knowing the depth of that love can help us find the strength to move forward.

6. Loving another animal is not a betrayal, it’s a way to honor their memory

One of the most wonderful things about dogs and cats is that they have no selfish agendas. They simply want us to be happy. After they have passed away, our pets would want us to experience that unconditional love once again – especially if it means transforming another life the way we did theirs.


6 Ways To Help Needy Pets In Your Late Dog’s Honor

Losing a dog is one of the most devastating challenges that any pet parent will ever have to face. They say that anyone who adopts a dog or cat will inevitably have their heart broken… but we take the leap, anyway. We know that the love and happiness they bring to our lives is worth the pain we must endure when it’s time to say goodbye.

When that sad day occurs, it’s going to take time to ease the pain, and it’ll never fully go away. The best thing we can do is cherish their memory, remember the good times, and honor their lives, which we can do by helping other pets who are in need.

Below are 7 ways to keep your dog’s memory alive while helping pets who are less fortunate. Your pup’s tail will wag while watching you honor his life from across the Rainbow Bridge.

1. Donate your “dog budget” to your favorite animal charity.

You may want to help save a shelter pet’s life, but if you’re not yet ready to adopt yet, don’t. What you can do, instead, is use your “dog budget” to help others find their forever homes by donating to charities, shelters, or by sponsoring adoptions. Eventually, you may find room in your heart and home to adopt another companion, but only when the time is right.

Related: 30 Pet Remembrance Gift Ideas

2. Wear a bracelet that reminds you of your lives together – and the lives you’ve helped save.

This beautiful piece of jewelry will make you think of your beloved pup every time you look at it. A paw print charm represents the prints they left on your heart, a heart bead shows that they took a piece of yours with them, and 22 agate beads stand for the 22 meals you provided to shelter dogs with your purchase.

Limited Edition Memorial Bracelet via


3. Volunteer at your local shelter.

As mentioned above, you may not be ready to bring a new furry family member home for awhile after your pet passes. Still, that doesn’t mean that you won’t miss having the company of a canine every day of your life. Volunteer at a local shelter to fill the void without making a commitment while you’re still grieving. Perhaps you’ll even meet your new companion; when the time is right, you’ll know.

4. Carry your dog’s memory near your heart with a personalized necklace.

The memories you made with your dog are one of a kind, so carry a reminder that’s as special as your bond was. The Memorial Locket Set can be personalized with charms to remind you of your special memories. What’s more, the purchase of each locket gives 10 meals to hungry shelter dogs. Click here to see more charms.

Furever™ Memorial Locket Set via iHeartDogs


5. Give your dog’s gently used collars / toys / beds or uneaten food to pups that don’t have any. 

Once your dog crosses the Rainbow Bridge, seeing his belongings around the house will break your heart. While you should be careful not to get rid of everything, you may want to donate some of his gently used items to a shelter dog who needs a bed or the comfort of a toy. Just make sure to keep a few special momentos in a safe place for when you’re ready to look at them again.

6. Turn the keys of your home into a reminder of the pet who’ll always have the keys to your heart. 

This handsome key chain makes your keys easy to find and effortless to keep accessible. Better yet, it reminds you of your furry friend while helping pair veterans with canine companions. These rescue support dogs help vets adjust back to civilian life. This makes a great gift that also has a lot of meaning.

Camo Paracord Bronze Flag Key Chain via iHeartDogs


Next Up: Visit our Pet Loss Store

RELATED: 3 Amazing Ways To Honor A Dog That Has Passed Away


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