Pet Loss & Bereavement – Dr Michael O’Donoghue with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC)

Pets and People was founded by Dr Michael O’Donoghue and Penny Carroll to provide a supportive process to help people through the grief often experienced through the loss of a companion animal.

In a recent interview on the, Michael describes the profound effects that our animal companions have on our lives, and the intense grief that can be left behind when they leave us…

A lot of us have pets that we love dearly. There is an unspoken bond that those without a pet struggle to grasp and relate to. Their love is unconditional, and it’s rare for us to receive that from any human being; aside from unconditional love, we feel like heroes because they are dependent on us. We are responsible for their happiness and wellbeing; we feed them, walk them, clean up after them, teach them tricks, cuddle with them, and on and on the list goes. Though not everyone who owns pets are parents, pets have a way of bringing out our core human nature of being loving and responsible.

In this life, everybody receives the same fate. If there is life, there is death. Pets are included in that circle. Unfortunately, the lives of pets are not as long as humans’ which often makes it not only unbearable for us to witness the passing of our beloved pets, but also inevitable.

It will always be hard to cope with the death of a loved one, and most people don’t realise the impact that the loss of their pets will bring to their lives. The pain and the grief will always be there regardless of how much time passes because a pet is such an important part of our life..

Not everybody, especially those who don’t have pets, understands the emotional turmoil the death of a pet will cause. Even the toughest of people are affected when their pet passes. Only the pet owners know what kind of bond they had with their pets so it takes another pet owner who has lost a pet to understand what it feels like. This is very important because it’s easy to dismiss the thought of grieving over a pet because the pet is not a person, and some people lack the opportunity to develop that bond with a pet; even though they’re not people, they are still capable of loving and building memories.

The death of a pet also comes with the decision of how to bury their body. Fortunately, pet cremation is possible especially for people who don’t have any space to bury their pet. The great thing about this service is that it is simple, professional, and affordable.

Some pet owners who lose their pets would love something to remember them by. When some people bury their deceased pets in the backyard, they may plant a tree in their memory. Some people paint a portrait of them with their pet. Regardless of the pain that losing a pet can cause, the joy and happiness that they bring to our lives on a daily basis, and the memories created, make it worthwhile.

Oftentimes, people express the feeling of being judged when they communicate with others about the loss of their pet, which causes it to become more difficult to for people to open up moving forward. For some people, their pets are their sole companions, which can make it particularly difficult to be alone, with no one else to comfort and understand what you are going through. Luckily, there are several companies, just like People & Pets, who supports people who lost their pets by talking to them and helping them cope. The key to this is being open about your struggles and seeking help when you need it; on our website we share a vast list of resources that you are welcome to explore in order to help cope with your pet bereavement.If you never experienced losing a pet, give space, privacy, and support to those who are going through it. You may also want to avoid saying things such as, “It’s only an animal.” as this can make the individual feel even more isolated and unhappy. Every pet owner has a unique bond and experience with their pet, so it is important to treat the pet owner with kindness and compassion.

They say that a pet will love you unconditionally, which makes losing one even more difficult. It takes a great support system to help you cope, which can be found via your family and friends, or, strangers who have also lost a pest. Most importantly, please know that you are not alone and that you can always reach out.

If you would like to listen to Dr. Michael O’Donoghue speak about the difficulties surrounding pet bereavement, please find his recent interview with ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) below.


Pet Loss and Grief Counseling

The loss of a pet can be for some people, a devastating and misunderstood experience. It is not unusual, if you are feeling bereft and distressed if you have recently experienced the loss of your pet. Those who have never bonded closely with an animal and experienced their unconditional love can sometimes dismiss your pain and distress. While death is probably the most commonly experienced loss of a pet, other ways of losing a beloved pet, like their disappearance, or having to part with a pet through family circumstances or relocation can also be very distressing. The normal response to loss, in whatever form it takes, is grief and most people find it helpful and supportive to have their loss acknowledged.

A counselors who understand pet loss, can provide a secure and compassionate environment in which someone can share their distress. Each person’s response to loss is as unique as the relationship that you shared with one you loved deeply and each such relationship needs to be honored. Most people who are grieving find counseling helpful because they are listened to, respected and they have the opportunity to express not just their pain, but what this loss means to them. Counseling can also help you understand that much of what you are experiencing is normal and the counselor is able to validate your feelings. The process of expressing what you are feeling can help to reduce your emotional pain. Usually, when someone loses one who has had a special place in their life, they want and need to tell someone what made their relationship so special.

A counselor is usually able to help you manage your grief and suggest healthy ways of caring for yourself. An important aspect of grieving is to be kind to yourself. Avoid sharing the loss of your pet with people who will not understand and support you. It can be difficult if others respond to your news with something like: “It is just a dog- get another one.” Your relationship with your pet was special and from them you experienced much love and joy. You owe it to yourself and the one you loved to have that valued by others who are willing to honor that relationship and support you on your grief. It can sometimes be easier just to say to those who do not understand that wonderful bond that can exist between people and their pets, that you have recently lost a family member.

Remember that talking with someone who understands can help you find your way through this difficult time.

By Michael O’Donoghue BVSc  People and Pets

How do you know when it is time for euthanasia?

This decision is the hardest part of owning a pet, our pets and companions have put their trust in us, and we must decide when enough is enough. I believe there are several important questions to ask yourself. Is the pet still eating and drinking? Can the pet walk enough to get up and go to the toilet by itself Is the pet still happy to see you? Have you had your pet examined by a vet? If all reasonable vet care has been given to the pet and there is nothing else you can do to relive the suffering it may then be time to consider euthanasia.

People find this decision very difficult and spend a lot of time agonising about it. Usually as the deterioration in the pets condition happens slowly and there is no clear reason or time to take the pet down the vet. It is always good to talk to your vet about the condition of your pet as there maybe simple solutions to your pets problems. The vets’ job is to help you make this decision and then support you in this decision. Sometimes economic reasoning must come into the decision making, you could spend a lot more money but this may only extend the life of the pet for a small amount of time. Some people would put themselves into a lot of debt to pay for the treatment of their pets.

This always humbles me as a vet that people would go without so much to save their pet. But sometimes people have to be realistic and see that the best solution is euthanasia, this can be quite painful to realise if you had more money you would go ahead with the treatment. This is a difficult decision to make and you must balance the economic reality to the needs of the pet, your pet would not want you to suffer for it sake. When you know it is time you need to stay focused on that decision and do all the right things to make sure it is a good euthanasia.


By Michael O’Donoghue BVSc People and Pets

All of us need to love and to be loved. Loving animals is an important part of being human. As we develop bonds of love and affection we become attached to that one. When we lose one we love, we grieve.

So grief is a normal reaction to the loss of someone or something to which a person is strongly attached. The intensity of grief is dependent on the degree of attachment, the type of relationship, the circumstances of the death, the personality and the social support of the person suffering the loss (The Centre for Grief Education).

Only you can know what this pet meant to you. If they have been an important part of your life, then it is normal to grieve when they die.

It is important to find someone who is understanding of pet loss and grief.

The Human-Animal Bond
We humans have the capacity to engage in many relationships at the same time, including relationships with animals. A strong bond can exist between humans and animals with this relationships bringing joy to both the human and the animal. Animals have a way of loving unconditionally. They are faithful, loyal and often very forgiving of our mistakes and failures.

This bond can be strong for a variety of reasons. You may have had more daily contact with your pet than with other people, so their death leaves a hole in your life which needs to be acknowledged (Barbara Meyers, 2002).

Responses to Loss and Grief
The ways we respond to loss can sometimes be over whelming even frightening. Grief is such an individual experience that each person’s experience it unique to them. It is not unusual for people to experience intense grief when a pet dies. Reactions to grief can be manifested through feelings, some of which might be: anxiety, fear, sadness, anger, guilt; thoughts, such as disbelief, confusion, preoccupation; physical reactions like sleep disturbances, empty sensation in stomach, breathlessness or tightness in the chest or through behavior such as crying, sighing, hyperactivity, inability to concentrate, social withdrawal. These are only some of the ways that grief is experienced.

Is the grief of pet loss different to other losses?
Often, the loss of a pet is disregarded by others as unimportant. But losing a pet can be very significant and the grief can be as intense as or greater than when a person dies. The problem is that it is often not openly acknowledged, publicly mourned or socially supported. Work colleagues, friends or even relatives can minimize or even laugh at the loss of a pet. The death of a pet can stir up previous grief. For some people, the capacity that pets have for unconditional love and faithfulness has provided an experience of love not matched by humans.

By Michael O’Donoghue BVSc  People and Pets