How to manage the loss of a beloved pet

A pet cat asleep on the doormat in a conservatory.
Photo credit: Getty

As New Zealand mourns the death of 'first cat' Paddles, many pet owners may understand the feelings her owners - Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and partner Clarke Gayford - are experiencing.

Non-pet owners may not understand the impact of a beloved pet's death, but many pet owners can find the loss of their furry friend hard to manage.

Counsellor Dr Allison Lamont says owners' experiences of grief can be deeply complicated.

"There is no 'normal' way to experience the death of a pet, as far as feelings go," she says. "Just as our pets are unique individuals, so are our relationships with them." 

Auckland-based counselling group The Grief Centre encourages bereaved to talk with friends as often as necessary, and to keep a book of memories or journal to help cope after the death of their pet.

A beagle dog resting in the sofa
Photo credit: Getty

Dr Lamont has similar advice, suggesting that grieving owners should not ignore their emotions during the process.

"Don't try to bravely push it down and just get on with it - talk about your pet and the special moments you shared."

"Don't be in a hurry to tidy all your pet's belongings away - the time will come when you can quietly pop them away. 

"Think about what you can do to mark the life of your pet."

Full closure may howeve be hard to achieve, Grief Centre counsellor Val Levonson says that it must often manage clients' expectation around "closure".

"My clients often mention people around them saying 'aren't you over it yet', or using the word `closure' over and over again - an overused word with very little meaning, "she said.

While well-meaning friends will often tell pet owners to move on by adopting a new pet, Dr Lamont says it's best to wait until the raw emotions from the animal's death have passed.