Skip to Content

How long do most people grieve a pet?

Losing a beloved pet can be an extremely painful and difficult experience. For many pet owners, their animal companions are members of the family, and coping with their death can be as hard as grieving for a relative or close friend. There is no right or wrong way or set timeframe to grieve the loss of a pet – each person’s grieving process is unique based on the relationship with their pet and their own personality. However, there are some general timeframes that research has shown for how most people progress through pet grieving.

Initial Shock and Denial

In the first hours and days after a pet dies or is euthanized, many people experience a state of shock, numbness, and disbelief. They may feel unable to accept that their pet is really gone. Some signs of shock and denial include:

  • Inability to cry or express emotions
  • Feeling stunned, numb, or dazed
  • Difficulty accepting that the pet is gone
  • Expecting to see the pet greeting you as usual
  • Taking care of pet’s needs out of habit before remembering they are gone

For most people, the initial denial and shock phase lasts around 1-3 days. However, for some it may persist a week or longer if the death was sudden or traumatic.

Feelings of Depression, Sadness, and Yearning

After the initial shock subsides, feelings of intense grief, sorrow, and pain often set in. People may:

  • Feel profound sadness and cry frequently
  • Have no motivation or lose interest in normal activities
  • Lose appetite or have trouble sleeping
  • Yearn strongly for their pet and to be reunited
  • Feel loneliness at the absence of their pet
  • Dream of their pet frequently

Feelings of depression and sadness tend to peak within 2-3 weeks after the loss of a pet. However, milder feelings of sadness may persist for months.

Anger, Guilt, and Blame

Many pet owners experience feelings of anger and guilt as part of the grieving process. They may direct anger at the vet, at themselves for not somehow preventing the death, or even at their pet for dying. Guilt often stems from thoughts that they should have been able to do more to prevent or prolong their pet’s life. People may also blame themselves for not recognizing a health problem earlier. Other feelings of anger and guilt include:

  • Anger at having to take on new responsibilities that the pet handled
  • Frustration over having to give up routines with the pet
  • Regret over not spending more quality time with the pet
  • Guilt for ever having been upset or angry at the pet

These feelings of anger and guilt tend to fade over time. But in the initial weeks after a loss, they can be intense and people may benefit from discussing them with understanding friends or a pet bereavement counselor.

Reorganization and Reconnection

As the most intense feelings of grief begin to fade, people start to reorganize and adapt to daily life without their pet. This can take anywhere from 2-6 months. Signs of recovering and reconnecting include:

  • Being able to enjoy pleasant memories with the pet
  • Getting back to regular routines and activities
  • Taking on new responsibilities or pursuits
  • Feeling ready to adopt a new pet

Reorganizing and reconnecting does not mean the person has entirely forgotten their pet or ever completely stops missing them. But the pain begins to lift enough for them to function normally while still honoring the memory of their pet.

How Long Does Pet Loss Grief Typically Last?

There is no universally accepted timeframe for how long pet grief lasts, since it depends so much on the individual and their relationship with their pet. However, research studies have found:

  • In the first 2 months after loss, most people experience the most intense symptoms of grief, before these feelings start fading.
  • Symptoms like yearning, sadness, depression, and crying spells tend to diminish markedly after about 6-8 months.
  • For around 10-15% of people though, intense grief persists for more than a year and may require therapy.
  • Pet loss grief tends to last longer than human grief due to lack of social support and understanding.

Overall, the normal grieving process for most people takes around 6-12 months until they have significantly reconnected with life, though milder sadness may linger. The following table summarizes the typical stages of pet grief and their duration:

Stage Duration
Shock and Denial 1-3 days
Sadness and Yearning 2-3 weeks most intense
Anger and Guilt 2-4 weeks
Reorganization and Reconnection 2-6 months

Factors That Influence Length of Grieving

While the above provides general timeframes, many factors influence how quickly or slowly someone progresses through pet grief, including:

  • Length of ownership – Losing a pet you had for over 10 years is harder than one you had for only a year.
  • Quality of relationship – Closer bonds naturally lead to more intense grief.
  • Level of attachment – For some a pet is like a child, for others more disposable.
  • Circumstances of death – Sudden deaths are more difficult to accept.
  • Being present at death – Witnessing a pet’s death can ease guilt but also be traumatic.
  • Other life stressors – Grief may be compounded by additional losses or changes.
  • Personality and coping style – Some personalities just handle loss better.
  • Social support system – Support from others helps speed recovery.

As these factors illustrate, pet loss grief is a highly individualized experience that varies significantly between different people. Some may heal within months, while for others it takes over a year. Judging oneself against a “standard grieving timeframe” is never useful when grieving a loved pet.

Coping Strategies to Manage Pet Loss Grief

There are a variety of strategies people can employ to help cope with feelings of grief and better manage the grieving process after losing a cherished animal companion:

  • Talk about your feelings – Sharing with sympathetic friends helps you process grief.
  • Join a pet loss support group – Connecting with others experiencing similar grief can be very comforting.
  • Hold a memorial service – A special service or ritual helps provide closure.
  • Look through old photos – Photos help you focus on happy memories.
  • Write about your grief – Keeping a journal can help make sense of overwhelming feelings.
  • Get lots of rest – Grieving is exhausting, so don’t neglect sleep needs.
  • Postpone major decisions – Grief can impair decision-making abilities for a time.
  • Be patient – Accept that grief comes in waves and takes time to subside.
  • Try alternative therapies – Things like meditation, acupuncture or massage can be comforting.
  • Consider a new pet – For some, a new animal companion helps them move forward.

The most important coping strategy is simply to be gentle with yourself and allow the grieving process to naturally progress at its own pace, without judgement. Losing a beloved animal who has been part of your daily life for years is one of the most painful experiences a pet owner will endure.

When to Seek Additional Help for Pet Loss Grief

While it is normal to feel overwhelmed and devastated by pet loss, some circumstances may warrant seeking additional help from a mental health provider:

  • If grief symptoms are not improving after 6 months
  • Thoughts of suicide or dying to be with your pet
  • Feeling unable to function normally in daily life
  • Turning to unhealthy coping mechanisms like substance abuse
  • Suffering from severe depression or anxiety
  • Prolonged inability to get adequate sleep

A small percentage of people have such intense and prolonged grief reactions that professional counseling is needed. There is no shame in seeking help to weather an extremely painful storm. Many vets and pet loss services have connections to pet bereavement counselors and support groups.


There is no set timeframe dictating how long it “should” take to grieve the loss of a beloved pet. For most people, the most intense grief occurs in the first 2-3 months, gradually lifting over 6-12 months. However, factors like the relationship with the pet and circumstances of the death greatly affect grief reactions. Coping strategies like talking to empathetic friends, establishing rituals, and seeking counseling when needed can help you through this painful grieving process. Being patient and kind to yourself is key – your grief is a reflection of the depth of your love for your cherished animal.