by Amy Beth Taublieb, Ph.D.

“The humane thing to do.” They are five words that every pet owner dreads hearing from a veterinarian. They mean that the time has come to consider ending your pet’s life because of their pain, and the seriousness of their illness. Your veterinarian is telling you that there are no longer any interventions that could be potentially helpful to your pet. It is these five words that are as if a knife was cutting through your heart causing a pain like no other, and for which there is little comfort available that will lessen the flow of tears.

In my profession, I have given many talks and worked with many clients regarding what to expect, what is considered normal and, generally speaking, how to cope with the loss of a beloved pet. However, when I lost my precious thirteen-year-old Maltese four weeks ago, nothing could have prepared me for the intense emotions I experienced.

Yes, many of us have lost loved ones, struggled through the stages of grief, received support from friends, relatives, and strangers, and somehow managed to go on. Yet, there is something quite different when it comes to losing your own pet. First, there is a certain amount of embarrassment regarding the depth to which you experience that loss. Many are all too willing to share their opinion that since you only lost an animal and not a human, it should have minimal impact on your emotional well-being. However, minimizing such a profound loss only makes a pet owner feel worse.

Grieving the loss of a beloved pet companion is not given the same degree of societal approval as are other types of losses. This can cause grieving pet owners to question their own psychological stability, and feel reluctant to share their feelings and seek emotional support. There is also the issue of precisely how to grieve, and for how long. Most religions and cultures have prescribed customs for grieving, but how acceptable are they in applying these practices to the loss of a pet? There is really no answer.

There are few times in life when practicing self-care and compassion are more important than when someone is experiencing such profound loss. There is no detailed prescription for grief, but deep down we all know what we need at such times. Whether it is sitting alone staring into space, becoming immersed in your work or other pursuits, spending time with dear friends, or going on a shopping binge, it is important give yourself some grace and acknowledge your needs.

Replacing a pet can come early for some, or much later, or never for others. Whatever path you decide to follow, care for yourself with the same love and dedication you gave to your beloved pet. No guilt required — it is the humane thing to do.

Dr. AmyBeth Taublieb is a licensed WNY psychologist, author, media personality, and public speaker, with an active private psychotherapy practice assessing individuals, couples, and families. To make an appointment with Dr. Taublieb, call 716-834-1505 or visit