Anticipating the Loss of a Pet: How to Cope with Anticipatory Grief

sad dog with pink background

It’s one of the worst and most unfair facts of life: dogs don’t live as long as people. And when you have an aging pup or are faced with your dog receiving a terminal diagnosis, each moment can feel both precious and filled with dread. Here are a few tips on how to cope with anticipatory grief—the grief that comes before a loss.

1. Use Your Support System

Like with any type of grief, it can be beneficial to talk to others who can empathize with your experience. Check in with friends, family, a therapist, or support groups. And when people ask how they can help, answer honestly.

2. Set Aside Time to Cherish Your Pet

Ask yourself these questions: 

  • What do I want my pet’s final days/moments with me to look like? 
  • What does my perfect goodbye look like? 
  • How can I avoid regretting any of the time I spent with my pet?

Use your answers to plan how to spend the rest of your time together. Take photos of and with your dog and put together a scrapbook of all your wonderful memories together. Make a dog bucket list filled with things your dog would enjoy. Got a treat-lovin’ woofer? Visit a barkery and pick out special snacks. Maybe your pupper loves the car? Go for some long joyrides. If your canine loves to cuddle, snuggle up for a nap together. If your pup loves to socialize, throw a dog birthday party. Personalize your dog’s bucket list to include everything she loves.

3. Give Yourself Some Grace

Grief comes in many stages and brings with it many emotions, such as anxiety, anger, irritability, guilt, dread, and sadness. You may cycle through these feelings all in the same day, and they might hit you at unexpected times. It’s important to give yourself permission to feel what you’re feeling. What you’re going through is already hard—don’t make it more difficult by being hard on yourself. Being honest and vulnerable with yourself (and others) is a strength, not a weakness.

4. Make Plans

Nothing feels good about anticipating the loss of a pet, but one small, bright side is that it allows you to plan for the future. Although it hurts, knowing loss is coming allows you to think about other important things, such as where and how you want to say goodbye and what to do in emergency situations.

Saying goodbye to our beloved BFFs can be some of the hardest moments of our lives, but preparing for loss can make things a tiny bit easier. In the meantime, snuggle up and cherish all the cuddles you can.

Featured photo: Linoleum Creative Collective

  1. I have lost two very much loved dogs before, and it hurts worse than when I lost my Dad. The most important thing we can strive for is to be as wonderful as our beloved dogs think we are. RIP, Roscoe and Scooter <3

  2. About a year before my senior pup passed at 17, I painted a portrait of her. My therapist recommended it as I was having intense anxiety about her health. After she died, I got the portrait framed and hung it on the wall above her favorite napping spot. I think it helped to paint the portrait ahead of time, because I wouldn’t have been able to handle it while grieving.

    If you aren’t artistically inclined, you can always commission a piece online. There are whole communities dedicated to making pet memorial portraits.

  3. Thank you for this article. This is what I need right now, although I heard the news some months ago, but now I feel my pet is about to pass, I feel the guilt, regret, and grief… so I’m experiencing the anticipatory grief right now.

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