Registered nurse and licensed professional counselor Deborah Antinori joins Dr. Heidi Horsley to talk about pet loss, one of the most disenfranchised losses. She’s also a drama therapist and grief counselor. There are practical and emotional issues surrounding pet loss. When you lose a pet, it’s similar to any other kind of loss. Sadness, tearfulness, depression, and anxiety are all common. Pets are with you every day, and when they’re gone it feels like something is very wrong. You might feel angry with yourself—should you have taken them to the vet sooner? It’s easy to blame yourself, your vet, and in some cases even your pet.

There are many people who go to a group for a pet loss. This is where they get support for their feelings, but there are some constraints. Other losses might be coming forward from their past. Individual therapy, in these cases, may be best. Losing a pet can drum up feelings of when your mother died, or even a traumatic move to a new school when you were a kid. Physical symptoms like stomach trouble can also get stirred up.

Losing a Pet

“You’ll get another one” is one of the most hurtful things you can say to a person who loses a pet. Instead, just be quiet at times and let the person talk. “Tell me about Fido,” is a great opener. Saying how sorry you are or asking what you can do, such as babysit or bring over a dinner dish, are great ways to be helpful. “I loved Sparky, too,” and sharing memories is a great way to help heal.

A pet guardian has a tough time choosing euthanasia. It’s not an option for human companions, but keep in mind three prongs: Quality of life, physical symptoms, and your own quality of life.


Heidi Horsley

Dr. Heidi Horsley is a licensed psychologist, social worker, and bereaved sibling. She co-hosts the award-winning weekly cable television show and podcast, Open to Hope. Dr. Heidi is an Adjunct Professor at Columbia University, and an award-winning author, who has co-authored eight books, and serves on the United Nations Global Mental Health Task Force. She also serves on the Advisory Boards for the Tragedy Assistance Program, the Elisabeth Kubler-Ross Foundation, and Peace of Mind Afghanistan. She served on the National Board of Directors for The Compassionate Friends, and for 10 yrs. worked on a Columbia University research study looking at traumatic loss over time in families who lost a firefighter in the World Trade Center.

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