Loss of a Pet: How To Cope and What To Expect

Five Minutes
Feb 21, 2023

Our cats and dogs share our homes and become irreplaceable members of our family, which makes things very difficult when it’s time to say goodbye to them. It can be very challenging to navigate how to deal with the loss of a pet.

Your pet’s passing can come with many confusing emotions and very difficult decisions. We hope to make it a little easier by providing you with everything you should know about the death of a pet, including how to prepare, what your options are, and how to take care of yourself during this difficult time.

How Do I Know My Pet Is Dying?

To help determine a pet’s quality of life, veterinarians may use a series of questions from a quality of life scale to help pet parents make end-of-life decisions that they may find useful.¹

The questions help pet parents figure out how your pet’s body is functioning. Professionals advise that pet parents try to track how many good or bad days a pet is having. The answers you find can help you decide what to do next.

Signs that your dog is dying

Your dog can live comfortably as a senior or with an illness for a long time, but that can change quickly. You may want to ask yourself:

  • Is my dog in pain?
  • Does my dog have a terminal disease?
  • Have they stopped eating or drinking?
  • Do they need help to relieve themselves?

Signs that your cat is dying

The signs of a terminal cat can be similar to a dog’s. If you need to help your cat use their litter box or they’re visibly in pain, you may need to consider asking your vet for options.

Some other questions to answer with your vet are:

  • Are they playing with their favorite toys?
  • Do they engage with you or their favorite family members?
  • Can they breathe on their own?
  • Is the treatment for their illness something you can manage?

Talk with your family members and your vet about your options for end-of-life care for your cat.

End-of-Life Care for Pets

Sadly, our pets don’t live as long as we do. Pet parents do their best to ensure their beloved pets pass on with dignity and that they are surrounded by loving faces. This sort of care is called palliative care or end-of-life care.

The goal of end-of-life care is to help your cat or dog be as comfortable as possible. For example, dogs getting palliative care may take supplements and chiropractic care to manage arthritis.² Veterinary palliative specialists use a combination of techniques to:

  • Manage and reduce pain
  • Increase mobility
  • Stimulate an appetite
  • Boost energy levels

Keep in mind that palliative care is considered a bridge towards hospice or euthanasia. Discuss the cost of ongoing care for a dying pet with your vet. A dog or cat insurance policy could help lighten the cost of care, but the emotional toll of the medical care shouldn’t be ignored either. Once you’ve weighed both issues, then you can make a decision.

Dog hospice and cat hospice

A pet hospice is a specialized facility that provides 24/7 care, specifically for elderly or dying pets. They take over the process when palliative care has done all it can do.²,³ Vets at hospices are trained to care for your pet’s basic needs so you can focus on loving them in their final days. They work closely with families and their primary vet to manage pain to make the transition toward death easier.

Since these facilities are considered specialists, pet insurance may help cover the cost of their stay there, even if it's for more than a few days. Some hospice specialists offer in-home or outpatient options as well.²,³

There are a few differences between a hospice for dogs or for cats, so some hospices only care for one type of animal. Chat with your regular vet to see if they can recommend a local pet hospice. They may be able to offer guidance for a qualified facility that fits your needs.

At-home care

There are vet specialists who offer services to take care of your pet at home. They offer palliative care in your home — like acupuncture and physical therapy — to help your pet maintain their daily routine. An at-home vet may be the best option for working families or if you have a disability that makes caring for your pet difficult. (e.g., lifting your dog).

Shop around in your area and compare each company's offerings. Many of these at-home caretakers are small business owners. Their prices will vary, but a pet insurance policy could help offset the cost.4

Empty dog bed in front of a window.

Pet Euthanasia

Euthanasia is the process of humanely ending an animal’s life.5 The process of euthanasia is typically done in three steps: relief of pain, minimizing fear as they go to sleep, and then a painless death. Your vet, hospice, or in-home caretaker usually offer this service.

Pet Memorial Options

After the procedure, your care team will offer you options to preserve your pet’s remains. Take your time to plan how you want to memorialize your beloved pet if you have not done so already.

Here are the basic decisions you’ll need to make.

Choose how you want to handle the body of your pet.

There are two popular options offered for a deceased pet’s body: cremation or burial. The cost for the cremation of a cat or a dog varies based on how you choose to cremate them. Pet crematoriums may offer the following options:

  • Private: This can be the most expensive option where your pet is the only animal cremated. You’re usually allowed to be present and you can place an item with them, like a blanket or favorite toy.
  • Individual or divided: This option ensures your pet’s ashes are kept away from other pets’ remains.
  • Communal: This can be the least expensive option. Your pet is cremated with other animals and their ashes aren’t returned to you.

On the other hand, a pet parent can choose to bury their pet on your private property or at a family plot in a cemetery. Check your local laws to ensure that it’s legal to bury animal remains on your property.³ Otherwise, you can prepare a plot for your lost friend.

There are other fees associated with cremated remains and burials, so ask plenty of questions before making your decision. The costs can add up quickly but some MetLife pet insurance policies may cover some of the costs of memorializing your pet.4

What to do if your pet dies at home

If your pet passed away naturally at home, you may have to act quickly. Call your local animal control to ask if they can help. If they can’t, your vet may be able to offer guidance.

Here’s what you need to do while you’re waiting for help:³

  1. Call a friend or family member to emotionally support you. They may be able to help you lift or roll the animal if they are too heavy.
  2. Get a large tarp or plastic bag to place under your pet. This will protect the floor from any bodily fluids.
  3. Wrap your pet in a blanket. Try to arrange their body in a way that looks natural to make things less distressing on you or any children around.

Be prepared to transport your pet yourself if no one can come to help. Keep your support system close.

Memorializing your pet

There are several ways to remember your pet. If you choose to cremate them, you could pick an urn that matches your family's taste, traditions, and your pet’s temperament. Some pet parents choose to bury their pet’s ashes and plant a tree in their yard.

Burying your pet may require a bit more work, like choosing a headstone and location. There are companies that specialize in creating headstones for pets that include images of your pet or carvings. You may opt not to do that and build something unique. Regardless, pick something that will help you remember your old friend.

You can also hold a small ceremony as a loving send off for your beloved pet. There are some cultural traditions that may be important to you and it’s okay to mourn and celebrate the life of your pet the same way you would for a human. Invite your friends and family to hold a funeral if that’s what you need to grieve properly.

Grieving the Loss of a Pet: What’s Next

It’s difficult to figure out how to cope with the loss of a pet. You’ll miss them when they don’t greet you at the door or cuddle up next to you. Other pets in your home may have a hard time, too. Often, they become depressed when their “pack” member is suddenly gone. Given time and a bit of self-care, everyone can move forward.

You may want to donate any toys, beds, and other supplies that belonged to your pet to help benefit the life of another person’s furry friend. That said, you might want to keep significant items, like their collar or their favorite toy, in a safe space.

Grief counseling may be a good option if you find the grieving process difficult or even traumatic. 

Losing a Pet Isn’t Easy but MetLife Pet Can Help Support You

The loss of a pet is a life changing event, but there are options available to make the transition smoother. Review your choices for end-of-life care, pet euthanasia, and memorial services, including how much they cost.

A pet insurance policy can help make these choices easier financially. Get started today with a free quote from MetLife Pet Insurance, winner of the “Pet Insurance of the Year” Award in the 2023 Pet Independent Innovation Awards Program.6

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¹ “How Do I Know When It’s Time?,” Ohio State University Veterinary Medical Center

² “Palliative Care and Hospice for Terminally Ill Dogs,” American Kennel Club

³ “end-of-life Care,”

4 Provided all terms of the policy are met. Application is subject to underwriting review and approval. Like most insurance policies, insurance policies issued by IAIC and MetGen contain certain deductibles, co-insurance, exclusions, exceptions, reductions, limitations, and terms for keeping them in force. For costs, complete details of coverage and exclusions, and a listing of approved states, please contact MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC.

5 “Quality of Life Issues,” Merck Veterinary Manual

6 “2022 Pet Insurance of the Year Award” Winners, Pet Independent Innovation Awards


Coverage underwritten and issued by Independence American Insurance Company (“IAIC”), a Delaware insurance company, headquartered at 11333 N Scottsdale Rd, Ste 160, Scottsdale, AZ 85254 or Metropolitan General Insurance Company (“MetGen”), a Rhode Island insurance company, headquartered at 700 Quaker Lane, Warwick, RI 02886. Coverage subject to restrictions, exclusions, and limitations. Application is subject to underwriting review. See policy or contact MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC for details. MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC is the policy administrator for this coverage. The entity may operate under an alternate, assumed, and/or fictitious name in certain jurisdictions as approved, including MetLife Pet Insurance Services LLC (New York and Minnesota), MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions Agency LLC (Illinois).

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