Understanding the Grief of Pet Bereavement: The Role of Organisations in Helping with Pet Loss

pet bereavement

As part of our Essex Working Well accreditation we have access to a variety of workshops where we can learn about different topics within the wellbeing at work sphere.  I recently attended a workshop on pet bereavement hosted by Diane James, Head of Pet Loss Support, at the Blue Cross Charity to understand how we, as an organisation, can help those going through pet loss.  We thought that some of our readers might also find it helpful.

First, a little bit about pet loss:

What is pet bereavement and why is it important to address?

Pet bereavement covers not only the death of a pet but also stolen pets. It refers to the profound sense of grief and sorrow experienced by individuals upon the loss of a beloved pet. For many people, pets are not just animals, but cherished members of the family, providing companionship, unconditional love, and emotional support. It is important to understand that pet bereavement is a legitimate form of grief. It should be treated with the same level of compassion and understanding as any other type of loss in order to provide support and healing to those who are experiencing it.

The emotional impact of pet loss

The emotional impact of pet loss can be profound and long-lasting. People may experience a wide range of emotions, including sadness, anger, guilt, and loneliness. It can also manifest in physical symptoms, such as loss of appetite, trouble sleeping, and fatigue. It is crucial to recognise that everyone grieves in their own way and at their own pace, and there is no right or wrong way to grieve. Some individuals may find comfort in talking about their feelings with friends or family, while others may prefer to grieve privately. It is crucial to provide a safe and supportive environment for individuals to express their emotions and to offer them the space and time they need to heal.

Common stages of grief in pet bereavement

Just like grief experienced after any other type of loss, pet bereavement often follows a similar pattern of emotional stages. These stages, first outlined by psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, include denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Not everyone will experience all of these stages, and the order and duration of each stage may vary from person to person.


Pet bereavement support in the workplace

So, the role of an organisation in helping with pet loss shouldn’t be that different from human loss.  Whilst offering compassionate leave for pet bereavement isn’t a legal obligation, given all of the above, it makes sense to offer it as anyone going through it is unlikely to be performing at their best. Offering leave to help someone work through their grief and not just because it’s a legal requirement is likely to foster engagement too.

To ensure consistent and fair support for employees experiencing pet bereavement, establish a pet bereavement policy (or add a section on pet loss to your existing bereavement policy). The policy should outline the procedures and resources available to employees when they face the loss of a pet. Here are some key elements to consider when creating a pet bereavement policy:

  • Bereavement leave: Determine the number of days of paid leave an employee can take when they experience the loss of a pet. Consider offering additional unpaid leave if needed.
  • Flexible work arrangements: Clearly communicate the options for flexible work arrangements, such as remote work or adjusted schedules, to accommodate employees during their grieving process.
  • Counselling services: Provide information and access to counselling services or grief support resources that employees can utilise when needed.
  • Supportive communication: Ensure that managers and HR professionals are trained to communicate with empathy and understanding when addressing pet bereavement situations. This includes providing guidance on how to approach sensitive conversations and offering resources for further assistance.


Conclusion: The importance of recognising and addressing pet bereavement

Pet bereavement is a significant and often overlooked (and sometimes misunderstood) form of grief that can have a profound impact on individuals. It is crucial to recognise and address this grief in order to provide support and healing to those who are experiencing it. By having a policy and support mechanisms in place you’re ready to help anyone that needs it.

The Blue Cross offers several services that you point anyone that’s going through pet loss to.  They have a telephone helpline, email support service, webchat service and Facebook support group as well as an online memorial page for anyone who wants to create a tribute to a lost pet and various literature on pet bereavement for owners. https://www.bluecross.org.uk/pet-bereavement-and-pet-loss

There are many other organisations offering support specific to certain animals too – horses, parrots, reptiles,  the list goes on. Google can help find the relevant organisations that can provide guidance and assistance specific to the loss being experienced.