Losing a pet is a heartbreaking, horrible experience. Pets know us better than many humans do—they’re our friends, family members, and confidants. When someone you know loses their pet, here are several phrases to avoid, along with a few helpful alternatives.
1. Don’t ask “How are you doing?”
This is vague and everyone knows the answer. Assume they are not OK and instead let them know being sad is normal and acceptable, and you’re here for them if they need to talk.
2. Don’t say “At least it wasn’t your kid.”
This belittles their emotional connection to their pet and any phrase that starts with “at least” runs the risk of dismissing real emotions, so avoid it at all costs. Yes, it can be hard for people without pets to understand the rich relationships pet owners form with their animals, so instead focus on the fact that they’re hurting and support them with things like “I’m so sorry” and “I’ll stop by with ice cream after lunch.”
3. Don’t say “Let me know if you need anything.”
This person is grieving and the offer is too vague. Instead of making them tell you what they need, offer up concrete actions. Invite them over for coffee. Tell them you’ll stop by tomorrow night with a pizza. Use specifics so they don’t have to do any work, and allow them to turn down your offer if they aren’t up for it.
4. Don’t say “I know how you feel.”
This many people’s go-to, with the intention of letting a friend know they aren’t alone, but can be perceived as self-centered. A better option is honesty: “I can’t imagine how you’re feeling. This stuff is so hard.”
5. Don’t say “Now you can get a new pet!”
Any version of “When are you getting a new puppy?” is inappropriate. Grief is normal and needs to happen before people can heal enough to invest their time, love, and energy into another pet. Everyone’s timeline is different; don’t force it on them.
On the other hand, here are some things we encourage you to say to someone who has lost a beloved pet:
1. Do say “Remember when...?”
A terrific alternative to any of the above options is reminiscing about the good memories you have of that animal. Any funny anecdote of their late pet is appropriate. If you have a picture of you with their pet, send it over with something like “Remember when Fido licked ketchup off my nose?”
2. Do say “I’m here to talk whenever you need.”
Everyone’s grief timeline is different—some need to unleash all of their thoughts that day while others will silently process for a bit before opening up. Be available to listen when they’re ready, keeping in mind you may have moved on by the time they reach out.
3. Do say something.
Nobody has the perfect words, so saying something clunky to let them know you’re sorry for what they’re going through is better than saying nothing or avoiding them at a time when they need you most.
4. Do follow through on promises.
When you say “I’m here to talk whenever you need” or “I’ll bring the ice cream,” make sure you don’t flake. Actions speak louder than words, and empty promises will make your grieving friend feel even more alone.
Remember, every person and every relationship is different, and what works for one person may be insulting to someone else. When in doubt, acknowledge how tough the situation is, sit back, and listen.