Taking care of your loved one’s pet

5 min read

What to know about your loved one’s pets

  • After your loved one’s passing, their pet(s) will still need food, exercise, attention, and comfort—and, like you, they can show signs of grief.

  • Transitioning your loved one’s pet into a new space, routine, or family may cause them stress.

  • If possible, bring the pet to visit their new home before moving in full time.

  • To help with anxiety during this transition, bring along toys, beds, food dishes, or other reminders of your loved one.

  • If neither you nor any other family member is able to care for the pet, try to find the best life you can for them as a way to honor the love they gave to your loved one.

A loved one’s pets are members of the family, and they are often attuned to changes in their environment and their caretaker’s mood. Like you and those close to you, the animals might be going through their own journey with grief after their owner passes away, and taking care of them is an important part of honoring the person’s memory. 

The question of what to do with a pet is an immediate one. They need food, exercise, attention, and comfort. You should expect them to be confused by the change in their daily routine and possibly to display some loneliness and even sadness. Pets form bonds with their family, and the sudden departure of someone they love can be very difficult for them. 

You can mediate their distress by making this transition as seamless as possible. If they had a regular routine for walks or feeding, make an effort to stick to it as closely as possible. It may even be just as good for you as it is for the pet, to have these daily milestones in the midst of your own grief.

Be aware, however, that it’s not easy to add a pet to one’s life without proper planning and preparation. It’s always a big decision to get a new pet, and taking on this responsibility after the death of a loved one isn’t the right choice for everyone. 

Arranging care

The first thing you’ll need to do is decide who will be responsible for the pet in the short term. If you or another family member will be staying at or looking after the person’s house, it might be a natural choice for that person to also assume responsibility for the pet. 

You should try to keep to their routines as much as possible during this time, including their feeding schedule and walks. If you aren’t familiar with their schedule, try to find a contact (like a pet sitter, dog walker, day care, or pet boarding place) that your loved one might have told those details to. 

Sticking to their regular routine will hopefully help the pet during this emotional time, but they still might show signs of sadness, such as not eating as much or not having as much energy. It’s important to comfort and reassure them while they go through this, just like you would with a human experiencing grief.

Another approach to caring for the pet in the interim is to do it communally. You can draw up a schedule for neighbors, friends, and family, and even pay pet sitters and dog walkers, to come spend time with the animal. This has the advantage of giving the pet the opportunity to form lots of bonds and possibly settle into a close relationship with one or more of their new caretakers. 

Don’t forget to get in touch with the pet’s veterinarian to make sure you’re aware of any prescriptions or outstanding medical issues, and to update their contact information to the new caretaker. 

Moving them out of the home

Keep in mind that pets are considered personal property, and therefore may have been left to a beneficiary in the will. They cannot be given away to a new home without permission from the executor and the court, just like any of their personal belongings.

When the pet does eventually transition to a new home (whether it’s a close family member’s or an adoptive owner’s), this can cause varying levels of stress. depending on the animal and their relationship to their new family.

Remember that your loved one's pet is going through an extremely difficult emotional experience, just like you are.

To mediate the anxiety, make sure the pet has items from their past home and reminders of their departed loved one. Things like toys, beds, food dishes, and even an article of clothing or a blanket that smells like the person will help the pet feel more comfortable while they transition to their new environment. If you can, it’s also a good idea to bring the pet to visit their new home before they move there full time, so that they can explore and begin feeling comfortable there.  

Of course, a new home will mean new routines. It might mean new schedules, new rules, new food, and new pet-siblings or children. All of this will be an adjustment for the animal. Expect them to slip up, to take time to learn, and for their demeanor to fluctuate a bit. 

The key to this process is patience. Remember that the pet is going through an extremely difficult emotional experience, just like you are, and let that bring you together. 

What to do if no one is prepared for a pet

In the event that no one in your circle of family and friends is capable of taking responsibility for the pet, you can reach out to local shelters to connect with foster homes or other places where the pet will be cared for and loved. They probably meant the world to your loved one, so even if you can’t look out for it yourself, you should place it in the care of someone dedicated to finding the best life for it. 

In metropolitan areas, there are many rescues and organizations that can help you with the process. You might even enlist the help of the pet’s vet when you first contact them.

Finding the best new home for your loved one’s furry friend should be the priority. This creature most likely brought lots of joy to the person every day, and honoring that love by giving the pet a good life is an excellent way to sustain their legacy and their memory.

You may be eligible for free bereavement support. Empathy can help with everything from funeral planning to estate administration, with step-by-step guidance and real-time expert support. Many people get free premium access to Empathy as a benefit with their life insurance claim. We partner with New York Life, Guardian Life Insurance Company, Bestow, Lemonade, and other leading carriers. When you make your life insurance claim, talk to your representative about whether Empathy is a benefit they offer.