By Courtney Prue | June 18, 2022

How to Deal with Anticipatory Grief

Sharing your home with a pet is one of life’s greatest joys. Sadly, our pets cannot live forever and, as Queen Elizabeth II very wisely said, “Grief is the price we pay for love”. Anticipatory grief describes the overwhelming feelings that flood when you realise your beloved pet has only months, weeks, or even days to live. We’re here to help you understand these emotions and to support you through them.

What is anticipatory grief?

Anticipatory grief is when grieving starts before the loss of your pet. It often starts when you hear your pet’s diagnosis is terminal, or you realise that your elderly pet’s quality of life is starting to decline. Anticipatory grief is complex, especially in pets, where pet parents are involved in making end of life decisions. Pet parents can become overwhelmed by:

  • Regret for lost time
  • Concerns around their pet suffering
  • The stress of end-of-life care
  • Anger at not being able to do more
  • Concerns about knowing when it’s the right time to say good-bye
  • Guilt around ‘playing god’
  • Worry at how to cope without their pet
  • The feeling of waiting for the blow, when the end inevitably comes

These emotions are intense, but they are an important part of the grieving process. It’s important to acknowledge and accept them. We are here to support you, step-by-step. Here are our top tips for coping with anticipatory grief:

Strategies for coping with anticipatory grief

Be kind to yourself

Everyone’s experience of grief is different. There are no rules, and no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ here. Many people feel guilty about grieving when their pet is still alive. Be kind to yourself, remind yourself that these feelings are natural and that you are not alone in experiencing them. A beloved member of your family is dying, and grief is inevitable.

Seek support

We are here to support you with every aspect of end-of-life care. There are also many pet bereavement charities and counselling services available. End-of-life care can be physically exhausting as well as emotionally. It can involve multiple medications, vet trips, clearing up accidents in the house and sleepless nights. Don’t be afraid to ask friends and family for practical support, as well as emotional.

Enjoy your time together

This can be a tricky one. Well-meaning friends and family may advise you to make the most of your remaining time together. While the advice is good, it isn’t always as simple as that! It can help to remind yourself that you can still make the most of your time together while feeling desperately sad. Some ideas include:

  • Taking your pet to their favourite place, if they are able, or preparing their favourite treats
  • Taking lots of photos or videos. While some people prefer not to remember their pet being old or poorly, for others these final memories are precious
  • Make some paw print keep sakes together
  • Spending quality time together, which could be as simple as cuddling on the couch.
  • If your pet is still feeling up for it, I have had many families make a bucket list with some of their pet’s favourite activities. Ticking them off one-by-one will bring a lot of joy to both you and your pet.

Remember that everyone is different, so choose what works for you. If you’d like more ideas on how to make the most of the time you have left with your beloved pet, please see our blog: 10 Ways to Memorialise Your Pet Before They Pass

Plan ahead for the end

In an ideal world, our pets would pass naturally and painlessly in their sleep. Sadly, this is very rarely the case and euthanasia is almost always the kindest option. It can help to see euthanasia as a gift, that we can prevent our pets from experiencing needless suffering in those final days.

As impossible as it can seem to plan for the final parting, it really will help to be prepared. Firstly, it’s so important to understand how and when to make the decision that it’s time to say good-bye. Of course, no pet parent should have to make this decision alone, and you should always seek professional advice. We are here to support you with this and can guide you in the decision making with our quality-of-life consultations. We have also put together this useful article, How will I know when it’s time?’

Next, it helps to understand the euthanasia process and your options afterwards. For example, do you wish to arrange for your pet to be cremated, and if so, would you like their ashes back? Or would you prefer a home burial? Your future self will thank you for not having to make decisions during this highly emotional time.


Anticipatory grief is a natural emotion when facing the prospect of life without your companion. Don’t underestimate how stressful end-of-life care can be. Decisions will be weighing on your mind, the physical delivery of care can be exhausting, and the grief can be all consuming. Take each day as it comes, seek support from those around you and take comfort from our professional guidance.

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