The loss of a beloved pet is a profoundly emotional experience, leaving an indelible void in the lives of those who cherished their four-legged companions. The bonds we share with our animals are woven with memories, laughter and the unspoken language of unconditional love.
As the inevitable cycle of life takes its course, some owners are faced with a profound question: How long should one wait after losing a pet to welcome another into their heart and home?
“Grieving takes a lot of mental, physical, and emotional energy ― and so does bonding with a new pet,” Judith Harbour, a veterinary social worker at Schwarzman Animal Medical Center in New York City. “If a person is not ready, they might not have emotional space for the new pet or for grieving the one who died. This can complicate grief and make it difficult to continue adjusting to the loss.”
She added that bonding with a new animal companion is challenging if you don’t have enough emotional bandwidth. Jennifer Breslow, a psychotherapist who specializes in pet loss counseling, similarly noted that grieving pet owners might feel as though they are betraying their late pet by forming a new relationship with another animal before they’ve adequately grieved.
“The death of a pet is a devastating loss and people often feel overwhelmed by the emptiness and void they feel when their pet is gone,” she said. “The impulse to fill that hole can be strong, and it might be tempting to quickly get a new pet to fill it and avoid the pain and sadness that comes with grief. But this isn’t fair to you or the new pet. If a new pet is brought home too soon, you may start having feelings of resentment that this new pet acts in different ways or has a different personality than the pet that passed.”
So when is the right time to bring another pet into your life after losing a beloved furry friend? How can you know you’ve reached that point? And what’s the best way to work through your grief? Harbour, Breslow and other experts share their advice below.
Understand there’s no set timeline.
“The amount of time to wait after losing a pet to bring another one into your life is going to be different for everyone,” Breslow said. “Generally though, the right time is when you have adequately grieved and processed the loss of the first pet.”
Some pet owners might feel ready to embrace a new animal companion after a matter of days, while others wait years. It’s a highly personal process with no set timeline.
“The length of time to move through grief varies for every person, but in my experience it’s more likely to be several months rather than weeks,” Breslow added. “Our culture doesn’t really acknowledge how significant a loss it can be to lose a pet. So sometimes there is a tendency for well-meaning people ― especially those who may not have had their own experience with the human-animal bond — to suggest getting a new pet as a way to move forward from the loss. You don’t need to listen to them.”
While it’s true that the companionship of new pet can help with the healing process, only you will know when you’re ready to take that step.
“So really check in with yourself and make sure you have allowed yourself the time and space to adequately grieve,” Breslow said. “Remember that grieving is a process that takes time and is filled with a mess of uncomfortable feelings. But it is temporary and a normal human response to a significant loss.”
Allow yourself to feel and process your grief.
“Grief doesn’t have a timetable, unfortunately, and while each loss is unique to the shared relationship, there are stages of grief for pet loss just like there are for humans,” said Colleen Rolland, a pet loss grief specialist at the Association for Pet Loss Bereavement.
She pointed to the work of APLB founder Wallace Sife, who identified five stages of pet grief: 1. Shock, disbelief and denial. 2. Anger, distancing and alienation. 3. Guilt. 4. Depression. 5. Resolution.
“By becoming aware of the stages, people are provided with a valuable ‘road map’ of what to expect as they navigate their grief journey,” Rolland said, noting that the framework helps normalize painful emotions. “But each person experiences them in a unique and personal manner.”
You might be able to move through the stages more quickly if you were able to say goodbye to your animal after a prolonged period of decline and anticipatory grief versus losing them in a sudden accident.
“The most important piece to consider is being intentional in your grief,” said Jennifer Scanlon, a social worker at VCA South Shore (Weymouth) Animal Hospital. “Allowing ourselves to feel the emotions surrounding our grief can put us on a path to healing. Granting yourself permission to heal will open your heart to the possibility of a new pet when you feel ready.”
Wait until you can think of your late pet without feeling overwhelmed with painful emotions.
“An indicator that you may be ready for a new pet is that you are able to embrace memories of your previous pet without intense sadness and guilt,” Scanlon said. “We truthfully do not ‘get over’ the losses of our companion animals, but with time, the intensity of the grief will lessen. When we learn how to incorporate this grief into our lives, we can find ways to move forward with cherished memories and know when we are ready to love another animal.”
Ask yourself if you can talk about your deceased pet without feeling overwhelmed with pain and sadness. When you close your eyes and think of them, can you conjure joyful memories and keep breathing ― or do you immediately want to cry and feel stress in your body?
Rolland advised waiting until you can think about your beloved pet and “smile ― even laugh ― at some of their crazy antics or wonderful times you shared.”
Ask how you feel when you imagine welcoming a new pet into your life.
Similarly, examine how the thought of welcoming a new pet into your life makes you feel.
“When people are not ready, they often have a viscerally negative reaction to the idea of adopting another pet, especially when encouraged to do so by people they perceive as minimizing their grief,” Harbour said. “For others, when they are not ready, the thought does not even cross their mind, even if they know in their heart that there is another pet in their future. Many people start to tiptoe into contemplating this question once their acute grief has waned. They may try imagining what it would be like bringing a new animal companion home.”
In these moments, it’s useful to consider why you might want a new pet and whether you feel happy and excited at the prospect. See how you feel when you interact with friends’ pets.
“A marker that you are ready might be when the idea of a new pet doesn’t feel like a betrayal, but more like an exciting new relationship,” Breslow said.
Make sure you don’t have unfair expectations.
“Make sure your expectations of a new pet are realistic,” said Camp Bow Wow animal health and behavior consultant Erin Askeland. “Too often people hope to find a replacement, a replica, a new pet that mimics what they’ve lost, and the truth of the matter is, that’s not likely to happen. Each pet is an individual, and even if you get the same breed, age, size or general temperament, the pet is still likely to have a completely different personality than the pet you’ve lost.”
Understand that the relationship you develop with a new pet won’t be the same as the one you had with your late pet. Be prepared to embrace their individuality and cherish the new bond you will forge ― rather than expecting an exact replacement.
“This mindset can lead to heartache for you as you may become upset and even resentful of the new dog when they are different,” Rolland said. “Also, it’s not fair to the new pet who deserves your complete love and attention. Make sure that you are ready, and the timing is right.”