Gone too soon: Coping with the loss of a young pet

When a young pet joins your family, it is always a time of excitement and happiness (with some possible training stress thrown into the mix for those of you with dogs, cats, or rabbits!)

You think about the years of fun, love, and companionship ahead of you. This is true whether your young pet is a tiny hamster, a quirky axolotl, a snake, a guinea pig, a playful kitten, or a giant breed of dog (and every shape, size, or species in between).

As you plan for the future that includes your young pet, their death is probably the farthest thing from your mind.

Sadly, though, many people within The Ralph Site community find themselves having to cope with the loss of a young pet. It could be what has brought you to this site.

Is there a way of ‘coming to terms’ with the premature death of a pet? How can you process your loss when your companion has quite simply gone before their time? Is it possible to find comfort when all you can think about is how horribly unfair life is to rob your pet of their future when there was still so much of it in front of them?

Death is never easy

We know that death is never easy but when a young pet dies, it can throw everything you know into doubt. People talk about the ‘natural order’ of things and the cycle of life and death but reconciling that with a young animal can feel impossible.

All that potential. All those experiences that you hoped to share. Surely, to lose those before they had a chance to happen goes against the ‘natural order’ of life?

We’ve talked before on The Ralph Site about coping with sudden and unexpected pet loss. Perhaps, in pet loss terms, nothing is more sudden and unexpected than when a young animal dies.

It can be incredibly hard to process.

In the face of such a bereavement, people report a wide range of emotions. Bewilderment is common – surely this cannot be real? Anger too – it is so desperately unfair. You might feel anxious and unsafe because it seems like nothing has happened as it should. And let us not forget the guilt that is so deeply tied to pet loss. Guardians of young pets often experience a significant amount of guilt because they feel they should have been able to guarantee their companion a long life. 

Whatever you are feeling, there are no right or wrong emotions. Grief is different for everyone and it is important to experience your feelings as they happen instead of bottling things up inside.

It is unfair and heart-breaking and so very wrong that your young pet has died. No wonder you feel all these emotions and more.

Unhelpful things other people say

Pet loss is a type of disenfranchised grief that is not recognised by everyone in our wider society. You may find that some of your friends and family just do not know what to say to support you. This could be because they do not understand the depth of your loss or because they do not want to say the wrong thing.

When a young animal dies, it is very common to be told, “Everything happens for a reason”, “He’s in a better place” or “It just goes to show that you never know what’s going to happen, which is why we need to live each day like it’s our last” (and other varieties of things people say when they are trying to give a bereaved person comfort).

These expressions can be hurtful. Your pet was in the best place with your family – a place where they were loved, and they mattered. What kind of reason can there be for a young animal to die? 

Even sentiments like “we have to live like there’s no tomorrow” can be tough to take. After all, youth is so often about creating the foundations for the future. It is natural to want to make plans with your pet. The fact that you can’t can leave you feeling cheated.

People mean well when they say these things, but the truth is that sometimes the best thing anyone can do is sit in silence with you or tell you that they care, and they are sorry for your loss.

If you don’t have anyone who can say this to you face-to-face right now, The Ralph Site Facebook group is full of people who have experienced losses of their own and will metaphorically sit by your side in support at this tough time.

Coping with your grief

Is there a way to ‘get over’ grief? This is a question that many bereaved people ask.

The truth is that grief never truly goes away. However, it does change its nature with time – or maybe it is more accurate to say that we learn to live with it as part of us. It becomes part of our new ‘normal’. Check out some of the grief analogies that explain this perfectly. 

If you are struggling after losing a young pet, the following may help you:

  • Allow yourself time to feel the truth of your loss

When a death is unexpected, it is common to feel shocked, confused, numb and full of disbelief. Surely, someone has made a mistake?

In many ways, death rites in our society create space for these early feelings. They give you practical tasks to focus on when you are reeling from shock. They also help you to feel that you are accompanying your deceased loved one on a passage from life into death, which can be hugely comforting.

But, of course, these rites are not automatically part of pet loss, a fact that can leave you lost in terms of how to react to your bereavement.

You may find it helpful to arrange a memorial service for your pet or arrange a cremation or burial. The act of doing this can give you time to feel the truth of your loss.

Remember too that you will continue to need time.

Grief is not linear, and it does not come with an expiry date. It takes a long time to become part of the fabric of who you are, and it is threaded with many emotions. Be kind to yourself and sit with whatever you are feeling instead of trying to push your thoughts and feelings away. 

  • Think about the quality of your pet’s life, not the quantity

It is natural to be preoccupied with the fact that your pet has died and the circumstances surrounding their death. Most people respond to bereavement in this way.

Your brain will be doing everything in its power to make sense of what has happened, even if there really is no explanation to be found.

The downside of this need for sense is that you can get stuck on the events surrounding your pet’s death rather than celebrating their life. It is important to make their story about more than how they died. 

How would you describe your pet to someone who did not know them? What were their unique quirks? What happy memories did you share together? How did it make you feel to hold them or spend time with them? 

It can be helpful to remind yourself of all the ways your pet had a great quality of life, even if they were robbed of quantity. 

  • Recognise that your pet’s death was beyond your control

When we experience pet loss, especially when we are mourning a young and previously healthy pet, we often look for someone to blame. It could be that you are blaming yourself, a family member or even a stranger who was somehow involved in your pet’s death, e.g., a driver or your vet.

Again, blame is a common response to loss, especially as we strive to make sense of what happened. However, it can cause you to become consumed with anger and is generally a futile use of your energy. After all, even if someone is directly to blame, it cannot change what has happened.

A helpful tactic here is to think about the circumstances and intentions surrounding your pet’s death. 

Did you or anyone else intend to cause harm to your pet? 

If you or anyone else could have known what would happen, would they have done things differently?

Could you or anyone else have known what would happen?

The chances are that there was no intention of harm or malice towards your pet. As unfair as it is, accidents happen, and illnesses occur. If only they did not. 

Please think about your own intentions towards your pet and recognise that you only ever wanted good things for them. Their death does not change the truth of that.

  • Honour your pet’s life

The founder of the worldwide Scout movement, Robert Baden Powell, said that we should each “Try and leave this world a little better than you found it”.

In fact, many people believe that this is the very definition of a life well lived – to make our own little corners of the world better for having existed in them.

Well, your pet achieved that. They made the world better by existing and the memories they have given you ensure that this gift will always stay with you. 

Is there anything you can do to continue this legacy? Is there goodness that you can put into the world to honour your pet?

Perhaps you could support an animal charity, foster or adopt another animal when you feel ready or raise awareness about an issue that affected your pet, such as road safety or a rare health condition.

Even creating a memorial or writing a letter to your pet about the life you had hoped they would live can help to provide comfort.

  • Talk about your loss

It is important to be able to talk about your loss if you need to. Ideally, support will come from your friends and family but sometimes it helps to speak to other bereaved pet carers who understand the array of emotions you are experiencing. The Ralph Site Pet Loss Support Group is there for you.

You might also find it beneficial to talk to a pet bereavement counsellor. Many people find this instrumental to processing their grief. The Blue Cross Pet Bereavement Support Service is an excellent starting point.

Just know that, although your loss is yours alone and no-one can truly know how you are feeling, you are not alone in your grief. The Ralph Site is here for you.

Shailen and The Ralph Site team
The Ralph Site, non-profit pet loss support

Best Friends Forever: A book about practical steps and wisdom to ease pet loss

In Best Friends Forever, Debbie McLeod weaves together her own reflections on pet loss with real-life stories and poems collected from bereaved pet carers. The book is a powerful, practical guide that combines compassionate thoughts of loss with easy-to-grasp concepts aimed to help you process your grief and move through feelings that you might be struggling to express.

It’s clear that Debbie has a great affinity with animals and has experienced pet bereavement in her own life. The book takes an honest look at the anger, sadness and fear you may feel following the death of a pet.

However, although the book explores the difficult and often overwhelming emotions of grief, its real strength is its optimism. Debbie encourages us to recognise the unbreakable bonds formed with much-loved pets and how these bonds continue, even after death.

A spiritual journey

There is a deeply spiritual element to this book, which will be of great comfort to readers who believe or are looking for signs that our pets live on beyond their inevitable physical death.

Throughout the book, Debbie recalls the signs and messages that she and other bereaved pet carers have received from their deceased pets. In fact, Chapter 6: Whispers of Love is dedicated to examples of moments when the people interviewed for the book have felt the presence and reassurance of their departed animal companions.

Even if you don’t believe in any kind of afterlife, there is still plenty in Best Friends Forever that will resonate. Debbie talks beautifully about how the love we feel for a pet lives on inside of us, as well as in our memories or by shaping the path our life takes.

Validating all pet loss grief and experiences

This book will offer comfort to bereaved pet carers from all walks of life. Whether you’ve suffered the trauma of having to rehome a pet or having a pet go missing or you’ve lost an elderly pet, there will be someone in the book who has shared a similar experience.

There are also examples of people grieving for dogs, cats, horses, rabbits, hamsters and gerbils. Any type of loss is treated with equal sensitivity and compassion.

Debbie explores how the loss of a pet can sometimes tap into other bereavements in our lives that we perhaps haven’t dealt with. Several of the pet carers shared with her about losing a parent and only starting to grieve for them when their pet died.

Pet loss poems and reflective exercises

The poems that punctuate the key points covered in Best Friends Forever are powerful and moving. Written by the interviewed pet carers or by Debbie but with the carers’ approval, each one is a beautiful testament to the animal that inspired it. You can almost feel the unique personality of each pet surrounding you as you read each poem. The verses also provide a shorthand into the different experiences of grief.

Another strength of the book is the reflective exercises at the end of each chapter. These exercises encourage us, as bereaved pet carers, to sit with and acknowledge our feelings rather than attempting to bury them. Debbie gives ideas for helpful activities such as journaling, meditations and reflective questions to help you process your grief.

Reading this book, the message that stands out is that love and grief are both parts of the same whole. In other words, whenever there is deep love in life, deep feelings of grief will be experienced. The truth is that love – even with the risk of loss – is what makes life worth living.

A quote from David Henry Thoreau introduces Chapter 7; “There is no remedy for love, but to love more”.

And that’s the essence of Best Friends Forever. Debbie encourages us to see death and grief as part of a bigger picture, an unavoidable but essential element of life, and a transition rather than an end. We will come through our grief changed from the people we were before our loss but that change will be shaped by the unconditional love, trust and kindness given to us by our pets. The love we feel lives on.

Best Friends Forever is available for purchase on Amazon.

Author Debbie McLeod runs a Facebook group dedicated to Spirituality and Pets. This supportive group focuses on the wisdom, healing and teachings our pets bring us whether on this Earthly Plane or in Spirit.

You can also find out more about Debbie at https://www.debbiemcleod.co.uk/ 

An unrehearsed grief: Why pet loss can feel so challenging

Are you struggling to cope with the loss of a pet? Have you been shocked by the depth of your grief? Do you feel like no-one around you understands how much pain you’re in?

Here at The Ralph Site, we hear bereaved pet carers talk about their sense of loss and the isolation that often comes with it on a daily basis. 

If you’re familiar with this blog, you’ll see that we’ve talked about pet loss being a disenfranchised grief and what that means in past articles.

In today’s blog, we wanted to touch on this again but from the perspective of how hard it can be, when we lose a pet, to know how to grieve and the extent to which society allows us to express our feelings.

Society enables us to rehearse human bereavement

As we go through life, it’s arguable that we regularly see a blueprint or rehearsal for what happens and how we might feel or behave when a human dies.

TV programmes, films, books, plays, songs, etc. often feature the death of a character. We watch the funeral, wake and aftermath of each death play out in front of us; different but familiar all the same, due to the shared rites and rituals. 

Even if we’re fortunate enough not to experience human bereavement first-hand, we have a road map for how to behave when it happens to others. We know that we can support a bereaved person by doing things like sending a card, cooking, writing an obituary, attending the funeral, sharing our good memories, and so on.

When a human dies, in most cases anyway, people come together to support those hardest hit by the bereavement. It’s hard-wired into us to know that we can and should offer solace.

And yet, our rehearsal for what to do when someone dies rarely translates to pet loss, even though the emotions are often the same. At best, we might get a Facebook message of condolence or a hug of support from one or two friends. 

In many ways, it’s this absence of support, milestones and ritual – all things that society has evolved to help bereaved people cope – that can make losing a pet so hard to process.

How do we grieve? How do we experience our feelings if we aren’t free to express them?

A private grief?

Although things are improving and pet loss is talked about more widely, there’s still a sense that pet loss grief belongs behind closed doors, something that’s private and can only be understood by those in our pet’s inner circle.

Within the four walls of your home, the absence of your pet may be deafening, a void in your life that thunders at you day and night. But every time you step outside, you’re expected to leave your grief behind, like a coat that you must shrug off every time you leave the house.

After all, there’s a job to go to, people in the world experiencing human bereavement, tough times for everyone. People who don’t know any better will thoughtlessly remind you of this. “It was just a dog/cat/horse/rabbit”, they’ll say, as if this instantly puts your grief in perspective and will make you stop hurting.

But you know that your pet wasn’t ‘just’ anything.

You have a right to grieve

What our wider society sometimes fails to understand is that love is love and that, at the end of a life, grief comes wherever love exists. As C. S. Lewis famously said, “The pain I feel now is the happiness I had before. That’s the deal.”

Our pets are witnesses to so much in our lives. Often, a pet can pre-date our best friends, partners or children. They can have been with us as we passed through different stages – entered adulthood, started new jobs, achieved our goals, retired, lost human loved ones and so much more.

You may be grieving for a companion who has been an integral part of your life for 10, 20 or even 30 years or longer. Alternatively, you may have lost a pet who was still young, in which case you’re grieving the lost potential of their future. 

In both scenarios, why wouldn’t you be heartbroken?

Not only has your pet died but it marks the end of the chapter of your life that you shared with them. 

It’s not just other people who don’t know how to respond to pet loss grief. As the bereaved person, we can feel really confused about how to think, feel and behave too.

Without being able to rehearse a societal ‘norm’ for responding to pet loss, we can end up putting undue pressure on ourselves about how we should respond. You often hear people say, “I don’t know why I’m still so upset” or “I know I should be over this by now”.

You may be experiencing this yourself, feeling embarrassed about crying constantly or unable to explain why you’ve suddenly lost your appetite for food and life, or why it’s hard to go into work and concentrate. You’d recognise and accept these symptoms of grief if you had lost a human loved one – and everyone around you would recognise them too.

Look to what you know about grief

The lessons you’ve learned about grief, even as a passive observer, are relevant to pet loss, even if our wider society still needs to catch up with recognising this.

Your emotions don’t care whether you’re mourning the loss of a human or non-human person. All they know is that you miss someone you love terribly and that you’re in pain.

Many bereaved pet carers find that the milestones and rituals that help with human bereavement can help with pet loss too. So if you feel like you need a funeral or memorial for your pet, then it’s definitely worth organising something meaningful to you. If you want your pet to have an obituary, write it. If you want to share your pet’s story, then tell it.

There’s no shame in struggling with pet loss. If you’re finding it hard to talk to your friends or family, please know that there are communities like The Ralph Site’s private Facebook pet loss support group where you can share your feelings and grieve openly. You may also find it helpful to speak to a pet bereavement counsellor.

There’s no doubt that pet loss is a kind of unrehearsed grief within our society. Hopefully one day our society will catch up to how devastating losing a pet can be and how bereaved pet carers need support and compassion.

In the meantime, know that you’re not alone.

Shailen and The Ralph Site team
The Ralph Site, non-profit pet loss support

Grieving the loss of a guinea pig

If you’ve come to The Ralph Site and our blog because you’re grieving the loss of a guinea pig, let us first say how sorry we are for your loss.

As you will have no doubt experienced first-hand, guinea pigs are wonderful animals who are packed full of personality, especially with their delightful language of ‘wheeks’ and whistles and propensity for ‘popcorning’ when they’re happy.

Losing a guinea pig is never easy.

The sudden loss of a guinea pig

Like rabbits (which we talked about in our last blog), guinea pigs are so-called ‘prey’ animals, which means that they’re hard-wired to be wary of predators. Prey species are usually highly reliant on the protection of their herd when it comes to keeping safe.

Because of this, guinea pigs will hide illness for as long as physically possible. They just can’t risk being left behind by the herd or showing their vulnerability. Sadly, this means that, by the time a guinea pig shows signs that he/she is poorly, it is often too late to save them.

While guinea pigs can live for seven or eight years, many tragically die before this. Guinea pigs are particularly vulnerable to upper respiratory infections (URIs) and pneumonia, as well as dental problems, scurvy (caused by a vitamin C deficiency) and gastrointestinal bloat.

Guilt that you missed the signs

If your guinea pig’s health deteriorated suddenly, you may be struggling with feelings of guilt. Is there anything you could have done to save them? Could you have spotted the signs sooner? Did you do something wrong? These are all questions that may be playing on your mind.

But as we’ve seen above, guinea pigs instinctively hide their illnesses. You can do everything right in terms of care and husbandry and still find yourself unable to save a precious piggy. Please be kind to yourself. Guilt seems to be a natural part of pet loss – maybe because our pets can’t tell us how they feel so they are completely reliant on us – but it can prolong the intense feelings of grief. The fact that you are grieving shows how loved your guinea pig was and that you would have saved them if you could.

Even elderly guinea pigs can decline quickly, so the loss almost invariably comes as a huge shock. Their little lives are never long enough.

Feeling unseen in your grief

It’s estimated that there are currently 400,000 pet guinea pigs in UK. Sadly, many of these live in woefully inadequate conditions where there are potential welfare issues. People often see guinea pigs as a ‘starter pet’ for their children and quickly lose interest when they realise these quirky rodents can live for the best part of a decade. This sort of attitude lends itself to seeing guinea pigs as ‘throwaway’.

For those of us who love our guinea pigs with care and devotion, losing one can be devastating. And it can be hard to express our grief due to the wider, prevailing attitudes towards guinea pigs mentioned above. You may well have had people say to you, “Can’t you just get another one?” or ‘It was only a guinea pig”. This can be hurtful. You know only too well that every guinea pig has a unique, irreplaceable personality.

Pet loss is often described as a disenfranchised grief because it isn’t necessarily recognised across our society, other than by people who have experienced their own bereavement. The Ralph Site was created to give bereaved pet carers a safe space to talk freely about their grief, whatever the species of their animal companion. Within The Ralph Site community, you’ll find plenty of people who have experienced the loss of a guinea pig and felt it keenly.

Practice self-care

At this difficult time, it’s important that you look after yourself and find space to grieve, instead of feeling like you have to pretend everything is fine.

If you have a sympathetic friend or family member, reach out to them and let them know that you’re in pain. If you don’t feel you can talk to anyone in your circle, know that The Ralph Site is here for you. You can also call the Blue Cross Pet Bereavement Support Service if you want to talk to someone about your loss.

You might find other blog articles on The Ralph Site helpful. We have written about everything from pet loss memorials and grief analogies to feeling angry or depressed when a pet dies and much, much more. Many people find these resources helpful. Sometimes, it’s comforting just to know that you’re not alone.

Do you still have a surviving guinea pig?

Guinea pigs are hugely social creatures who get much of their enrichment in life from living in a bonded pair or as part of a larger group. As you will have experienced if you care for multiple guinea pigs, they have an expressive language of wheeks, squeaks, whistles and purrs and will often play with each other throughout the day.

There’s no doubt that when a guinea pig dies, their surviving companion will grieve deeply. Guinea pigs have even been known to die from grief, so it’s crucial that you keep an eye on your surviving pig(s), especially if they were half of a pair.

What can you do to help them?

  1. Give them a chance to say goodbye

If one of your guinea pigs has just passed away, you may want to leave their surviving companion with them for a little while so that they can understand their friend has gone. Some guinea pigs will move away from their deceased mate, while others will nudge, nibble and vocalise to try to encourage their companion to move. Both responses are completely normal. Just 30 minutes or so can help a guinea pig to process what has happened.

Please don’t worry though if you aren’t able to do this. In time, your surviving guinea pig should adjust to their loss.

  1. Keep an eye on your guinea pig

You may notice that your guinea pig is subdued for a while. They may seem more lethargic, lose their appetite or be less active than usual.

If your other guinea pig died of something infectious, you will need to speak to a vet about treating their cage mate. Upper respiratory infections, for example, can be easily spread between guinea pigs that share a living space.

If you’re confident that your surviving guinea pig is not unwell, the best thing you can do is give them plenty of attention. They will be used to sleeping next to their bonded friend and may feel lost without the comfort of their presence. You can help to fill this void.

Some guinea pigs benefit from being given a cuddly toy to sleep next to.

  1. Think about giving your guinea pig a new companion

If your surviving guinea pig still has years of life ahead of them or seems to be struggling alone, you may want to consider finding them a new friend. As much as we can love a guinea pig and give them attention, we can never quite live up to time spent with their own species.

There are lots of myths about keeping guinea pigs. One of the most prevalent is that boars (males) fight or can’t be bonded to someone new.

In reality, there is lots that you can do to help your surviving guinea pig find a friend. A good starting point is to find a local, reputable guinea pig rescue. They will often let potential pairs meet and help you assess the initial meeting.

If you do decide to bring a new guinea pig home, it is recommended that you quarantine them for two weeks before introducing them to your existing pig. This is to make sure that they don’t have a URI, mites or a fungal infection that might threaten your resident guinea pig’s health.

Ideally, guinea pigs should be introduced on neutral territory. If you have a guinea pig run outside of your usual cage, for example, this is perfect. Alternatively, you could shut off your kitchen or other room in your house and let your resident guinea pig meet their new friend while running around in there.

Put a huge pile of hay in the enclosure with the two guinea pigs and try to ensure that there are at least two hides, two food bowls and two water bottles – that way they won’t have to fight for resources while they get to know each other. Providing enough hay to eat, hide in and play with is often the perfect distraction.

You may notice the guinea pigs chasing, rumbling, teeth chattering or trying to mount one another; this is a typical display of dominance but doesn’t mean the friendship is doomed before it’s begun. The more space you can give the guinea pigs during their introduction, the better. Scuffles are normal, even between bonded guinea pigs, so try not to panic.

Many people find that introducing boars can be trickier than introducing sows. One of the most successful approaches is to choose a young, pre-pubescent male to join your older resident male guinea pig. The adult male will usually accept a young companion without much fuss and will have bonded with them by the time their hormones hit peak teenage attitude somewhere between six and twelve months old! 

Will your resident guinea pig be OK on their own?

One of the risks of pairing an older guinea pig with a young companion is that you can end up in a cycle where the younger pig is bereaved at a time when they still have years of life ahead of them.

For this reason, you may decide that adopting another guinea pig isn’t the right course of action. You can help your guinea pig to cope with this by giving them plenty of time and opportunities for enrichment (especially space to run about and plenty of interesting chances to forage).

If you do decide to go ahead and adopt another guinea pig, please don’t feel guilty. You are just prioritising the welfare of your resident guinea pig. The love you had for the pig you have lost remains the same, whatever the circumstances.

Whatever you decide and however you feel, know that you are not alone.

Shailen and The Ralph Site team
The Ralph Site, non-profit pet loss support

Grieving the loss of a rabbit

If you’ve come to The Ralph Site because you’re grieving the loss of a much-loved rabbit, then please accept our deepest sympathy and support.

As you’ve no doubt experienced first-hand, rabbits make wonderful companions, combining affection and loyalty with a curious and playful nature.

Losing a rabbit can leave a huge hole in your life, routine and home.

The loss of a rabbit can come as a shock

Sadly, the latest research shows that the vast majority of domestic rabbits die prematurely. If this is something you are dealing with, you’re certainly not alone. The most common causes of death include teeth problems, flystrike, weight loss, collapse and bloat (gut stasis).

Rabbits are a prey species. This means that they have evolved to hide the signs of illness for as long as possible. Doing this makes them less likely to be targeted by predators or cut off from the protection of their social group.

But the ability to hide illness comes at a price for the rabbit and their human caregivers. By the time it’s noticeable that a rabbit is ill, they’re often in the late stages of a health problem or illness and it’s too late to save them.

Pet loss guilt

As we’ve explored in past blogs, guilt seems to be one of the most common and difficult emotions associated with pet loss. In large part this is because our pets are unable to tell us what’s wrong and so we have to make decisions on their behalf, doing the best we can with the information we have.

This can be especially hard when dealing with a prey animal. If you are grieving for a rabbit that died unexpectedly or prematurely, you may feel upset that you didn’t pick up on signs that they were ill sooner.

Please try to be kind to yourself about this. You may need to practice self-forgiveness in order to be able to let go of your guilt. As we’ve seen, rabbits will hide that they’re ill for as long as physically possible. Even people who have cared for rabbits for years, including those running dedicated rabbit rescues or experienced vets, can miss the signs that all is not well.

It is also fair to say that our collective knowledge about rabbit welfare and husbandry is not as developed as for dogs and cats. As such, we are still somewhat in the dark when it comes to understanding what causes the common health problems that affect domesticated rabbits.

Even if you are one of the ‘lucky’ minority who has cared for a rabbit well into their old age, it doesn’t minimise your loss or the pain you’re feeling. When it comes to our pets, we never have enough time with them.

A disenfranchised grief

When a beloved rabbit dies, it can feel like a lonely experience. Generally speaking, pet loss is seen as a type of disenfranchised grief, which is when the grief is not fully recognised by our wider society.

People who have never experienced pet loss often see it as an experience that’s self-inflicted or view pets as commodities that can be easily replaced.

As pet carers we know better. We know that the loss of a pet can be just as painful and distressing as the loss of a human friend or companion, even if it is an expected part of caring for an animal.

Within the pet caring community itself, many people feel that pet bereavement conversations centre on dogs and cats. This can add an extra level of disenfranchisement if you don’t feel that fellow pet carers recognise how much your rabbit meant to you.

We want you to know that we see your grief and we understand it.

One only has to spend a little bit of time with a rabbit to see what special animals they are.

Taking care of yourself

The most important thing right now is that you take care of yourself. You will find lots of blogs on The Ralph Site to help you.

Ideally, share with your loved ones how you’re feeling and what your loss means to you. If you are finding that difficult for whatever reason, you might find it helpful to talk to someone through the Blue Cross’s excellent Pet Bereavement Support Service.

You can also find plenty of like-minded pet carers in The Ralph Site’s private Facebook group. There are a number of people who have lost rabbits and will understand the special bond you shared with your bunny.


Helping your rabbit’s bonded companion

Was your rabbit one of a bonded pair or small group?

In addition to your own grief, you may be wondering how you can help your remaining rabbit(s) come to terms with their loss. Sadly, they will be grieving too. Bonded rabbits live very closely together, spending hours playing, grooming, sleeping and eating in close proximity. When one dies, it can be traumatic for the one left behind.

In case you’re in this predicament and worried about your remaining rabbit’s well-being, we’ve put together some advice for you:

  1. Let your remaining rabbit say goodbye

Rabbits are social animals and, as such, they can grieve intensely for a bonded companion. If at all possible, try to give your surviving rabbit time alone with their deceased companion so that they can begin to say goodbye.

Several leading rabbit rescues recommend leaving the two together for between one and three hours. During this time, you may notice the surviving rabbit sniffing, nudging, grooming or even hopping on their companion to try to wake them. Once they understand that their friend has died, they will usually move away from the body. If this hasn’t happened within three hours, you might want to give them a bit longer together.

Observations of grieving rabbits have shown that spending time with a deceased companion can make the overall experience of grief easier for the surviving rabbit. Where a rabbit hasn’t had a chance to say goodbye, they may wait for their companion to return, even if it means not eating or taking care of themselves.

Of course, if your rabbit died suddenly at the vets, it may not be possible to let your remaining rabbit say goodbye. You can still help your surviving pet, so please try not to worry.

If you think your rabbit may have died of something contagious, it’s important to seek veterinary advice straight away about treatment options for your rabbit’s mate.

  1. Keep an eye on your remaining rabbit

You may notice some changes to your grieving rabbit’s behaviour. This is to be expected. Most commonly, a bereaved rabbit will lose their appetite for a while and they may seem depressed and lethargic. Some rabbits become more affectionate, shadowing their human carers everywhere they go, while others deal with their grief by being grumpy and grunting or running away when anyone tries to interact with them. They may even show signs of aggression, even if they’ve never been aggressive in the past. With time, this behaviour should pass.

As we mentioned above, you will just need to keep an eye on the surviving rabbit to make sure that they are eating and drinking, even if a little less than usual. 

Give them plenty of attention and affection – you will probably find that it helps you as much as it helps your rabbit’s bonded friend.

  1. Give your rabbit a soft toy to cuddle

Your surviving rabbit is probably used to having their friend to cuddle up to for warmth and companionship. Some rabbits benefit from having a soft toy placed where they like to sleep so that the sense of comfort continues as much as possible.

You may also be able to help your rabbit cope with their grief by providing them with new toys and opportunities for enrichment.

  1. Maintain your rabbit’s usual routine

Most animals thrive on having a predictable routine or things in their environment that they can predict. For this reason, it’s important that you try to maintain your surviving rabbit’s usual routine, even though you are coping with your own grief.

You may both find it comforting to interact with each other as much as possible. Your rabbit is bound to pick up on your emotions but, hopefully, you can bring each other some much-needed love and kindness.

  1. Consider adopting a new friend for your rabbit

As social animals, the majority of rabbits do best when they have a bonded friend to live with. This is especially true when a rabbit has always been part of a pair or small group. 

It isn’t a case of replacing the rabbit who has died. Instead, it’s a case of helping your remaining rabbit through their grief by giving them the company of a friend who, as the same species, understands their language.

If you do decide you have room in your life for another rabbit, then it’s important to think about the age, temperament and requirements of your existing rabbit and their new friend. Rabbit rescue centres will often let you bring in your surviving rabbit to meet potential companions so that you go home with a good match.

Introductions should be managed slowly and carefully to give a new bond the greatest chance of success.

If you’re not ready to adopt another rabbit or you don’t feel it’s the right course of action, your remaining rabbit should be fine as long as he or she receives plenty of love and attention from you.

You may feel guilty about welcoming a new rabbit into your home so soon but please know that you are just looking after the welfare of your remaining rabbit. The love you feel for the rabbit you have lost will not change or lessen.

Whatever you decide and however you feel, know that you’re not alone.

Shailen and The Ralph Site team
The Ralph Site, non-profit pet loss support