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The Emotional Rollercoaster After a Dog’s Death

On the first night after my dog Baxter died, I felt sad and tired. But there were two other emotions I didn’t expect: calm and surprised. To be more accurate, I was surprised by how calm my mind was.

Baxter had been sick for months. For the last two weeks of his life, he had been very, very sick.

I fed him by syringe, picked him up when he didn’t have the strength to get up himself, slept on the living room couch when he didn’t come to his bed in the bedroom, and been with him (or arranged to have someone with him) constantly.

I had been hyper-focused on him. And I didn’t realize how much I had been listening, watching and thinking about him until I wasn’t.

That quiet in my mind was a huge relief.

Dog owners experience an emotional rollercoaster after a dog’s death. Grief and loss are the first that come to mind, but there are many more beyond sadness and tears.

I’m Julia, and I write regularly for That Mutt. I’m also a blogger over at Home on 129 Acres.

Feeling Relief After a Dog Dies

When a pet is sick, as Baxter was, their death may bring some relief. Relief that your dog isn’t suffering anymore. But also relief that you don’t have to care for him.

Taking care of Baxter those last few weeks was all-consuming. I had done it willingly, and I would have continued if I thought he was still enjoying his life or if there had been a chance he would recover. But it was stressful. I miss my dog, absolutely, but when he died I was relieved that I wasn’t in that anxious, hyper-vigilant state anymore.

Baxter at sunset, emotional rollercoaster after a dog dies
Baxter

Loneliness After a Dog Dies

Dogs are our companions. For Baxter and me, that meant every night after I put our daughter to bed, it was just us. He wasn’t a great conversationalist, but he listened without judgment and was someone to talk to when the house was quiet.

Toddler lying beside a dog
Ellie and Baxter

Even if you don’t talk to your dog, their presence can be a comfort. Seeing them curled up beside you, listening to them pad along the floor, or having them nudge your hand when they want a pet is part of our routine. We have unique relationships with our dogs and we can feel lonely when they’re not with us.

Disruption in Routine After a Dog Dies – Emotional Rollercoaster

Dogs are part of our daily lives. Their deaths cause changes in our routines. In the days immediately following Baxter’s death, I would catch myself listening for him or I’d wake up in the morning and think about letting him outside, only to realize he wasn’t there.

The biggest change for me was our afternoon walks. I loved walking out over our fields with Baxter every day. Connecting with nature, our farm and our dog recharged me.

Baxter walking along the edge of a field
Baxter

Baxter’s death changed that. I don’t have to go for a walk anymore. I still go outside and walk almost every day, but sometimes I get caught up in work or whatever our daughter wants to do and don’t take this time for myself.

When I do make it out, the walks feel different without our furry golden boy.

It can take time to adjust to your new life without your dog, and the change can feel uncomfortable for awhile. It’s an emotional rollercoaster after a dog’s death, for sure.

Feeling Freedom After a Dog Dies

It has now been almost 9 months since Baxter’s death. I miss having a dog in my life. But there is a part of me that is enjoying some of the freedom of not having a dog.

At the end of the night, I can just go to bed. I don’t have to put on a coat and shoes and take the dog outside. I can leave home during the day and not watch the clock thinking I have to be home to take the dog for a walk.

But… then we go to a dog friendly store and I see someone there with their dog and wish we were too. Or we go for a hike and I think making time for daily walks would be no big deal.

Feeling Guilty After a Dog Dies

That feeling of freedom may lead to feelings of guilt for some dog owners. I can’t say that guilt is something I’ve felt much with Bax, but taking care of a sick dog takes a lot of time.

Lindsay (the owner of this blog) shared that after her dog Ace’s death, she felt guilty. Not guilty about Ace’s death but guilty for feeling “free” from taking care of him.

“Suddenly I had two extra hours in my day not caring for him and it was both heartbreaking and freeing,” she said.

The emotional rollercoaster after a dog's death
Ace

“It took a couple of hours a day to get him outside for his potty breaks, attempt a very, very slow walk, to give him his medications and to make sure he ate something. I loved taking care of Ace and would do it again in a heartbeat. But when he passed away, I did feel guilty because I was free from that responsibility.”

She also said she was excited about the opportunity to spend more time with her younger dog, Remy. It was a lot to split time between caring for a senior dog and training a youngster. Now, she suddenly had all this time to spend exercising and training her younger dog. You can read more about those emotions here.

Fun With A New Dog – Emotional Rollercoaster Continues

Free time does not apply, of course, if you add a new dog to your family right away. Or you may already have another dog in your household.

In my friend’s case, a basset hound puppy came their way during their old dog’s last few weeks. The puppy brought new joy to their family—including their original dog—even as they struggled with his decline.

“I never planned on a ‘replacement’ dog while he was alive, but she found us and that made his last two weeks more full of life,” she says.

Right from the start, the two dogs got along. The older dog found new energy to play and chase, and when he needed a rest, the puppy slept beside him.

Another dog, whether new or already part of your pack, can bring happiness and comfort when you’re grieving the loss of your dog.

Why is Losing a Dog So Painful?

A dog is an important part of your family. He fills a role that no one else can. Just like each dog is an individual, we each experience death and grief in our own ways. Your feelings are your own and I hope that you can accept your emotions, whatever they are, as you go through this difficult time.

What are some of the emotions you’ve experienced after the death of a pet?

Would you describe a pet’s death as an emotional rollercoaster?

Let us know in the comments.

Related articles:

Julia Preston writes for That Mutt about dog behavior and training, working dogs and life on her farm in Ontario, Canada. She has a sweet, laid-back boxer mix named Baxter. She is also a blogger at Home on 129 Acres where she writes about her adventures of country living and DIY renovating.

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Tressna

Tuesday 9th of February 2021

I cried reading this blog post. I still feel a keen and profound loss and guilt that I couldn't prevent my dog's death. He was 14 and had dementia and I did everything I could to make him safe but he still had an accident. I feel that I can never forgive myself. It's nearly two years (in 8 weeks) but I still miss him. I have a ten year old and a 2 year old puppy - and they give me joy.

Lindsay

Tuesday 9th of February 2021

@Tressna, I'm so sorry you had to go through such a difficult loss. My mom's dog also had dementia and was also deaf, so I understand somewhat how quickly accidents can happen.

Sandy Sutter

Tuesday 9th of February 2021

Tug died only 3 months ago and I am in the midst of missing him, relief he is gone as his deteriorating condition made him a hazard to us as well as to himself, and feeling I let him down. He was more devoted to us than any other dog we have had and his big personality dominated our home and other pets. I am building my relationship with other dog, Adele, which suffered both from Tug’s big presence and his failing physical condition. Her personality is now coming out and that too makes me feel guilty. The grief no longer washes over me daily but little things bring him to mind and I grieve.

Lindsay Stordahl

Tuesday 9th of February 2021

Oh I'm so sorry to hear that Tug died. I was just thinking about him this week. I also had feelings that I might have let Ace down, even though I know he would never think that way.

Nancy Stordahl

Saturday 6th of February 2021

Hi Julia,

I relate to everything you addressed. After Sophie died, my emotions definitely were all over the map. At times, they still are. For ex, around 5 pm was the time of day we took our daily walk right up to the end, and this time of day is still really hard. Taking care of her during her final weeks, actually months, was difficult for a lot of reasons. After she died, I have had moments of guilt for experiencing what you called "that quiet in my mind".

Bottom line, pet grief is real grief too, and it's hard. Thank you for writing more about your sweet Baxter and the grief we feel when our pets die.