It’s important to be able to look after our pets and ourselves during what can be a difficult and upsetting time. We asked pet bereavement counsellor and founder of Living With Pet Bereavement, Dawn Murray, to take us through what to expect in dealing with end of life care and suggest ways of coping with the surrounding grief.

Palliative care

With our pets living longer and experiencing age-related issues many pet carers often find themselves looking to palliative care to help ease signs and symptoms of pain and suffering. 

Suffering is not measurable or quantifiable and will vary from pet to pet and you should seek veterinary advice prior to embarking on palliative care. 

Palliative care aims to improve quality of life by relieving pain and associated distressing symptoms and may be suggested by the vet if the pet has been diagnosed with a chronic illness e.g. arthritis, kidney disease or diabetes, or a terminal illness like cancer. Pain relief is crucial for many conditions to keep a pet from suffering, however with prolonged use or due to side effects, traditional pain relief may no longer be effective.  Veterinary CAM may offer the pet carer options and there can be a noticeable improvement in symptoms that cause our pet’s discomfort. 

I gave him pain relief from the vet regularly, but it would stop him from eating, so there was a balance being constantly tweaked between enough pain relief to help but not make him sick, and a few doses of homeopathy to ease discomfort.” Sara Kernohan on looking after her elderly cat, Shere Khan, in his final days. Too old to operate on his bad teeth, she used Silica, Gunpowder, Nit Ac and Hepar Sulph to ease things.

Shere Khan

Palliative care also involves monitoring a pet’s appetite and this needs to be maintained in order for them to get all the nutrients they need. This could involve switching to wet food, soaking dry food, giving appetite stimulants or hand feeding. Shere Khan again:

“Menu winners were porridge oats or rice cooked in homemade chicken bone broth with a little bit of butter or cream stirred in.  I then picked the chicken off the broth bones and mashed it into the broth, offering that to him a teaspoon at a time. Bone broth would be put down for him to boost his liquid intake too.” 

Depending on the pet, their environment may have to be adapted too e.g. low front access on litter trays, ramps or non-slip mats or raised feeding bowls. Also, if a pet’s eyesight has deteriorated remember not to move furniture around, keep it in the same place to avoid accidents.

It is important for a pet receiving palliative care to have fun times too.  Interacting with our pets helps keep them stimulated as might allowing them to meet with other dogs. If time permits and the animal is well enough, some pet carers may want to draw up a ‘bucket list’ for their pet and take them back to all their favourite places like the park or beach.

When the time comes 

Of course, the time will come when all avenues have been exhausted and it is no longer possible to continue with treatment or care for the pet. The pet carer wants to ensure that their pet will have a peaceful, painless and dignified death. It is important that the pet carer can discuss any concerns they may have about euthanasia with their vet. Their fears and concerns are very real to them and any questions the pet carer has should be answered honestly and directly. 

The vet has the advantage of medical experience and for most, personal experience, and they will know what stage the pet is at given its age, illness or disease. This does not mean the vet makes the ultimate decision to euthanise a pet, nor should the pet carer try to shift the responsibility onto the vet, ultimately the decision lies with the pet carer.

Most pet carers will be anxious and concerned that they will not know when the time is right to let their pets be euthanised, but most pet carers do end up knowing, or they get a feeling, that the time has come when they need to say goodbye to their pet. 

It can be like a switch going on, a fleeting glance with their pet or a feeling deep in their stomach, or they may see a tiredness in their pet’s eyes. With realisation that the time has come and the time is right to make the appointment for euthanasia, the pet carer may find themselves operating on auto-pilot or nervous energy. This is due to the stress hormones, adrenalin and cortisol, being released – these are natural built-in mechanisms to protect us and help us cope during stressful times. 

The care we give our pets during this part of their life is as important as any other. Holistic Vet Ilse Pedler recommends things like Rescue Remedy, Pet Remedy or Nutracalm to help calm and comfort your pet when it’s time for their last visit to the vet.

Aftercare if you choose cremation

When you attend a funeral for a human, you can more or less guarantee that the crematorium will be of a particular standard. However, this is not necessarily the case when it comes to pet crematoria as they are not governed by anyone. They may have had the appropriate licences to operate, yet the standards vary greatly. It’s important for the pet carer to know exactly what standards the pet crematorium/cemetery operates under before agreeing to send their pet there.

Pet carers are not restricted to using the pet crematorium their vet recommends, there are many privately owned pet crematoriums and cemeteries throughout the UK who, as Pet Undertakers, offer a dignified and professional service. Pet carers travel from all over the UK to have their pets cremated or buried at their chosen crematorium/cemetery.  Pet crematoriums and cemeteries in the UK are licensed to carry out the work they do, however, what sets them apart is the standard of service they provide.  When pet carers know what crematorium or cemetery they wish their pet to go to (ideally prior to the death of their pet) this will help them cope with the inevitable grieving process knowing that they did everything right for their animal. 

Self-care in the early days

When we lose a much loved pet, we have to address three issues – we have to deal initially with the loss, then adjust to our lives without our pet and finally take back control of our lives. 

It is fairly basic but sage advice to look after yourself during bereavement. Self-care is so important yet our own physical health and well-being is often the first to be ignored, in turn making life and grieving harder to cope with.   

Working to a routine can help with eating, sleeping and exercising. You may have lost your appetite and not wish to eat, however trying to eat something light is better than not even attempting to eat anything. 

Emotional stress is draining and makes you feel very tired. Getting the right amount of sleep is important. Avoiding alcohol and caffeine and having a pre-bedtime routine helps. Getting out of the house into the fresh air can help, or any type of exercise you are able to do.  

Fresh air and nature can help with grief


Complementary or alternative therapies have been shown to have a very positive impact on those who are grieving. There are a variety of therapies and choosing the one that suits you is important.  

Therapies are known to relieve stress and improve overall immunity, improve mental and physical well-being, release tension and encourage relaxation. You may wish to explore the following therapies and decide what one suits you best:

  • Grounding
  • Relaxation
  • Mindfulness
  • Breathing exercises
  • Crystal Healing
  • Art Therapy
  • Acupuncture
  • Herbs / homeopathy
  • Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT)
  • NLP Therapies (Neuro Linguistic Programing)
  • Meditation
  • Reiki
  • Aromatherapy
  • Massage
  • Laughter Yoga
  • Creative Writing – keep a journal
  • Reflexology

Taking a (homeopathic) remedy like Ignatia, the classic grief remedy, can often help enormously and a remedy like Cocculus, the ultimate carer’s remedy, can help you rationalise the decision you’re having to make.” Holistic Vet Ilse Pedler.

Do pets grieve?

There is no easy way for us, as humans, to properly understand what emotions our pets experience at the time of a loss, however there is evidence to suggest that our pets do grieve.

Like humans, pets show their feelings in a manner of different ways. They may express their feelings by stopping eating and playing or they may become withdrawn or sleep more. Possibly the surviving pet is simply adjusting to its new position in the household, or the pet is truly experiencing a loss of its own, perhaps it’s a bit of both. At this time, we must also remember that the surviving pet will be able to sense their owner’s sorrow and that in turn will influence their behaviour. 

Allowing a surviving pet or pets to see the body of their deceased companion helps them cope better, although in some cases, this may not always be possible, owing to the nature of the death. Seeing the body of its companion may give the surviving pet some sort of acceptance, or at least some explanation as to what has happened to their companion. For a surviving bonded pet, not to know where its companion has gone must be heart-breaking.

Introducing some sort of CAM support for a surviving pet can help e.g. DAP (Dog Appeasing Pheromone) diffuser, some Rescue Remedy or homeopathic Ignatia may help.  

Keep to the same routine as much as possible for the surviving pet; walks, feeding and bedtime. This will give them a sense of security. 

Looking after remaining pets is important for you both

You should however bear in mind that a surviving pet may have a medical condition. If you are in any doubt about your pet’s health, then you should seek veterinary advice. 

Regardless of the level of grieving a surviving pet goes through, the pet carer should be made aware that there will be, in some cases, significant changes within the household unit. The pet carer will find that the dynamics may change between them and the surviving pet or pets. Similarly, the dynamics between any surviving pets will also change. However, some may not show any outward signs of loss, and some may in fact, enjoy their new found position within the family.

Pet Bereavement Counselling

There are times during palliative care, euthanasia or the grieving period when you may feel that you could do with a little extra support, reassurance or guidance, and that help is available.

Pet bereavement counsellors are readily available nowadays, yet they are not regulated by a governing body.   Qualified and successful pet bereavement counsellors will have a website giving all the information you need to know and you should check that they have the right qualifications (minimum of a Diploma in Pet Bereavement Counselling), the relevant experience and that you will be assigned the same counsellor for the duration you require support. Successful counselling depends on building trust and rapport with a client, therefore you should feel comfortable with your choice of pet bereavement counsellor.  Those offering the best service will be happy to answer any questions you have prior to booking a session.

Living with Pet Bereavement offers a free counselling service, support group and courses for those who wish to become pet bereavement counsellor (see below).

Useful links

Pet Euthanasia in Lockdown by Holistic Vet Ilse Pedler

Details of Rescue Remedy, Pet Remedy and Nutracalm

Nursing the Elderly Cat ~ Shere Khan’s Story by CAM4animal cofounder Sara Kernohan

Holistic Healthcare for Your Senior Dog by Caroline Hearn of Hedgerow Hounds

Canine Dementia ~ Enrichment and Exercise by Joe Nutkins of Dog Training for Essex and Suffolk

For more blogs about elderly animal care see here

To find out more about herbs and homeopathy see our Modalities section

To find a holistic vet or CAM practitioner see here

Dawn Murray

With over two decades of experience supporting pet carers pre, during and post the death of their much-loved pets, Dawn Murray is one of the UK’s leading pet bereavement counsellors. She founded Living with Pet Bereavement and has recently written a self-help guide, Surviving Pet Loss (see website for details). All profits from the book go to animal charities.

Amongst her qualifications Dawn has Diplomas in Pet Bereavement Counselling, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP). She also worked for many years as a Pet Undertaker. She is a qualified CPD presenter.

Recognised as an expert in her field Dawn is described by the press as a ‘Pet Bereavement Specialist’.

Dawns work as a pet undertaker was highlighted in a BBC documentary and she is regularly asked to participate in both local and national Radio and television programmes, and most recently she was invited onto the ‘PM’ show on BBC Radio 4 where she was asked to discuss pet bereavement after Prince William and Catherine lost their dog, Lupo.

Dawns unique style allows clients to feel at ease safe in the knowledge that she will support and guide them through their darkest days and clients are referred to her by Veterinary Schools and Doctors.

She has experienced pet bereavement many times herself and  fully understands the devastating impact a loss like this can have on your life. Dawn is also the founder of Ray of Hope and has raised thousands of pounds over the years to help animal charities.

Dawn lives in West Lothian with her husband Dave, their gorgeous whippets Cammy & Georgie and their stunning tortoiseshell cat Hilda.

Disclaimer – Where blogs have been created by a guest author, CAM4Animals has reproduced this in good faith but cannot be held responsible for any inaccuracies of information in it or any use you make of this information

This blog may also contain an element of consumer opinionWhilst CAM4animals welcomes positive recommendations for holistic healthcare products, we don’t necessarily endorse the product or the author’s opinion. We acknowledge that each animal is an individual and may react differently to the highlighted product/s. There may also be other products available that produce similarly positive results.

The veterinary Surgeon’s Act 1966 restricts the treatment of animals (usually other than your own*) by anyone other than a qualified vet. Always consult a veterinary surgeon if you are concerned about your animal’s health. *For full details visit the RCVS website