When a Pet is Lost

The anxiety and pain associated with a misplaced loved one is tremendous.  A parent that discovers a son or daughter soldier that is overseas that becomes missing in action, or a lost child, if even for those first seconds at a store are intense pains.  The continuing agony over the next days, months and years lead to a unresolved and ambigiuous grief that has no ending or conclusion to heal from.   The constant suffering of wondering what happened can torture the soul.   The desire to hope can also be a paradox.  On one side, hope can be inspirational, but on the other side, it can become delusional and a prevention from acceptance and adaptation to the loss.   This deep fog of grief with no conclusion can lead individuals to variety paths of despair or unhealthy hope.

Unresolved Loss in Losing a Pet

It is important to not forget pet owners.  This disenfranchised group many times are overlooked in pet deaths.  The common quirks that is only a cat or dog, or one can simply get another one are all too common insensitive remarks that pet owners are exposed to.  It is no wonder then, that pet owners are sometimes also forgotten when a pet is stolen or lost.  It is important to not assume that many of the same feelings of anxiety and depression are not present for a pet owner.

There is nothing more terrifying and anxiety inducing than losing a pet. Please also review AIHCP’s Pet Loss Grief Support Certification


In fact, a pet owner who loses a dog or cat, or has a pet stolen will indeed experience the same questions.  They will wonder what happened, or if my pet is OK, or if my pet is hurt, or if my pet is being treated horribly and these thoughts will torture them.  As the years go by, the same imprint of doubt will exist within the pet owner.  They will experience the same trauma as any person who loses a loved one.  Of course, some pet owners, may  not form attachments with their pets, as some, but for those who understand the true bond between human and pet, the pain remains the same.

Imagine losing a dog and never knowing what became of the once beloved dog that everyday welcomed you home and depended on your love and care?  When dogs or cats or horses or other pets are lost or stolen, the same fears, doubts and anxiety exist in pet owners.   There is also the same decision to give up hope or to continue the belief that maybe one day one will be reunited.  There is also the emotion of falling into complete despair and giving up.  Ultimately, the inability to form some type of conclusion as to what happened to one’s pet can keep one up all night.  Unlike, a pet who had died, one is left with terrifying thoughts of what possibly could have happened.  Was my pet hit by a car and left to the side of the road?  Was my pet mistreated by some unscrupulous person?  Was my pet hopefully found by a loving person?

Sometimes good things can happen.  For those lamenting the most horrible, allow me to introduce one small story.  My family discovered one day on the side of the road a beautiful black and white Siberian Husky.  As a family that loves Siberian Huskies, my family immediately retrieved the hungry and tired boy and fed him and gave him shelter.  Various online and paper ads were given out but to no answer.  After numerous months, the Siberian Husky became well adjusted to his new family and other dogs.  He lived a long 8 to 10 years and had a very loving and peaceful happy death.

Hope, Despair, Guilt, Blame

So hope or despair?  How the mind copes in unresolved grief varies on individuals.   Resiliency, support mechanisms, and outlooks all vary from person to person in these types of losses.  It important to note that since it grants no finality, this type of grief is prolonged, can lead to severe anxiety and also develop into depression.  When individuals fail to cope, they can lose interest in daily life and activities.  They can also start to isolate and find little joy in life.  When these situations occur, it is imperative to find the proper professional counseling that can help with cognitive therapies or provide necessary medications.  Some pet owners may also in their despair enter into extreme guilt.  They will second guess their choices or wish they would have done this or that, or they may have been temporarily angry at their pet before the pet went missing.  These issues of guilt will need addressed in counseling and logically dismissed.  There is also the issue of resentment and blaming of other family members who may have made a mistake in letting the pet loose.  In these events, all parties are deeply hurt and sad and once passed the raw emotion, it is time to move past and forgive.  The reality is one’s pet is greatly loved and despite short comings or mistakes, or could have or would have scenarios, one needs to focus on the love that was shared not the mistakes or temporary emotions.

The pain of not knowing what has happened with one’s pet is the greatest pain of unresolved and ambiguous grief


If one chooses to hope, then this should not be dismissed.  Obviously, one must identify pathological hoping that places unrealistic expectations and negative coping.  For instance, if one feels they can never again leave the house for fear they may miss the return of their dog, or develop sleep disorders for fear of missing the sound of a bark, then an individual may need professional help, but if one wishes to push forth hope in productive ways, then it can be a beneficial way to help adjust to the loss itself.

Many individuals who deal with unresolved grief through missing persons utilize their energy in ways to produce social change.  For MIA soldiers, many families may form organizations or movements that bring recognition to it.  Some who lose a pet may feel the need to supply helpful tips to prevent losing a pet or bring recognition to various animal shelters, or be a voice against animal abuse.  In this way, their energy and loss bears some fruit and value and ultimately allows one to find some purpose in the loss itself.

How Can I Prevent Losing a Dog or Cat or Horse?

Despite all best efforts, a pet can get loose, run away, or be stolen but there are some preventative measures one can take to minimize these things.  First, it is important to tag your animal with a collar with appropriate contact information.  Second, all pets should be electronically chipped.  One can even list on the tag that your pet is electronically chipped if someone finds your pet.  In addition, one can have trackers put into a pet’s collar that sends information to one’s cell phone.  Of course, this is only as good as the collar staying around the pet’s neck and the device’s battery charge.  Third, be sure that your surrounding neighbors know your pet and his or her name.  Fourth, secure your home.  Ensure visitors understand that doors need shut and windows need closed.  Many individuals need to build fences around their home.  Ensure your fence is equipped for the task and make any modifications needed.   Fifth, purchase proper collars and walking gear that is equipped for the breed’s urges and size. Sixth, when walking your pets, let them know their surroundings.  Let them mark the surrounding areas and teach them the word “home” in case they ever become lost.   Seventh, train your pet to return when called upon.  Treat and positive reinforcement for returning upon call are critical. Eighth, know your breed.  Some cats may be outside cats and return, other may be more nomadic. In regards to dogs, some breeds have great homing abilities, while other breeds like Siberian Huskies, will run and run until they become completely lost.  Some breeds may chase small mammals and become easily lost as well.

Make sure to chip your pet and ensure all vital information is listed on his collar ID


When losing a pet, it is important to discern when.  Quickly running out and looking is imperative to tracking down a pet but unfortunately sometimes, pets vanish when while one is away or asleep or preoccupied, it is important to be decisive within the first hours, days and weeks.  In my personal experience, I have lost pets from 20 minutes to 2 hours to a full week.  Every single one of incidents is an anxiety ridden and fear filled episode of life.  So it is critical to be proactive early.   After searching and calling friends and family and even stopping every stranger on road if he or she has seen one’s pet, one must remain proactive.  This includes calling all vet clinics.  If one’s pet is chipped, there is a good chance a good Samaritan will take one’s pet to a local vet.  The more clinics called, the better chances of finding one’s pet if indeed he or she was picked up.   In addition to animal clinics, one should also contact animal shelters and any municipal animal centers as well as fire, police and mail services.  In addition, posting on FB and other social media platforms can be extremely helpful.  Numerous times, individuals post they have found a dog.  In fact, this is how I found one of my Siberian Husky’s through a random person on a bike who said he had seen the description of my dog on his feed.  (Miraculous).    Yet despite the 21st Century many social marvels, do not discount the power of basic 20th Century social contacting by merely posting a picture on a telephone pole or listing an ad in the paper with promise of reward.


It is my sincere hope, losing a pet is never permanent, but for those who suffer this deep pain, realize there are support groups and professional help that will recognize your pain.

Please also review AIHCP’s Pet Loss Grief Support Program and see if it meets your academic and professional goals


For those looking to help others with pet loss or losing a pet, please also review AIHCP’s Pet Loss Grief Support Program.  The program is online and independent study and open to qualified professionals seeking a four year certification in Pet Loss Grief Support.


Additional Resources

“Incomplete Endings: Coping With a Runaway or Lost Pet”. Clark, A. (2017). Psychology Today. Access here

“Lost Dog? What to Do If Your Pet Goes Missing”. AKC Staff. (2021). American Kennel Club. Access here

“What Ambiguous Loss Is and How To Deal With It”. HealthEssentials. (2022). Cleveland Clinic.  Access here

“What Is Ambiguous Grief and How to Begin Healing”. Sarazln, S. (2023). Psychology Today.  Access here



Ambiguous Grief

Ambiguous Grief is a loss that cannot find closure.  It often involves dealing with someone in coma, possesses a mental disorder that prevents them from living a fulfilling life, or cases of abduction, missing children, missing pets, or soldiers lost at war.  The person is unable to find closure in processing the type of loss.  Some give up hope because holding on hurts too much, while others never surrender.  Numerous emotions erupt in this type of loss. Individuals may be enraged or feel guilty.

Ambiguous grief and the pain of not knowing prevents closure. Please also review AIHCP’s Grief Counseling Certification


Some look to find meaning in the loss through social activism and helping others find closure.  Overall, it is a grief ripe with complications that haunts the person the rest of his or her life.  It is good to allow those who wish to hold on to hope to continue within realism, while others who need to let it go, to finally let it go.  Depression is very common with this type of loss so in many cases extensive counseling and support is needed.

Please also review AIHCP’s Grief Counseling Certification and see if it matches your academic and professional goals.  The program is online and independent study and open to qualified professionals seeking a four year certification


Please review the video below

The Conflicting Emotions of Anticipatory Grief and Ambiguous Grief

When loss is less definite but lingering in the balance, one can begin to feel like life is a fog and one is living with a ghost.  This is very common with family and friends of the terminally ill.  The sentence has been passed and the loss is being experienced but it has yet to occur.  This type of anticipatory grief can cause confusion and create obstacles in loving the person who is still alive.  Instead of appreciating what time is left, one mentally is thinking of the funeral and the tomb.  This prevents the few joys that remain and the beautiful conversations that still can be shared.   In addition, this can later lead to complications of the loss after it occurs, as one may feel guilt over the final days.  Others may feel relief that the state of limbo is over but still feel guilty for feeling relief.  Many times Grief Counselors are needed to help individuals through the crisis.

Anticipatory grief is grief before the loss. It is anticipatory in many ways. It mourns the loss and fears the loss.

Anticipatory grief happens to many individuals and while it is natural during trying and stressful times, individuals must be alert enough to understand the presence and better able to navigate.  Primary caregivers, such as spouses, face caregiver burnout during this time.  They are not able to mourn or feel happiness, but instead deal with a magnitude of emotions.  Resentment, mental fatigue, grief, and guilt can all occur.  After the actual death, many primary caregivers feel a relief.  This is especially true of loved ones who no longer could communicate or barely function.

Ambiguous grief can be very similar to Anticipatory in that usually also deals with terminally ill but in most of these cases the loved one is no longer physically or mentally present.  So in many ways both griefs can exist.  However, there is no true way to find complete closure.  This is also the case with loved ones who are lost in war or go missing.  The individual is unable to find complete closure.

The article, “When There’s No Hallmark Card for Your Grief”. by Jessica Fein looks closer at ambiguous grief.   As the title describes, without closure or a loss event, there are no condolence cards because the death has yet to occur but nonetheless the grieving individual is experiencing and expecting a loss at the same time.   This type of confusion causes many conflicting emotions.  The article states,

“Coined by therapist Dr. Pauline Boss in the 1970s, ambiguous grief means mourning the loss of someone who hasn’t died but is no longer physically present or mentally present. In the former, your loved one might have gone missing in war, for example. In the latter, your loved one might be suffering from dementia or drug addiction or, as in my daughter’s case, a degenerative disease that slowly took away her ability to communicate. With ambiguous grief, there’s no closure because the grieving remains unresolved.”

“When There’s No Hallmark Card for Your Grief”. Jessica Fein.  March 9th, 2023.  Psychology Today.

To access the entire article, please click here


Anticipatory as well as Ambiguous grief causes many conflicting emotions as stated.  It is a place of limbo.  The loss itself is has yet to occur but it has been declared.  This can cause early reactions to loss or force individuals into a isolation and numb mode of existence.  The individual awaits the impending death sentence.  The issue at hand is the loss has yet to occur and time remains to experience love with the terminally ill person.

This can cause multiple emotions.  Grief Counselors can help individuals sort out the meaning of many of these emotions.

Anticipatory Grief

In regards to relief, many find a relief for a loved one who finally passes.  Seeing a loved one become more ill and less capable makes seeing the existence of the loved one more painful.  In many cases, individuals hope for the end.  As ironic as this is, the fear of the loss has been lessened by the pain and suffering of the loved one.  This in turn can cause relief in the actual death.  This relief can also be felt by those who have expended excessive energy in care of the loved one.  For some the experience of this relief can be an anchor of guilt.  Grief Counselors can help individuals see that this relief is natural and acceptable and that one should experience guilt.

In addition to relief, others may feel guilt based upon how they interacted with the loved one while the deceased was still alive.  They may regret their isolation or lack of communication due to their ambiguous grief.  They may feel like they needed to be there more for the loved one.  They may also feel guilt for during those times, seeking to enjoy life itself.  These types of guilt are very common with long drawn out terminal illnesses.  The person after the death begins to analyze every thing he or she did or do not do.  This analyzation can cause distress and complicate the loss itself.  It is important to identify this type of guilt in grief counseling and dispel it.

Ambiguous Grief

Ambiguous grief has some elements of anticipatory grief in it but it also lacks closure in itself. There is no closure in the loss due to the medical condition or absence of the person


In regards to ambiguous grief, the lack of closure is decided due to the terminal illness not the individual who cares about the person.  The person is mentally or physically incapable of discussion or resembling who he or she once was.  This leads to a another type of limbo.  In addition, ambiguous grief can also affect individuals who lose loved ones to war or those who go missing.  There is no closure.

The inability to communicate to a ill loved one or say a coherent goodbye, or never to know where a loved one is who has been displaced or assumed dead at war are painful events that can impede healing and also rise to complications in the grieving process.  In relation to those who are missing, there is a torturing decision between abandoning hope and accepting loss.  One cannot simply dismiss the emptiness but one is tortured with doubt about what happened?  Nightmares can haunt these individuals.

The viciousness of this type of grief prevents healing and closure, it permits a constant torture between hope and despair.  The survivor is subjugated to perpetual suffering.  Many feel the need to find hope that someone will awaken from a coma, or return home from missing.  Others contribute to causes that reflect the nature of their loss.  Yet, the splinter of hope that one will return always exists and this in turn leaves the grief wound constantly open.

Some experience guilt in ever experiencing happiness again after a loss of a loved one.  Others feel guilty for losing hope and giving into despair.  There is a definite feeling of helplessness and this contributes to the prolonged and complications of grief itself.


AICHP offers a certification in Grief Counseling for qualified professionals. The program is independent study and online.


Both anticipatory grief and ambiguous grief can cause complications and prolonged grief.  Ambiguous grief though is far more toxic because in all cases there is no resolution or closure which leaves a permanent emptiness.  Individuals can keep hope, if they need it, but ultimately the unknow and ambiguity haunts the survivor.   Finding causes or promoting social awareness to issues surrounding the issue may help give purpose but the grief wound cannot heal without concrete closure. With this in mind, emotions such as guilt, helplessness and utter despair can dominate.

Anticipatory grief offers closure but closure can become more difficult due to how one handled the terminal illness prior to the death.  Hence emotions of guilt and relief are very common.  Anticipatory grief can exist in ambiguity as well as one awaits impending news.  Relief of knowing whether one is alive or dead can equally confusing when the bad news does finally arrive.

Grief Counselors can help with the loss but in most cases a licensed counselors are needed to offer deeper form of cognitive grief therapies to help individuals cope from prolonged grief due to the complications found in both of these types of losses.

Please also review AIHCP’s Grief Counseling Certification and see if it matches your academic and professional goals.  The program is online and independent study and open to qualified professionals seeking a four year certification in Grief Counseling.


Additional Resources

Locked in grief: a qualitative study of grief among family members of missing persons in southern Sri Lanka. Amila Isuru,  Padmakumara Bandumithra & S. S. Williams.  BMC Psychology volume 9, Article number: 167 (2021). BMC Psychology. Access here

“The Pain of Grieving for a Missing Person”. María Alejandra Castro Arbeláez. December 21st, 2022. Exploring Your Mind.  Access here

“Coping With Not Knowing What Happened to a Missing Loved One”. Raj Persaud, M.D. and Peter Bruggen, M.D.  June 17th, 2017. Psychology Today.  Access here

“What Is Anticipatory Grief?”. Cynthia Vinney.  November 10th, 2021. VeryWellMind. Access here

“Anticipatory Grief: Are You Mourning Before a Loss?”. Hillary Lebow. January 7th, 2022.  PsychCentral.  Access here

“Grieving Before A Death: Understanding Anticipatory Grief”. Litsa Williams. What’s Your Grief.  Access here