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Published: Nov 13, 2012

Pet loss is difficult for everyone - many families and owners grieve the loss of a feline or canine companion the same way they would a human. Losing a cat, dog or other pet is terrible when it occurs in your life,  but it can be just as hard to watch a friend go through the bereavement process. Fortunately, there are certain ways you can help your friend as he or she mourns the loss.

Understand the stages of grief
Feelings of grief can be confusing, and people tend to feel even more puzzled or embarrassed about their feelings when mourning the loss of a pet, according to VCA Animal Hospitals. Although the emotions can seem strange, they usually follow a well-recognized cycle that includes five stages, which vary in length or intensity depending on the individual or circumstance.

The first step is shock and denial, which comes before anger, whether at the pet, oneself or veterinarians who cared for the pet in its final days. These stages are followed by bargaining and regret, then depression often sets in. Depression typically lasts the longest, but is followed by the fifth and final stage, acceptance. During this stage, owners can talk freely about their loss and assess the situation more rationally to eventually move on.

Show your condolences
Sending a greeting card or other token of your sympathy is a classic and effective way to show a friend you are thinking of him or her and the loss. Consider creating a personalized card yourself that will recall the pet's personality, or a small gift such as an ornament that will serve as a memorial. It may also be a nice idea to make a donation on behalf of your friend or the pet. The Humane Society of the United States, American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and many pet shelters across the U.S. accept memorial donations and will send a card to the friend to recognize the gift.

Keep playing
If your friend has other pets, they may be grieving the loss, too. One way to help all members of the grieving family is to invite them out for a playdate, recommends. This could involve a hike in the woods with the dogs or just a few hours playing with the cat. Involving your friend's other pets in play with your own animals can provide comfort to both human and pet.