Grieving the loss of your pet

Read the US version here or read the French version here.

Watching your guinea pigs and rabbits dash around and munch contentedly on hay, it can be hard to imagine that one day in the future, they’ll sadly no longer be around. Losing one of your little furry pals can be SO tough but it is possible to cope with grief for your pet as well as helping your surviving pets move on too.

Guinea pigs have an average life expectancy of between 5 to 8 years, while rabbits live between 8 to 12 years. For such tiny creatures, that’s not bad going. But, of course, every pet parent wishes they could still get more time with their beloved furry friends.

Girl playing with rabbits outside

Sharing Pet Grief

Pet grief is real and can be very hard to deal with. Here at Kavee, we know from personal experience just how tough it is to lose a beloved animal - not just on us humans but on your other piggies and bunnies too, who've lost their beloved companion.

Kavee co-founder Clementine lost her boys, Bagpipe (aged 6) and Efendi (aged 4) within just one month of one another.

“I didn’t picture they would be gone by now.” - Kavee’s co-founder Clementine

Two guinea pigs who have crossed the rainbow bridge

Efendi & Livingstone - both have crossed the rainbow bridge 

“I felt very sad and shocked,” she recalls. “I was particularly shocked by how quickly their health degraded: they were gone in a matter of two to three days. I still think a lot about them. They brought a lot of joy in my life and I didn’t picture they would be gone by now.”

Bagpipe, Kavee's founder guinea pig who passed away

Bagpipe passed away in August 2021

Sadly, grief for lost pets affects so many of us - and so we asked our incredible community of Instagram followers to tell us about their own experiences of pet loss.

Pansyted.pigs said: “Losing a guinea pig is devastating whether you have them for a short time or for many years.”

Iittle_kingdom3 told us about losing their precious piggy, Oreo: “She was my everything. She was such a sweet piggy. She was the only one who would learn and do tricks with me even if she wasn’t feeling the best. She was a very strong piggy. Still to this day I think of Oreo. Even though it has been two years without her, I miss her dearly.”

Patchandbanditpigs explained how her grief had lasted two decades: “I was absolutely broken when Piggy died. It was nearly 20 years ago but I still feel like part of me is missing. I have pictures of her everywhere now and I feel like she’s very much still alive in my heart and my memories. Every pig I’ve lost has left a huge void, but giving more pigs a good life brings me so much joy and happiness. People say that whilst the pig is part of your world, you’re the pig’s whole world, but I don’t agree - they are my world, I need them as much as they need me! The grief never quite goes, but a life without pigs isn’t one for me!”

Clearly, pet loss can be very painful. That's why we've put together some advice to help you cope with the loss of a precious guinea pig or rabbit  - and how to look after the pets left behind too.

Practical Advice for Pet Loss

Besides the emotional toll that grief can have on pet parents, it’s important to also look at the practicalities of dealing with your guinea pig or rabbit’s demise.

What to do with the body of your pet?

Firstly, make sure you give your surviving pets time to process the death by leaving the body in the cage for an hour or two. Next, explore your options:  whether to bury or cremate your guinea pig or rabbit’s body.

In most places, including the UK, burying a dead pet is highly regulated. Burying your guinea pig or rabbit incorrectly could see you landed with a hefty fine, so it is important to be aware of the legal rules.

In the UK, you are legally able to bury your pet in the grounds of the home where they lived without the need for permission or planning consent. There are, however, a number of conditions that need to be taken into account:

  • Land must be owned and not rented (It is illegal to bury a pet anywhere except the home where they lived, or at a registered pet cemetery. This means that you cannot bury a pet in a public place such as a local park, or even at a friend’s house if you do not have a garden of your own.)
  • Animals must not be buried near a water source.
  • Animals must be buried at least 3ft deep.
  • Animals cannot be buried at home if they are considered to be hazardous to human health.
  • Animals may be deemed to be hazardous to human health if they have been treated with chemo or received controlled drugs prior to their death. These include drugs that would have been administered in the event that an animal had to be euthanised.

If you are unsure about regulations, it would be advisable to speak to your vet to determine if it would be safe to bury your guinea pig or rabbit at home. If you choose this option, make sure you wrap their body in a biodegradable cloth or box rather than in plastic which won’t biodegrade. You could even choose a tiny wicker casket. 

While if you opt for cremation but don’t want to bury your pet, you could keep their ashes in a tasteful urn - a keepsake to treasure.

You may feel that you’d like to hold a simple funeral service for your guinea pig or rabbit, which can really help with the grieving process even if you’re the only one who attends. If you are burying them in a pet cemetery, you could ask for recommendations of an officiant who could lead the ceremony for you if that’s what you’d like to do - or you may want to lead the ceremony yourself, reading a special poem or eulogy for your beloved pet, remembering the happy times you shared. 

Having a grave you can visit when you want to feel close to your pet can be very comforting, whether that’s in your own garden or at a pet cemetery.

Determining your Pet's Cause of Death

As prey animals, guinea pigs and rabbits are great at hiding illnesses in order to appear less vulnerable to nearby predators. Because of this, they may show no signs or symptoms of health issues until it's sadly too late. 

For that reason, if you suspect your guinea pig or rabbit has died from an illness, it may be best to consult a vet. This is especially important if your newly departed pet had cage mates, in order to rule out any illness that may spread. Closely monitor your surviving pets through daily health checks and weights.

In a case where it is likely to be something contagious or transferable to your other guinea pigs or rabbits, it is important that you disinfect their cage, bedding, water bottles, and toys, and replace all hay, pellets, and water with fresh top-ups!

What to do with your cage after your pet dies?

If you’ve lost your last guinea pig or rabbit and don’t intend on getting any more pets for the time being, then you’ll need to think about what to do with your cage. If you have a C&C Kavee cage, the good thing to know is that the grids and coroplast base can be easily broken down, cleaned, and stored flat. 

If you no longer have any need for your cage, why not pass it on by donating the supplies to a rescue or gifting it to another guinea pig or rabbit parent?

Guinea pigs in a Kavee 6x2 C&C cage

How to Look After Yourself When Grieving 

Losing a pet can leave many individuals feeling quite vulnerable immediately after a loss. It is important to remember, when we are dealing with grief, that we take some time for ourselves to start the healing process. 

Some people may find it helpful to take some time off from work or volunteering commitments and to spend the day with family and friends. It’s important that you remember to be kind to yourself with some much-needed TLC. Here are some ideas to help you with the healing process:

  • Watch your favourite movie or TV series
  • Eat your favourite snacks or enjoy some hot drinks
  • Dive into your hobbies (such as painting, crocheting, gaming etc.)
  • Meditate or exercise
  • Listen to your favourite music
  • Take a relaxing bath or shower
  • Get in touch with nature with a walk or hike

An important part of taking care of yourself is to understand that it is okay to reach out for help and support during this difficult time. If you are finding it particularly difficult to cope with your pet's loss and feel that you’d benefit from extra support and advice, you can contact the pet charity Blue Cross in the UK, which offers a free pet bereavement service (PBSS).

Two grieving people hugging

Your Grief When Losing a Pet 

Some people say that when we lose someone important from our lives (whether they were two-legged or four-legged), the love we feel for them has to be channeled somewhere and that love becomes grief. 

“Pet loss is so painful.” - thesmolpotatocompany

While grief is a uniquely personal experience for every bereaved person, there are some universal feelings such as a sense of loss, anger, disbelief, and, sometimes, guilt - that you are still living while they are not. You may also experience a sense of regret and may even wish that you’d done things differently (“if only I’d cuddled my pet more…”).

The truth is that the depth of grief you may feel for your pet could be overpowering and upsetting and totally floor you with its intensity. You may sit holding your guinea pig’s empty snuggle sack or your rabbit’s food bowl. You may find yourself crying over photos of your pet. You may even find it hard to carry on doing ‘normal’ things such as going to school or work when you’re dealing with the loss of your little pal. 

These feelings are all entirely valid and justified. After all, your furry companion was a big part of your life: a trusty companion and source of joy. Don’t try to minimise your feelings or feel embarrassed by them. Grief is natural and you need to go through it in order to fully process the loss you’ve experienced. 

Via Instagram, thesmolpotatocompany told us: “I lost Pip over a month ago and I am still grieving his loss. I watch videos and cry tears of sadness but also tears of joy over the amazing life I provided for him. I remind myself that he isn’t in pain anymore and that helps sometimes. Pet loss is so painful.”

Grief is a complex process. Bear in mind that guilt is a very normal part of this process, whether you’ve lost a human or an animal. You may find yourself tormented with thoughts of not having done enough for your piggy or bunny during their life. This sense of regret is totally normal and also logical, but accept that this (usually misguided) sense of guilt is standard during bereavement and try to focus on the wonderful times you shared with your pet.

Rock with the saying that pets cross the rainbow bridge when they pass away

Dealing with other people’s reactions to your pet’s death

Unfortunately, not everyone may understand how you’re feeling about your pet’s death. 

As a society, we’re conditioned to understand the grief felt for a human being who has died. When someone loses a loved one, we generally know how to support them through it by attending a funeral or sending flowers. 

But when someone loses a pet, the social guidelines are less clear and, sadly, some people may not comprehend why you’re so upset. Worse still, they may dismiss your lost pal as ‘just an animal’.

Some close family members did not understand my emotions when Bagpipe and Efendi died,” recalls Kavee’s Clementine. “They said: 'It's only a guinea pig!' Others, luckily, were more considerate and themselves saddened by my loss.”

It can be hard to feel that your grief is being somehow belittled or dismissed by other people. However, it’s important not to let other people’s opinions affect the way you grieve. After all, they didn’t share the bond that you shared with your guinea pig or rabbit, did they?

Remember that you can’t help the way that you feel and neither should you adapt your grief in order to make other people more comfortable. Neither should you listen to people who think that only more traditional pets such as cats or dogs are worthy of grief. Surely every single animal deserves to be loved and therefore grieved when they die?

As newmaker.domi told us on Instagram: “It’s more than just a little rodent - it’s a friend and family. Take your time to grieve. Surround yourself with people who understand and support you and don't make fun of you for ‘being too emotional over a single guinea pig’.” 

Your surviving pet’s grief

“They know when a friend is sick and dying and react to it. When our piggie Herbie died, he left his brother Teddy all alone. It was heartbreaking to watch him.” pansyted.pigs

They may not be able to voice their sadness about the death of their buddy but know this: your pet or pets left behind will be struggling too. After all, guinea pigs and rabbits are very sociable creatures who like to live either in a pair or in a herd. When they lose their mate, it can hit them hard. It has even been reported that some can die from the shock of losing their housemate. 

Sadly, your surviving pet’s grief can majorly impact their physical health, as Kavee’s Clementine explains: “When Bagpipe died, his companion Efendi lost his confidence in the world. He became very shy, still, unsure. He was definitely affected by the loss of his friend. One month later, he suddenly became very sick himself and passed away unexpectedly. I can't help but believe that he did not bear the loss of Bagpipe.”

Via Instagram, pansyted.pigs told us: “Guinea pigs grieve for each other. They know when a friend is sick and dying and react to it. When our piggie Herbie died, he left his brother Teddy all alone. It was heartbreaking to watch him. We got him two new baby friends but it didn't work out. Teddy was afraid of them. Eventually he found a friend, Pansy, and they lived a wonderful happy life but knowing how to sort their grief when dealing with your own is very difficult.”

Guinea pig on a lap

Supporting your surviving pet

Firstly, make sure you give your surviving guinea pig or rabbit time to process the death. When your pet dies, your initial - and totally understandable - reaction may be to remove their body from the cage as soon as possible. However, this will only serve to confuse and unsettle the surviving piggy or bunny.

Instead, try to leave the body in their home environment (whether it’s an outdoor hutch or cage) for an hour or two - and if your pet died outside of it, put them back in. This allows the surviving pets to see, sniff, and lick the dead guinea pig or rabbit. You may see them try to rouse their friend, which can be upsetting to watch but is an important process. Once they can see that their buddy isn’t responding, it will help them accept the loss.

After removing the dead pet, rub a plush toy or piece of fleece on them so that it picks up their scent. You can then place this inside the cage or hutch to help comfort those left behind. 

However, as days go on, you may still notice signs that they are struggling with the loss of their little friend.  They may become lethargic and tired or may hide when you go to talk to them. They may go off their food. 

Keep a very close eye on your piggy or bunny - if they go off their food or seem to be sleeping a lot, this could have an impact on their physical health. It is important to closely monitor their weight to ensure that they are getting enough nutrition.

As most guinea pigs and rabbits love being cuddled, spend some extra time bonding with your surviving pets, feeding them yummy treats. Treat them to some pampering, stroking, and grooming so that they don’t feel lonely.

Rabbit being stroked by their parent

Helping your pet cope with loss

As your surviving pet will feel comforted with lots of cuddle time with you, nothing will ease their loneliness like having another housemate. Generally, guinea pigs and rabbits should never be kept alone - they need to be in pairs or in a herd. 

It can be hard to think about ‘replacing’ your lost pet but don’t feel guilty about considering it. The truth is that, if you have a piggy or bunny who has been bereaved and is still relatively young, it is kinder to get them a new buddy - preferably from a rescue rather than a pet shop.

However, you must tread carefully when it comes to introducing a new guinea pig or rabbit into their home. Firstly, quarantine the new friend for two weeks to avoid introducing any possible illnesses to your existing pet. 

When you do finally introduce the pets, take things slowly. Rather than putting the new piggy or bunny straight into your surviving pet’s home, choose a neutral location, such as in a safe, secure room of your house. Put down some fleece liners, pee pads,  hideys, toys, and plenty of hay along with two water bowls or bottles and two bowls of food to avoid arguments.

Make sure there’s plenty of space so neither piggy or bunny feels threatened or confined and keep a close eye on them so that you can step in if they don’t get along. All being well, though, your pet’s new companion will bring fun and companionship into their lives - as well as yours. And let’s face it, that’s the reason why we all first chose to have guinea pigs or rabbits as pets isn’t it?

What to remember about grief and pets

Above all else, be kind to both your surviving pets and to yourself. Remember that the grieving process needs time. Also never forget that the reason why your guinea pig or rabbit’s death has hit you so hard is because you loved them so very much

“They become such a huge part of my life and they will always be my favorite pet. But I will always have room in my heart for more.” Brutistafreeze

Focus on remembering the special times you shared with your furry pal. Feel proud that you cared for them so much and gave them a wonderful life - and rest assured that this is something that will give you immense comfort at some point in the future. Also tell yourself that one day, you will remember your departed piggy or bunny with joy and gratitude rather than with pain and sorrow. 

As Brutistafreeze told us on Instagram: “It never gets easier and always takes a chunk out of my heart when I lose a piggy. They become such a huge part of my life and they will always be my favorite pet. But I will always have room in my heart for more. The amount of joy and laughs they give me far outweighs the bad.”

The colours of the rainbow in memory of lost pets

Guinea pig careGuinea pig health

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