How do Dogs and Cats Feel After Rehoming?

Rehoming a pet is a hard decision, but how do the animals feel? Read here to learn how dogs and cats grieve and what you can do to help their transition to a new home.

Katie Abendroth


Understanding Animal Grief

One of the great sorrows in my pet parenting journey has been rehoming a dog. Although I wrote about that grief experience here, it got me thinking about what do dogs feel about being rehomed?

Growing up, I remember a friend had a dog who they adopted and renamed. Yet when we called out the dog’s original name, he would let out a low, long howl.

Did he remember his first home? Was he mourning? Do cats and dogs experience grief?

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Do Pets Feel Grief?

Yes, after rehoming a pet, your cat or dog may experience short-term stress and grief. In this post, a pet owner describes how her cat over ate, stopped playing, slept more after a companion pet passed away.

There are accounts of animals expressing grief symptoms, or at least awareness that another pet is missing, such as sniffing around areas and being listless.

However, animal grief after rehoming differs from human grief in two key ways:

  1. Duration. Most animals rebound from the stress of grief or change within 1 month. Humans can take up to a year or more to process pet loss.

  2. Understanding. Pets may feel confused after moving to a new setting, or stressed in a shelter. However, they do not understand the concept of permanence and emotion the way humans do.

This should bring you comfort. Pets live in the present and primarily need safety and consistency.

That is good news when it comes to pet rehoming. When I rehomed my dog, I was utterly distraught imagining his confusion and stress. However, the pictures I saw of him in the next month revealed his same happy-go-lucky self.

How stressful is rehoming for your pet?

Stress for your dog or cat depends on a few factors:

  1. Their age and personality

  2. The quality of their care

  3. Creating a bond with their new owner

  4. How quickly they adjust to new routines

  5. Other pets in the setting

After the initial stress of moving, pets placed in a positive, safe home will do well and rebound within a few weeks. Animals live in the present and are resilient!

We had a friend who adopted a spunky dog, whose first owner worked all day, lived alone, and had no energy for them. However, when this family with two active boys and a pool adopted him, the dog was overjoyed and all “problematic behaviors” disappeared.

As I have said before, rehoming can be a loving decision to let your pet live their best life.

As the owners you may feel sad that you could not create the best home for a pet you love.

Should You Visit Your Pet After Rehoming?

A recent post on this topic suggests three considerations if you are considering visiting a rehomed pet:

  1. Are you allowed visits?

  2. Are you calm enough to visit?

  3. Will seeing you confuse your pet, preventing their own adjustment?

In our case, I did not visit our dog after we surrendered him. I did not have the emotional strength to visit him joyfully.

It would only stress out the dog to visit him and be extremely sad in his presence.

If you do visit, wait at least a month so your dog can adjust to their new surroundings.

Finally, respect the new owner. Never show up unannounced or without checking ahead to visit.

Stages of grief

Stages of grief are often connected to grief after a person passes away, but they apply when you have a strong bond with a pet as well. Additionally, guilt can be a big emotion when you rehome a pet…even if it is for the best.


Protects us during a time of shock. We may feel numb, spaced out, or feel our pet’s presence. You may mistake sounds for your pet in the other room. This can last longer if you didn’t expect the pet loss or someone else made the decision.  


Anger after pet loss is common, even if you know logically it is irrational. You may feel angry at yourself, partner, vet, landlord, friends with healthy pets, or an employer. You are processing big feelings and they can get misdirected.


Can be jumbled and confusing. Anytime you think, “If only…” you are bargaining.

It may be thoughts directed towards the pet, yourself, or a higher power. This often overlaps with other feelings like guilt.


For general grief, this refers to sadness not clinical depression. If you have kids who are grieving the loss of a pet, they need time to withdraw or connect…and so do you.

However, speaking with a certified counselor is essential if you feel “stuck” in this space after rehoming your dog.


Allows you to smile and honor your pet’s energy, even if their journey continues in another home.

We can appreciate our time together and know that another pet will not replace the relationship we had with this one.

Create a Living Memorial After Rehoming a Pet

If you rehome your dog or cat, I highly encourage you to create a memorial for your time together. This provides closure to you and others, especially kids.

Here are three great ideas to create a living memorial after rehoming a pet.

Paw Print Stamp

Use a paw print kit to create a keepsake of your pup and your time together.

Picture Frame with Collar

If you surrender your dog to a shelter, they do not take the collar. Preserve your dog’s collar and photo in a beautiful frame that can be personalized.

Potted Plant or Plant a Tree

Whether inside or out, plant a tree or houseplant that symbolizes growth and life.

3 Takeaway Lessons

Grief after Rehoming is REAL

Rehoming a pet can trigger true grief. Plus, you will face judgement from others and your own guilt.

This decision takes courage, even if you have no other options.

Choose the Right Breed for Your Family

When we did decide to adopt another dog, it was important to find a breed that worked with our family.

Consider the temperament and species that may work well with your particular situation. If you work long hours, a cat may do better than a dog in your home.

Forgive Yourself

You will find hope again once you arrive at a place of forgiving yourself. Forgive yourself, your circumstances, and your pet.

Extend gratitude to the next owner for providing your dog a home you could not.

Wishing you light, love, and hope after rehoming a dog. Follow me on Instagram @hope_after_pet_loss for daily support.

white and brown short coated dog on window
white and brown short coated dog on window