Grief following the loss of an animal: the loss of livestock

When Livestock Dies Or Has To Be Destroyed

The bond between owners and animals kept for utilitarian purposes, such as for farming, is different to the bond people form with a companion animal. However, there is often a deep emotional investment for the owners of livestock.

Grief and loss may be experienced whether single animals or large numbers of animals die, either of natural causes, or because they must be destroyed.

The emotional reactions experienced when livestock has to be destroyed can be related to many factors, such as an economic loss, a sense of failure, or the dilemma of having to decide if and when to put animals down. Animals may have to be destroyed for any of several reasons: perhaps after an outbreak of disease, as a result of drought, after they have been injured in an accident or after a devastating fire.

Where possible farmers may find it helpful for neighbours or others not affected to put the animals down for them. The need to cull healthy animals to stop or prevent an epidemic can be particularly devastating. There can be feelings of anger towards authorities who make the decisions, and guilt for having infected animals which may infect other properties.

While the destruction of farm animals can result in the loss of financial security, it can also lead to a changed livelihood and even the loss of a farm. Reactions to all or any of these events can evoke feelings of guilt, regret, shame, helplessness, anger, loss of control, grief, anguish, and a sense of failure. It is normal and human to experience these emotional reactions.

Some people who have to put down their animals may experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress. They may have nightmares about what has happened, may feel uncontrollable anger, may have trouble sleeping, and may feel that they re-experience the traumatic event on seeing something that reminds them of it.

For some this loss may be so overwhelming they may have thoughts of suicide. If you think this is happening to you or someone you know, it is important you seek help from your general practitioner.

Some Strategies That Can Help

Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you feel you need it. It is better to deal with your painful memories as soon as you can.

Releasing pent-up emotions is far healthier than holding them in. If you are feeling guilty, talk about it, write it down, share it with a trusted friend – try to express it in some way.

As a pet or livestock owner your days were probably very busy – there was always a reason to get up in the morning. It helps to find a new type of structure in your life. Setting daily goals can assist you in making sure that your days have a purpose.

Above all, remember that grieving is an important part of healing the sense of loss. Be patient with yourself.

Other Resources

Beyond Blue


Page last updated: 17 September, 2019