How to deal with pet bereavement as Chris Packham opens up about death of his beloved dog

Chris Packham takes part in the protest
Chris Packham has revealed how grief over the loss of his beloved dog Fish made him feel suicidal. (Getty Images)

Chris Packham has revealed the devastating impact the death of his beloved dog had on his mental health.

The Springwatch presenter, 62, recalled feeling "suicidal" after his poodle Fish, who was gifted to him by a former partner for his 40th birthday, was run over and died in his arms.

Speaking on the Mirror's Men in Mind podcast, in association with the charity Mind, Packham - who has been diagnosed with Asperger's, a form of autism - opened up about his mental health struggles and how Fish's death hit him hard.

He said he went to "some really dangerous places" with his mental health at the time and admitted: "I was suicidal... but I didn't have enough pills. That's what it came down to." He saw a GP afterwards and was suggested therapy, which helped him become more conscious of how to manage his wellbeing.

In 2017, Packham credited his two poodles at the time, Itchy and Scratchy, with saving his life. "Having an intense relationship with an animal is very common with people on the autistic spectrum," he told the Daily Mail. "It's common to form deep bonds with animals. I have closer relationships with my dogs than I do with people."

The environmental campaigner now has two different poodles, named Sid and Nancy.

While Packham's grief over the loss of his pet was exacerbated by his mental health struggles and autism, many people experience deep levels of sadness when a beloved dog, cat or other pet leaves the family.

Last year, Stacey Solomon adopted a new puppy Teddy weeks after her family's dog Theo passed away at the age of 11. She admitted that she was "not sure who has rescued who", adding: "We miss you so much Theo. I hope you're looking down from heaven smiling, knowing that Peanut (their second dog) will no longer be so very longely and that a doggy who really needed a family now has one."

Solomon revealed she had lost her dog of 11 years Theo at the end of 2021. The star already owned him when she met partner Joe Swash, 39. She opened up about how much it had affected her and her family, sons Zachary, 13, and Leighton, nine, along with Rex, four, and Rose, two. The couple have since welcomed a fifth child, baby Belle, in February 2023.

Read more: A grief like no other: Why I became a pet bereavement counsellor

She posted various memories of her and her sons with Theo from over the years, writing, "The best friend we could have ever wished for. Our hearts are broken. Yesterday at home in our arms we had to say goodnight to our Theo. 11 wonderful years. We were so lucky to love you Fifi and we will never stop. My lap has never felt so empty 😞 I miss you so much already. My little girl."

She also went on to acknowledge the great impact Theo had on their lives, thanking her for "protecting me and the boys when we needed it most," for "holding on for so long and waiting to meet your little sister Rose," and saying "Rex has had the best friend in you that he could ever have wished for and the boys have had the best protector in the whole wide world". She also added, "Peanut is missing his cuddle buddy very much so we are trying to make it up to him in our cuddles but I know it’s just not the same".

Read more: Death of a pet can lead to depression in children, study finds

For many, the grief of losing a pet can feel just as real as the grief of losing a person, as they become another family member, bonding with children, being a permanent companion for adults, and forming real attachments. But with some viewing the loss as 'just a pet', it can be hard for some to cope emotionally.

How can we deal with pet bereavement, when is it too soon to get a new one - and how best can parents talk to their children about the death of a beloved pet?

Close up view of upset little daughter cuddling mother, child receiving protection and support from mommy, adopted kid girl and new parent, sole custody, offspring and motherhood connection concept
Pet bereavement is very real and can be just as hard to deal with as other types of grief (Getty Images)

"Everyone is different when it comes to grieving, but realising it is normal helps," says Diane James, Manager at Blue Cross Pet Bereavement Support Service (PBSS), "especially when it comes to our beloved animals, it can help to talk about the loss and how you are feeling - often people feel unable to talk to family or friends.

"The time frame will be different for us all - and we will experience many different emotions, often guilt, and even anger."

James suggests, "Often, memorialising can help, from planting in the garden in their favourite spot, to having a keepsake made from their blanket."

Child dog dies and he feels sad looking at pictures
Diane James, Manager at Blue Cross Pet Bereavement Support Service (PBSS), recommends a keep safe to help with the loss of a pet (Getty Images

As for welcoming a new pet, she adds, "getting a new pet has to be a group decision, discussed by all. It's important to recognise that it’s a new personality and will be loved for that - not a replacement."

James adds, "Again, we are all different, some may re-home a pet very quickly, others take time and for some, it's never again. "I comes down to what is best for you and your family unit.

"We often hear people say they are too old and they will be outlived by the pet. If you are happily able to look after a new pet, know we have schemes such as Pet Peace of Mind - so if this sadly happens, we will take in the pet."

She also explains that when other pets are involved its important they are considered as well.

Read more: Here's why you really need to stop sleeping in the same bed as your pet

Little lays next to a blanket and a small kitten in a domestic home, kitchen or dining room. Little cat pet owner. Childhood responsibility and love
Is it too soon to get a new pet after the loss of another? (Getty Images)

And touching on how best to speak to children, she says, "The best policy is honesty. It is age dependent of course, most children are more resilient that we realise, so there's no point in saying they have gone to live on a farm or run away, which many will think is kinder, but then makes the child feel guilty or worried.

"Also remember not to say 'put to sleep', as this can make them worry about going to sleep."

James also stresses the importance of preparation, where possible - "things like a scrapbook or memory box can be things you do together and discuss the loss. You may have some awkward questions, but be as honest as you can be."

Blue Cross has a free pet bereavement service and pet loss service, which allows people to open up about their loss, with support offered via phone, email, web chat or a Facebook site.

Watch: English Police reunite missing dog with owners after eight years