Expat Loss: Dealing With Leaving Your Pet Behind - Expat Nest e-counselling


Expat Loss: Dealing With Leaving Your Pet Behind

Expats often have to leave pets behind and are then taken by surprise by the depth of their grief or guilt. Though some expats do relocate with their animals, for many it’s just not possible. Excessive transportation costs, lengthy quarantine periods, a different lifestyle or new accommodation that’s not appropriate for pets, may mean you need to rehome your animals and begin your new life without them. Animal empath Colleen Mulrooney shares some tips to help us deal with the loss of leaving our animal companions behind.

The final farewells with friends and the tearful hugs at the airport can be painful – and so can saying goodbye to your pets.

We assume (and hope) our animals will easily adapt to the changes and that they will be better off in their new homes rather than moving halfway across the globe with us. So it can come as a surprise to notice feelings of loss and guilt after having left them behind.

It might not be obvious that you’re in the throes of grief – after all, we expect to feel a sense of loss when a pet dies, and not when they’re still alive, but living thousands of kilometres away!

It can help to understand that there are several stages to grief, including shock, denial, guilt and depression. You might not notice any of these feelings initially – guilt and remorse in particular can creep up on us over time – and you may not even realise that these feelings are connected to you being separated from your animals.

The following tips are a good start to recognising, understanding and healing from your grief – and they’re helpful if your animal has passed away while you’ve been abroad.

Dealing with the grief of saying goodbye to a pet

  • As time passes and your new life feels more normal, memories may surface which could leave you feeling sad and unsettled. It’s important to acknowledge these feelings. Relocating involves emotional upheaval and grief is part of that.
  • When feelings of sadness and regret come up, put your hand on your chest and take three to five deep breaths. This will help dissipate intense emotions as they arise.
  • Writing about how you feel will give you insight and help make sense of what exactly is bothering you about having left your animals. Is it guilt, regret or sadness? If you’re still experiencing nagging feelings of guilt, try writing a letter to your animals. Explain your reasons for making the choices you did. Tell them how much they mean to you and how grateful you are to have shared a part of your lives together. There’s no need for anyone to read the letter – you may even want to burn it as this can be symbolic of releasing the old and bringing some closure.
  • Acknowledge your ongoing connection to your animals. Regardless of how far apart you are, you are still connected, as the love you have for your pet is never gone.
  • Create an altar space – a simple shelf or even a window ledge will do. Add some flowers, photos and any special mementos. Take a moment every day to remember happy times spent together.
  • If you’re worried about your animal’s welfare, set up a time to chat to their new guardians. We often assume it will be painful to hear stories about how they’re faring, but those anecdotes could in fact be comforting.
  • Ask an animal communicator to check in with your pets to relieve any concerns you may have about their welfare.
  • Create a scrapbook of photos and hand-written memories. This is a helpful exercise to do with children who may be struggling with their own sense of loss.

Our pets are often an integral part of our family, which is why it is so important to give yourself time to grieve and heal.


Have you had to leave an animal behind? How did you deal with your grief? We’d love to hear your story.

If you like this article, subscribe to our newsletter and share these tips with someone who is missing their pet.


Author’s Bio

Colleen Mulrooney is an animal empath, who helps animal lovers deepen their connection with their animal companions. She counsels people through pet loss and bereavement. Colleen teaches animal communication and healing online and in workshops around the country. She lives in Johannesburg, South Africa with her partner Ben and their three dogs. Find her at www.facebook.com/AnimalEmpaths or contact her on mulrooney.colleen@gmail.com.


© Vivian Chiona

FEEL FREE TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR BLOG OR NEWSLETTER. We ask only that you attribute Expat Nest and include the following: Expat Nest (www.expatnest.com) is a professional online counselling service for expats.

Photo: Adam Griffith / Unsplash




  1. Clara says:

    Great subject for a blog and something we probably don’t talk about enough. I had cats growing up but never dogs, and we always left them behind. Now we are getting a dog for the first time but we already know we can bring it back to the UK, which U.S. Why I’m happy getting it. I think it’s particularly hard for children leaving a dog behind.

    1. Thanks for your comment Clara! Glad that you find this article valuable.
      Indeed it is not something that people talk about enough but it is really a ‘hidden loss’ that has an impact on our lives as expats (let alone for the children that sometimes can’t rationalise as adults do the why behind not taking the pets with us; they just want their pets with them)
      How nice that you are getting a dog that you already know that you can bring it back to the UK whenever you decide to move.
      I am sure you will warmly welcome the new member of your family. Enjoy the time with your dog 🙂
      Best wishes,

  2. Carol El Hawary says:

    I love this article. I had to leave behind my beloved dog because she’s too old for the journey and much too fluffy for Cairo. I was really lucky because my Mum and Dad took her, so I know she’s well cared for. I feel wracked with guilt though and miss her every day. My Mum and Dad are great at sending photos of her which really helps, and I’m going to try some of the other things suggested here too.

    1. Dear Carol,
      Thank you so much for your comment and glad that you find this article valuable.
      Actually I decided to have an article as such after reading one of your comments re adjustment in your host country. Thanks for the inspiration 🙂
      I understand how it feels to leave your dog behind; how comforting to have your parents taking care of her.
      Best wishes,

  3. Carol El Hawary says:

    I thought other readers might be interested in this blog post I wrote, which is a letter to my dog. I wrote it after I read this article, and just the act of writing it made me feel better. Thank you so much Vivian.

    1. Thank you so much for sharing with all of us in the Expat Nest community this wonderful piece, Carol.
      Many readers come here each week for insight and inspiration and I am sure your story may give someone else the strength, courage and support they may need.
      I am deeply touched with your letter to your dog and your words of affection, love and care. Glad that this article has been of such a value to you!
      Kind regards,

  4. liz says:

    I recently had to leave my precious cockerspaniels behind because I received a job in a different state. Since, the work load is a lot, and with me unable to care for them (I have two) I had no choice but to leave them in the care of my mom and dad. It’s emotionally, mentally, and physically hard, especially when i hear that both of my dogs (especially, the girl, her name is Eden) are having a hard time adapting without me there, makes it worse. I’ve been in the grieving stage for more than a week, and at times it gets better, but there are times it feels like i’m back at square one and it’s really really hard being 16 hours away…I’m still trying to cope and move forward and this post has helped a lot, especially reading the others comments.

    1. Dear Liz,
      Thanks for your comment and a warm welcome to the Expat Nest community!
      I understand how hard must have been to make such a choice; it really feels like ‘between the rock and a hard place’. I am sorry to hear that you are going through a difficult time and I understand the pain of being away from your dogs 🙁 In a way it is a hidden loss and you are now grieving.
      Should you ever feel the need to talk about it further, my door is always open.
      Good to hear that you found this article and the comments of others valuable!
      Best wishes

  5. Caroline Robinson says:

    I just adopted a 3 year old french bulldog and i think she is depresssed she doesnt want to play, go for walks, or eat. She just wants to sleep all day. I’ve had her for almost a week. I hope she cheers up soon. We have a vet appointment for a check up for her, but its not until the 29th. And while I was looking for a solution online. And when I get this https://doggiedesigner.com/ Found a site in which there are many information about dogs. And I got success through it.

    1. Thanks for your comment Caroline!

  6. Gine Oquendo says:

    Hi, Thanks for sharing. Yes, It’s really painful, and I had to leave behind my beloved Tagger to my friend since we don’t allow to travel to Germany, I feel so sad and If there’s a chance I will not leave her and since she was sick already I got a phone call from my friend and she said that I need to go back because I might not see Tagger anymore. She just waits for me and after I hug her, she died right away. My partner called the pet cremation in tampa for her final arrangement because I’m crying all day. I miss u Tagger and I will not forget you.

    1. expatuser says:

      Hi Gine
      Thank you for sharing your story with us. I’m so sorry for your loss. Our pets become a beloved part of our family, don’t they? It’s wonderful that you arranged for a friend to care for her and how special that you travelled back to see her before she passed away. I feel sure that Tagger knew how much you loved her.
      Best wishes

      1. Gine Oquendo says:

        Hello Vivian,

        Thank you for your sympathy Vivian, Tagger is my pet for 18 years and moving on is still a big challenge to me. And yes, Tagger is the part of the family ever since. Again thank you so much.


  7. Jordan says:

    I just moved away from my parents and had to leave my dog Reggie, whose my best friend, with them. I want him with me so badly and it hurts. Every time I leave my parent’s house I always cry because I miss him so much. This Thanksgiving was very difficult because he followed me out while I was leaving to go back to my apartment. I couldn’t stop crying as I was driving home. I cried for a solid two hours or more when I got home. Even today, the day after, I’m still hurting. I have an empty space in my heart. I love him very much and I want him by my side. I hate living without him. I’ve spent many days just sad and depressed. I need some advice.

    1. Vivian Chiona says:

      Dear Jordan

      Thank you for your heartfelt message. I’m sorry that you are going through such a difficult time in your life. For many of us, our animal companions are family, and leaving them behind can bring up feelings of deep loss (which are not often understood by others). I absolutely understand how you feel. I hope this article is valuable and helps you to navigate this process. If this feeling persists, however, I encourage you to talk to a professional. The way you feel right now doesn’t have to be this way. We are here to support you.

      Best wishes

  8. Anastasia says:

    That was an incredible article! To many without pets might sound stupid, but missing your pet is extremely devastating in many cases. I left my dog to my parents before moving out to study in another country and even though I know that she’s in good hands, every day I feel that she is missing from my routine even though I’m seeing her through a video call. The fact that she may think that I have abandoned her, It’s really overwhelming for me to think.
    The tips that were mentioned in your article seem really helpful.
    Thank you.

    1. Vivian Chiona says:

      Hi Anastasia
      Thank you so much for sharing your story with us. I have no doubt that your love for your dog is felt by her!

  9. Aimee says:

    Thank you, this blog was very helpful as I am going through loss at the moment. Two days ago we fostered a dog named Lula whose owner was moving away. I immediatly fell in love with her as she was the sweetest most friendly dog. She was friendly, submissive and beautiful so she was very adoptable. She found a new home yesterday and although I was upset to lose a new furry friend, I new it was best for her to find a permanent home as soon as possible.

    1. Vivian Chiona says:

      Dear Aimee
      Thank you so much for the feedback and for sharing your story. It’s so natural to feel a sense of loss – and also wonderful that you have helped Lula to find a loving home. She is very blessed to have experienced your love.
      With love

  10. Thom says:

    I’m moving abroad to Japan and must leave my beloved cat behind with a friend. I adopted her in Taiwan, and brought her to the us, and we have been inseparable for a decade. Though I know she will be better off here, the thought of sleeping without her weight on my lap or cuddling her daily makes me sob. I am so lucky to have known and loved her and she will be spoiled rotten. But the thought of her looking out the window waiting for me to return breaks my heart in two. Thank you for writing this.

    1. Vivian Chiona says:

      Thank you for sharing your story. The pain of leaving behind a pet is very real and often not acknowledged. I’m so happy that your beloved cat will be loved and cared for by someone you trust.
      With love

  11. Elsa F. says:

    Thank you for your article, it made me feel I am not crazy for feeling guilt and unsettled after I moved to another state and needed to take the painful decision to take my dogs, but leave the wild cat I found and adopted for some months. I asked for advice to everyone around, even to god, before consider the painful thought that he will be too wild to travel with us for 2 or 3 days trip to our new home. I contacted a neighbor before leave who happily stated she will take care of him. I’ve been trying to get news by chat these past two months, and she said all the time, they have been putting food and water everyday, but they haven’t seen him since I left, but his food is gone everyday and looks like he is sleeping on his bed (outdoors). I left him in a woods area that he knows very good, and he is the king of the place even before we decided to let him come inside of my house! that is why everyone advice me to do not relocate him because he will probably escape and try to go back to that place. Every night since these two past months I wake up at night thinking if he has eating, if he is safe, if it is raining I think immediately about him if he is in a dry place.
    I can’t make the person who is taking care of him assure me that he is taking care of him like I did (even he slept in bed with me and my dogs at night or when we had bad weather), I feel helpless and very worried. Some people have told me that I should pray, others say that I should write, but nothing has worked for me, I just don’t know how to deal with my guilt of leaving him behind even for his own sake.

    1. Vivian Chiona says:

      Dear Elsa

      Thank you so much for sharing your experience. Your words show what a big heart you have and how much you love the animals in your care. Our animals often become our family, and taking the decision to separate from them can be very difficult. In your decision-making process, you clearly prioritised the needs of the cat. Rest assured that you left him in good hands and that wild cats are incredibly resilient. Perhaps he will remain king of the woods or perhaps he will one day enjoy the comforts of someone’s home again. Trust in his wisdom and know that you did your best.

      I’m so glad the article helped. And if you’d like to talk about it more, feel free to get in touch.

      Best wishes

  12. Duane says:

    Thank you so much for writing this. I’m in tears even as I write this, we had to give up our Great Dane moving from South Africa to the Netherlands for work as we could not find anywhere that would allow a dog that size. Even though the new owner seems amazing and sends updates of him playing with her Great Dane I can’t help but feel the loss every single day. It hits at the slightest memory or lack of the sound of his feet down the hallway. We often undervalue just how much trauma the loss of leaving behind a pet causes us as individuals. Even if it’s the better choice for the animal it doesn’t make it any easier.

    1. Vivian Chiona says:

      Dear Duane
      Thank you for sharing your story with us. It’s true that leaving our animals behind is a deep loss – and often a hidden loss. You did everything you could to care for your dog (including finding him a new home – with a playmate!). Healing from loss takes time. Be kind to yourself and celebrate the many happy moments you shared together.
      With love

  13. Kity says:

    Thank you 😞😢😢❤️ This is so hard but its is just what I feel what I found in thus article, I know where we go he cant hace the lifestyle he deserves. Separation is such a hard thing for me , I just hope he can cope much better than me.

    1. Vivian Chiona says:

      Thank you so much for sharing this with us. We understand how painful separation from a beloved animal can be. Knowing that you have done the best you can for your pet can offer consolation in the difficult times.
      Best wishes

  14. Nahir says:

    I will be moving from Argentina to the USA in 3 weeks and I have to leave my beloved cat behind. Thinking about leaving him behind makes my heart ache in a way I could not find the words to explain. We’ve been together for 15 months and he’s been the most loyal companion I could have asked for, and I love him as if he was my son. He is my first cat and my first “own” pet and I feel terrible for having to give him up for adoption. People are always so mean and judgy about this subject. I would have never adopted him in the first place if I knew the opportunity of moving away was going to show up, but I think we were meant to find each other and be companions for as long as this cycle lasted. It is very nice to find people that understand the feeling and do not judge for making such a hard choice. I really don’t know how am I going to do to live so far away from him. Thank you for this article and all the comments. You make me feel like I am not wrong and I am not alone in this. If you ever want to talk to someone that understands how you feel, feel free to contact me at nnahir.handpoke@gmail.com

    1. Vivian Chiona says:

      Dear Nahir

      Thank you for your taking the time to comment. I’m so glad you found this article valuable.

      You are certainly not alone in this – both in your profound love for your cat and in the pain of being judged by those who don’t understand this. It’s as you say: our animals are loyal companions and we love them like family. We watch them grow and they watch us grow. For many of us they bring a very pure form of love to our lives.

      We will be thinking of you as you make this relocation. It can help to remember that you have done the best you can for your cat in finding him a new home and that they are very resilient creatures.

      With love

  15. holly says:

    Thank you so much for writing this very helpful article. I am planning to relocate to Dubai for 12 months for a fantastic work opportunity in 2024, however it would mean leaving my 9 year old golden retriever behind whilst I am there. My parents will be looking after her at our family home and she will be happy, but it hurts me to think of not seeing her every day as we are inseperable – so much so that it makes me not want to go. She will be very much a senior dog by the time I move back, and I worry that I will regret missing a year of her life and that she will wonder where I have gone. I am already dreading moving, despite that it is supposed to be an exciting time, and feel an enormous amount of guilt combined with silliness for feeling so emotional about it. It’s comforting but equally sad to see so many others in similar (or worse) positions; pets hold a very important place in our hearts. Sending love to anyone who is struggling x

    1. Vivian Chiona says:

      Dear Holly

      Thanks for your comment. I’m so glad you found this article valuable.

      You are so right: pets hold a very important place in our hearts. Your love and connection to your golden retriever is heartwarming. It’s clear that she is a beloved family member and companion. Though you will miss her terribly (of course!), I hope you can find peace in knowing that she will remain under the care of your parents, ready to welcome you home each time you return.

      Thank you for your kind wishes to those who are also struggling. It’s so helpful for us animal lovers to know that there are many who feel as we do. These feelings are legitimate and a sign of our deep love for our animals as well as our sense of responsibility towards them.

      With love

  16. Julie Gervais says:

    I was trying to bring my two cats from Canada to Australia just can’t afford it 14,000 it breaks my heart just cryed about it don’t know what to do

    1. Vivian Chiona says:

      Dear Julie

      Thank you for your comment. I’m glad you found this article valuable.

      We acknowledge your pain. It is so hard to consider leaving our beloved animals behind and your despair reflects your great love for them. May this love be a source of strength as you explore the best alternatives for your cats. Knowing that they are loved and cared for, even though you may be parted from each other, will go a long way to feeling more at peace. And remember that it’s okay to miss them…

      With love

  17. Sally McNeil says:

    My Husband and I are heading overseas soon for a new job. I have to leave my precious miniature schnauzer that I have had for 10 years behind. She will be staying in the same house she has always lived in as my daughter and her husband are coming to live there and take care of her. Every time I think of leaving her I cry. I’m more upset about leaving her behind than leaving my (adult children). I hope I am able ro cope when we go…

    1. Vivian Chiona says:

      Dear Sally
      Thank you for sharing your story with us. Relocating without our pets is really tough, no matter the circumstances. We are thinking of you as you make your relocation and empathise with your suffering.
      Best wishes

  18. Japs says:

    I left my cats behind when I moved to Taiwan from Saudi Arabia. It has been very difficult for me. It’s been 5 months since I came here, and up to now, I still cry a lot. I am so depressed deep inside, and I cry every night without anyone noticing me. I am really sad and guilty for not taking them with me. I am fine with “pain” because it connects me with them, but I just want to have someone to talk to about my feelings. I am really sad.

    1. Vivian Chiona says:

      Dear Japs
      We acknowledge your pain and hope that the tips in the article are helpful. If you need more support through your grief, please feel free to reach out to us. You are not alone… We empathise with your suffering.
      Best wishes

  19. Yvonne says:

    What a beautiful way to keep your pet’s memories alive. Each post is a heartfelt celebration of their lives.

    1. Vivian Chiona says:

      Dearest Yvonne
      Thank you so much for your beautiful response to this article. We so appreciate you taking the time to read it.

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