Understanding Pet Loss and Grief

All of us need to love and to be loved. Loving animals is an important part of being human. As we develop bonds of love and affection we become attached to that one. When we lose one we love, we grieve.

So grief is a normal reaction to the loss of someone or something to which a person is strongly attached. The intensity of grief is dependent on the degree of attachment, the type of relationship, the circumstances of the death, the personality and the social support of the person suffering the loss (The Centre for Grief Education).

Only you can know what this pet meant to you. If they have been an important part of your life, then it is normal to grieve when they die.

It is important to find someone who is understanding of pet loss and grief.

The Human-Animal Bond
We humans have the capacity to engage in many relationships at the same time, including relationships with animals. A strong bond can exist between humans and animals with this relationships bringing joy to both the human and the animal. Animals have a way of loving unconditionally. They are faithful, loyal and often very forgiving of our mistakes and failures.

This bond can be strong for a variety of reasons. You may have had more daily contact with your pet than with other people, so their death leaves a hole in your life which needs to be acknowledged (Barbara Meyers, 2002).

Responses to Loss and Grief
The ways we respond to loss can sometimes be over whelming even frightening. Grief is such an individual experience that each person’s experience it unique to them. It is not unusual for people to experience intense grief when a pet dies. Reactions to grief can be manifested through feelings, some of which might be: anxiety, fear, sadness, anger, guilt; thoughts, such as disbelief, confusion, preoccupation; physical reactions like sleep disturbances, empty sensation in stomach, breathlessness or tightness in the chest or through behavior such as crying, sighing, hyperactivity, inability to concentrate, social withdrawal. These are only some of the ways that grief is experienced.

Is the grief of pet loss different to other losses?
Often, the loss of a pet is disregarded by others as unimportant. But losing a pet can be very significant and the grief can be as intense as or greater than when a person dies. The problem is that it is often not openly acknowledged, publicly mourned or socially supported. Work colleagues, friends or even relatives can minimize or even laugh at the loss of a pet. The death of a pet can stir up previous grief. For some people, the capacity that pets have for unconditional love and faithfulness has provided an experience of love not matched by humans.

By Michael O’Donoghue BVSc  People and Pets