Grieving the Loss of a Pet
Updated: May 3, 2021
Our furry friends are so much more than pets. They become our companions and family. Pets are fiercely loyal, provide comfort, and have unconditional love for their owners. It is no wonder it is so heartbreaking when a pet passes away. Aside from the love shared between a pet and its owner, scientific research concludes, there are several mental health benefits from owning pets. These benefits include lifting spirits and lessening depression, lowering feelings of isolation and alienation, encourages communication, provides comfort, increases socialization, lessens boredom, reduces anxiety, aids children in overcoming speech and emotional disorders, creates motivation, and reduces loneliness. Pets teach children responsibility and how to care for a life besides their own and can even extend the life of elderly individuals due to the companionship and sense of purpose pets provide. With all these benefits, it is not surprising how deep bonds are formed with pets.
I once heard someone say, “it is more difficult to lose a pet than a human.” At first, I was taken aback but after doing some thinking, there may be some truth to this statement. While humans in our lives are important, most have done something to harm us in some way. This could be breaking our trust, using unkind words, or even abuse. On the other hand, our pets always listen and have never done anything malicious to harm us in anyway. What is the worst thing a pet can do to their owners? Maybe urinate on the carpet, scratch up a couch, or chew on a prized possession? These offenses are far less scaring and hurtful than the words of a human. Our pets are innocent and provide unconditional love to those deserving of it! This is largely why it is so painful to lose them.
In my personal and professional life, I have encountered several people who apologize for shedding tears or grieving over the death of a beloved pet. They feel like something is wrong with them or “they should be over it by now” but this is simply untrue. We have the right to grieve this significant loss just like any other! Pets are family and deserve the same emotional response to the loss. Allow yourself time to heal and reach out for support. While the grief may not completely go away, time will make it more manageable. There is no time limit to grief so remember that. For some, choosing to get another pet after some time has passed is a good decision. While this does not fill the void, it does open our heart to the love of an animal again. There are so many pets, needing a good home and wanting to share their love. Often, people think they cannot love another pet in the same way as the one they lost, but somehow, manage to love it the same if not more!
By: Sheena Slack
LSCSW, LCAC, LCSW, CRAADC, SAP