Losing a pet is an emotionally devastating experience but society may not recognize this painful loss even though the grief for pet loss may be equally as intense and as significant as a human loss.
A study in the New England Journal of Medicine (2017) explains "broken heart syndrome" which is the condition when a response to grief is so severe, a person can exhibit symptoms that mimic a heart attack, including elevated hormone levels that can be 30x greater than normal. This applies to grief from a pet loss as well.
While both human and pet loss are valid and difficult, people who experience pet loss often do not get the support they need from their community and society when their pet passes away. Recovering from pet loss requires just as much support and consideration from our community and society.
PLEASE DO NOT MAKE ANY DISMISSIVE COMMENTS
- "It was only a cat", "You can get a new dog" are not things you should say to someone who has lost a pet.
For some people, their everyday routine is anchored to taking care of their pets. Others rely on their pet as their source of unconditional love. The loss they are experiencing with the passing of their pet is valid. You may not understand their pain but they have the right to feel the way they do and you should not dismiss them or try to make their pain 'go away' just because you do not understand.
By dismissing their pain and not validating their emotions, you can make them feel guilty about their emotions. Remember, grief is different for every person and every loss and it can be extremely damaging to judge or label a person's grief.
Pet loss may not be openly talked about in society but most pet owners will acknowledge that a pet is not just an animal. They are also beloved members of the family and very few human relationships can offer the level of trust and devotion that is comparable to a pet relationship.
Losing a pet can cause significant voids in people's lives including the change of daily routines and responsibilities that can cause crippling effects to a pet owner after a pet passes. Cats, dogs, horses, birds, and any other form of cherished pets provide companionship, reduce loneliness, help with depression, and can ease anxiety. Pets support their owner's emotional well-being and this is why a lot of pet owners may feel aimless and lost in the days and weeks that follow a pet's death.
In these difficult times, a little bit of empathy and compassion can go a long way. To have their grief recognized by someone else as significant and legitimate can help anyone going through loss to feel supported by others in their grief. In a time of such sadness, please show empathy to someone who has lost their pet so that they may not feel even more isolated and alone.
GIVING SOMEONE SOME TIME OFF
When we experience human loss, it is automatically assumed that some time off work will be taken to grieve. The same exception is not always given or understood when someone experiences pet loss. The person experiencing pet loss may even feel embarrassed or ashamed about the severity of their heartbreak and fear that by expressing their grief they may be perceived as overly sentimental, lacking in maturity, or emotionally weak.
If you know someone going through pet loss grieving and you are in the position to give them some time off, please do so without shaming them for feeling the way they do.