As every pet owner will tell you, pets are family members. We nurture them, teach them how to behave, watch them grow, and finally, we grieve for them.
Ask anyone who’s lost a pet how they felt after saying goodbye to their beloved companions and they’ll tell you that the grief is real and it’s deep.
While grief is not something that we can put on a scale and measure, losing a beloved pet can sometimes hurt more than losing a fellow human.
Why losing a pet hurts so much
When Hawaiian researchers interviewed 106 people who had lost their dogs, 69% responders said they felt complicated grief and symptoms of PTSD after the death of their pet.
As John Archer from the University of Central Lancashire, UK, explains “pet owners sometimes derive more satisfaction from their pet relationship than those with humans, because they supply a type of unconditional relationship that is usually absent from those with other human beings.”
Besides unconditional love, another reason why losing a pet sometimes hurts more than losing a family member or a friend is the lack of support the grieving owner receives.
When a person dies, everyone rallies around their grieving loved ones. When a dog or another pet dies, the same kind of support is often completely absent. In fact, plenty of owners are met with insensitive remarks such as “Just get another one”.
This leaves the person dealing with the loss of a pet to suffer in silence. People who have never owned pets simply can’t understand just how profound the grief can be.
How to cope with the loss
Losing a pet is nothing short of devastating and grief can last for months and sometimes even years. There are, however, a number of things grieving pet owners can do to cope with the loss in a healthier way.
The first thing to keep in mind is that grief is a perfectly normal response to the loss of a pet. It’s very important not to try and suppress painful emotions. Instead, you should let the grieving process run its natural course.
The grief people experience after losing a loved one is said to occur in stages and the grief of losing a pet is no different. Bereaved pet owners should be familiar with all the stages of grief: shock, anger, denial, guilt, depression, and finally, resolution.
It’s essential that you practice self-care as the grieving process unfolds. Get lots of sleep, eat a healthy diet, take walks in nature, and spend time with friends and family. Some people decide to join a pet loss support group where they can receive advice and support from other bereaved owners and grief counselors.
Remember that there is no right or wrong way to grieve. Grief is an extremely personal and complex emotion so allow yourself to experience it fully. Finally, don’t forget that even though you can’t imagine it ever gets better, it does.