Grief Researchers Say the Loss of a Pet Feels Almost as Bad as Losing a Person

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Losing a pet is a shock to the heart. No matter if our beloved furry friend passes because of illness or due to an accident, we feel as if we have lost a member of the family–because that’s exactly what they areL family. We develop emotional attachment to their sweet fuzzy faces.

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Researchers (Quakenbush & Glickman, 1984) at the University of Pennsylvania found people risked particularly extreme grief when they had to euthanize their animals. Pet owners felt a tremendous sense of guilt, as well, around deciding to euthanize. They agonize over whether or not all care options were considered. Was there truly nothing else left to do?

According to the study:

Feeling guilty often is a component of the grief, especially if the owner is conflicted about a decision for euthanasia, or feels that appropriate care was not provided. Grief for an animal, though becoming more socially accepted, remains somewhat disenfranchised. For example, time off work is typically not an option.

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The worst possible thing to hear at such as sad time is it’s just a dog or a cat or a hamster or whatever. 

Comments like these only pile on our feelings of loss.

Our pets are still loved just as much as human family members, even if others don’t understand.

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Grief after losing a pet is real and natural. But it hurts and many people, including myself, have found doing some of these things can help with the process of moving past the pain.

  • Note how you feel having toys, leashes, collars and other reminders of your pet around you. If these items bring you comfort, leave them out. If they distress you, there is nothing wrong with putting them away.
  • Embrace the idea of the “Rainbow Bridge” – an image meant to suggest that we could all meet again in the afterlife – and take comfort in knowing your sweet pet is there.
  • If you had to euthanize, you did it to ease your pet’s suffering. There is nothing wrong with that. You did the right thing at the right time.

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  • Remember all the love and attention you gave to your pet and how much you got in return in your beautiful relationship.
  • Memorialize your pet. Having a ceremony or creating a physical memorial with photos and mementos can help you grieve.
  • Journaling, writing letters, reading books, visiting friends and playing with their pets or keeping busy with volunteering and other activities can also help you fill the void you feel.

No one can tell you the proper way to grieve or how long the grief will last. But it will pass soon and you’ll be left with warm memories of your furry best friend to carry in your heart.