Why is it important to sympathise with pet loss?
Updated: Jun 18, 2018
Losing a cherished pet can be an emotionally devastating experience. However, society as a whole finds it difficult recognise how painful pet loss can be and how much it can impair emotional and physical health, and even someone's basic functioning
For example, few people will ask their employer for time off to grieve a beloved pet for fear that doing so would paint them as overly sentimental or emotionally weak. And few employers would grant such requests were we staff to make them. The fact that pet loss isn’t recognised by society has a significant and detrimental impact on a person's ability to recover.
Losing a pet doesn’t just cause a broken heart; it elicits real and serious grief reactions. It’s time we took it more seriously, both individually and collectively.
This not only robs people of crucial social support; it also makes people feel embarrassed about the magnitude of the heartbreak, feeling hesitant to disclose distress to loved ones. People may even wonder what is wrong with them and question why they are responding in such "disproportionate" ways to the loss.
Here are five reasons why pet loss can be so devastating, why it can cause such disruption to someone's life, and why we as a society should take such events more seriously than we currently do.
1. Losing a pet can hurt as much as losing a family member
Many pet owners consider their pets to be part of their family. In fact, many people who live alone consider their pet to be the closest member of their family. They might see their parents or siblings several times a year, but their cat, dog, horse, bird (or any other cherished animal) is part of their daily lives, and as such, the pet’s death is likely to be far more impactful than that of a geographically distant relative.
2. All pets function as therapy animals providing companionship and reducing anxiety
Whether they are trained to do so or not, all pets function as therapy animals to some extent. Their mere presence provides companionship, reduces loneliness and depression, and eases anxiety. When we lose them, we lose a significant, and often vital, source of support and comfort.
3. Caring for a pet helps our mood, self-esteem and increases feelings of well-being
Caring for another being, whether human or animal, has been shown to help our mood and self-esteem, and increase feelings of well-being and purpose. When we no longer have a pet to care for, we lose a significant source of emotional self-care as well.
4. Our daily routines get disrupted
Caring for pets involves routines and responsibilities around which we craft our days. We get exercise by walking our dog, we wake up early to feed our cat, and we look forward to the weekend so we can ride our horse. Losing a pet disrupts established routines that provide us with structure and give our actions meaning. This is why in addition to emotional pain, we feel aimless and lost in the days and weeks after our pet dies.
5. We lose aspects of our identity because our pets are a huge part of our lives
Most dog owners are more likely to be known by their neighbours by their animal’s name than they are by theirs. They are Daisy's mum or Benji's dad, and they get attention wherever they go. As such, our pets become part of our self-definition and without them, we become lost ourselves.
Losing a pet doesn't just cause a broken heart; it elicits real and serious grief reactions. It's time we took it more seriously, both individually and collectively.
If you are feeling the loss of a beloved pet please understand that the feelings you are experiencing are normal and you should not feel embarrassed or afraid about it. Help is available if you need to talk to someone for support.
Copyright 2018 Guy Winch - https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/experts/guy-winch-phd
2 The New England Journal of Medicine - https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMicm1615835