If you’ve ever lost a pet, then you know exactly how devastating it can be.
What makes it worse is that not everyone understands the grief, because you “only” lost a pet, not a human loved one. You may feel embarrassed to publicly express your sadness or ask for time off of work. But studies show that losing a pet is much more painful than people think.
Researchers at the University of New Mexico surveyed pet owners who’d recently lost a pet. They found that the pet owners experienced a deep, intense and profound sense of loss. Similarly, researchers in Hawaii found that the grief of losing a pet can be even longer-lasting than the grief of losing a loved one.
This may be because people live their daily lives with their pets and develop even closer bonds with them than with other members of their family. Pets help shape the everyday routines of their owners. In the aftermath of their deaths, people often don’t know what to do with themselves.
Pets are also a source of unconditional love. Dogs, in particular, are deeply connected with their human companions; they are able to read human facial expressions, give and receive affection, and develop close bonds with particular people. They’re nicknamed man’s best friend for a reason!
But people also grieve their cats, horses, birds, snakes, hamsters… Pretty much any beloved household pet will be sorely missed when it’s gone.
“It is time we gave grieving pet owners the recognition, support and consideration they need,” writes Guy Winch at Scientific American.
Until society catches up, pet owners can validate their own feelings of grief by taking the time and space that they need to process the loss. Take the time off work, cry it out, see a counselor. Many animal clinics even offer group therapy for the bereaved.