Pet Loss

The loss of a pet can be the cause of tremendous grief for an individual and family.  I have spoken with people who have tears in their eyes several years after a pet has died.  What causes this grief reaction and why?

For some, you may wonder or say to yourself, “What the heck, it is just a pet”.  For you this may be true, but for numerous individuals this is not the case.  The relationship created between an individual and their pet or pets in some cases has a closer bonding effect than with certain family members.

“Just a pet”!  Not really.  The love connection, companionship and true acceptance from a pet in some situations is the only connection where a person feels loved.  In reality this may not be the true, but the individual may perceive it to be so.

Imagine a child who feels they do not belong and are struggling with life for whatever reason; the love of a pet helps them get through the struggles.  The individual who has experienced a death of a family member knows the pet will be there for them no matter what.

To emphasize the importance of pets in an individual’s life, I often ask grieving people if they have a pet, because I know how helpful they can be.  Pets provide a distraction from grief, give additional attention to the griever and create a reason for their owners to get out of bed.

Does this resonate with you?  Have you seen how connected pets are in a family environment; they are a part of the family?  Then this pet dies and the sadness floods their life in many different ways.

I know many people will think this is ridiculous and say pets are good for nothing; those individuals have a right to their opinion.  On the flip side, I hear many people say they will never get another pet because it hurts too much when they die.

I agree, it does hurt when our pets die and we experience grief, but there are those who will not stop themselves from experiencing the love of a pet for fear they will die.  Remember the quote by Alfred Lord Tennyson, “Tis better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all”.

I acknowledge that there are life circumstances and legitimate reasons or restrictions to not getting another pet.  Some reasons may be;

  • The age of the individual wanting another pet
  • Physical restrictions that hinder the care of a pet
  • Financial restrictions that affect the ability to care for and feed a pet
  • Residential situations that prohibit a pet

The above restrictions can add another dimension to the grieving individual who would like to get another pet for companionship.  This might be particularly sad for those who go to retirement or nursing homes or other residential facilities.

To say the least, the loss or death of a pet can be traumatic and we need to acknowledge this for ourselves and others who grieve this loss.

All my best,

Barbara Gillett Saunders

Grief Counsellor/Thanatologist