Category: Grieving The Loss Of A Pet


Complicated grief is unresolved, incomplete or unfinished grief. It usually is characterized by a prolonged sense of mourning and often occurs in conjunction with underlying psychological/psychiatric issues. Clients often describe themselves as “feeling stuck” in their grief. Complicated grief is not intrinsically pathologic. You are not crazy just because you are having a hard time coping with loss!
Complicated grief occurs quite frequently in pet loss and can contribute to behavior changes, depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress and compassion fatigue. Symptoms of complicated grief may include: continued disbelief in death of the loved one; inability to accept the death; persistent flashbacks, nightmares and intrusive memories; and continuous yearning and searching for the deceased.
Anticipatory grief is the “normal mourning that occurs when a patient or family is expecting a death…it includes all of the thinking, feeling, cultural and social reactions to an expected death that are felt. . . . [I]t includes depression, fear, anger, sadness, extreme care for the dying person [pet], time/action in preparation for the death and time to complete unfinished business” (from http//:www.cancer.gov). It is likely we will outlive our pets, so one could say we are anticipating their deaths from the moment we acquire them.
Disenfranchised grief is experienced by an individual after a loss that is not socially acknowledged or supported. The loss does not “fit” into societal rules for mourning. The mourner is often left to cope with his/her emotions related to the loss with minimal social recognition of the loss or support. Mourners are expected to continue with normal routines (e.g., coming to work, not having or attending memorial service/rituals). Pet owners often experience disenfranchised grief when we hear statements like:

“It’s just a dog.”
“You can get another cat!”
“Are you really that upset about an animal?”
“Oh well, there are so many other animals who need homes!”

The number-one reason people give for pet ownership is companionship. Companion animals represent many things to us. They are our best friends, our partners, our siblings, our children. Companion animals often are our main source of social support. They offer us unconditional love and expect very little in return.

We become attached to our companion animals throughout the course of our relationships with them. This companionship and attachment combined with the emotional, physical and financial investment we make in our pets, shapes our bond with them. The human–animal bond represents the types of relationships we have with our companion animals. We form these relationships for many reasons; physical, social, emotional and psychological. Our animals get us out of the house and encourage exercise. Animals help us through difficult times in our lives. Often, our companion animals are a connection to other significant people who are no longer in our lives. The simple act of petting an animal helps up relax. Pet ownership may even contribute to lower blood pressure, heart rate and cholesterol.

When the bond is broken, we experience a vast range and depth of emotions. These emotions are normal and can include, but are not limited to, anger, regret, despair, pain, relief, guilt, shame and loneliness. It is okay to express your emotions. Cry, scream, talk it out. Bottling up your emotions because “no one will understand” can lead to increased stress and perhaps complicate your grieving process. Remember and reflect on all the good times you had with your pet in addition to grieving the loss of your companion animal.

When an individual has little or no support to deal with the loss of a pet, the grief and mourning experienced can be overwhelming and isolating. One of the struggles associated with pet loss is the difficulty in finding a support network (personal and professional) that is ready and willing to help you cope with your loss. Talk to other pet lovers in your family and support circle. If you don’t have a friend or family member with whom you feel comfortable talking, ask your veterinarian for a referral to a counselor or pet bereavement group.

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