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Why Is the Feeling of Grief So Strong When Our Pet Passes Away?

We hear it everyday – “How can you do this job? It must be so upsetting”. It is incredibly difficult for us whenever we see a grieving family, but we also know how you are feeling and try to be there for you as much as we can.

Pet owners are always surprised at the strength of emotion they experience because they have suffered a pet loss. We can’t tell who is going to be affected most – it can as easily be a great strapping straight-talking man as it can be anyone else. So, why can grief affect us is such a different way when a pet passes?

Over recent years, pet ownership has changed. In the past pets often had a job. For example, dogs were bred to complete a task: guard dog, sheep dog or gun dog. Today the role of many pets has changed, with many now acting as a companion for their owner and the owner’s family rather than just there to complete work tasks. They cuddle us, keep us company, give us sloppy kisses, get us out of the house etc..

The bond that develops between owner and pet can be as strong, if not stronger, as the bonds that tie other family members together. For many pet owners the bonds they have with their pets can be as strong as those seen between parent and child.

The increase in the use of service animals, in particular dogs, goes to show how much disabled people rely upon them to maintain an independent lifestyle. The bond that develops between a service dog and their handler is deep and enduring. It is of small wonder that these service animals are considered a close family member by those they support.

It is normal for people to feel grief when they lose a human family member. It is a little more complicated when we lose a pet; especially if that pet was euthanised due to poor health. Owners report feeling guilty for making the difficult decision to say goodbye. Some report feeling guilty, simply because the strength of emotion they are experiencing for an animal. Whilst others may feel embarrassed about such strong feelings after pet loss and don’t want to share their feelings with loved ones.

Grieving is a personal and highly individual experience. Some people find grief comes in stages, where they experience different feelings such as denial, anger, guilt, depression, and eventually acceptance and resolution. Others find that grief is more cyclical, coming in waves, or a series of highs and lows. The lows are likely to be deeper and longer at the beginning and then gradually become shorter and less intense as time goes by. Still, even years after a loss, a sight, sound, smell, or a special anniversary can spark memories that trigger a strong sense of grief.

Suffering a bereavement and going through grief can be exhausting. You may experience physical symptoms and suffer from sleep loss. Many that have experienced this describe it as being on the rocks. It is important to remember these feelings will pass.

It is important that you allow yourself time to grieve. Trying to ignore your pain or keep it from surfacing will only make it worse in the long run. Feeling all washed up or in extreme cases suffering an emotional breakdown can be traced back to not acknowledging the strength of loss and how it has affected you. By expressing your grief, you’ll likely need less time to heal than if you withhold or “bottle up” your feelings.

Once the mourning has passed and you start to accept a life without your pet. Reality will kick in and your life can start to regain some sense of normality. Yes, you will still feel an absence, but this should grow less with time. During this period, you might find it helpful to create a tribute or memorial to your pet. We are often told of the comfort that this brings and it is a great way to keep the memory of your pet alive.


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