"A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than he loves himself."
When we lose a loved onea family member or close friend, our loss is met with condolences, sympathy and complete support. Society gives us room to cry, to grieve, to process the pain of a devastating loss.
But when we lose a pet, it's a different story. There is a sense of insensitivity that mourning a pet is an 'overreaction.' People tend to assume that it is just a dog or a cat. And that we could easily "get another pet" as a replacement.
People who have loved a pet or have to let go of a pet know it is never "just a dog," or "just a cat."
Why losing a pet hurts so much
Mourning a pet is heartbreaking and can be a traumatic experience for some. Multiple studies1,2,3
have shown the bitter pain of loss is made stronger by what our pet represents in our lives. The hurt not only comes from their death but from the large void that our pet has filled in our hearts and lives.
1. Interspecies bond
We form bonds with our pets the same way we establish relationships with people. And the brain interprets it the same way. The hormones secreted when we connect with other humans, are the same hormones produced when we bond with our furry companions.
For some, the relationship with their pet is more satisfying than human relationships. This can be due to a debilitating physical condition or mental illness such as depression or anxiety. In such cases, pet owners rely on their pets for companionship, support, and love.
2. Unconditional love
Our pets are a source of unrequited love. Their emotional response in our presence is not inhibited by social norms and standards. Dogs, especially, are not reluctant or embarrassed to express their excitement upon seeing us. They can also be very assertive and protective when they feel that we are threatened or in danger.
Many of our social relationships are not as simple or straightforward. Often times, we have calculated our reactions for fear of rejection or hindered our emotions by how society expects us to behave. With pets, there is no judgment. They accept us for who we are, flaws and all.
3. Pure dependence
The pure dependence of another life on us makes us more responsible. Knowing that our pet is entirely reliant on us causes us to act on their best interests. And despite their vulnerability, pets mold us to become better people. They teach us patience, generosity, kindness, compassion, and discipline. Even if our dog chews on our expensive shoes or our cat scratches the new couch, we find a way to forgive and still share our home and heart.
4. Like a family member
Having a pet is like being a parent or a sibling. We ensure that our furry companion is well taken care of. We take them to see a veterinarian to make sure that they are at the peak of health. We go to the park with them and even hire pet walkers and groomers so they can socialize too. When we travel and can't take them with us, we ensure that they are cared for. We employ pet sitters or leave them with someone we trust that could look after their well-being. All our efforts are to provide them the best care possible when we are away.
The immensity of pet loss grief
Pets as a source of companionship, security, and object of caregiving allow us to derive continued satisfaction from them. The unconditional love that pets give us can sometimes even outweighs some of our human relationships. Thus, the pain of loss is comparable, and sometimes even greater, to losing a loved one. This is mainly because it's common for humans to have conflicts. Conflicts that may create disagreements and emotional distance, something that is not present in a pet-human relationship.
So when we do lose our pet--be it sudden or not--the death can cut us deep. Even deeper than the loss of a close relative or friend. Not only did we lose a companion, but we also lose a certain aspect of our lives-- the routine, the familiarity, our comforter when we are down, the knowledge that someone is waiting for us at home after a stressful day, willing to listen to our rants with all ears.
Understanding the immensity of your loss can help you in mourning, coping with your loss, and moving forward.
1. Give yourself time to mourn
It is okay to grieve over your pet. Losing someone, be it a dog or a cat is real, painful, and can be traumatic at times. Don't pressure yourself too much to get over the pain. Just continue to process your emotions and take it one day at a time.
2. Find a confidant
Finding someone to talk to and to share your emotions will greatly help with the healing process. Confiding to a friend who is an animal lover, a pet owner, or have lost a pet can relate better to what you are going through.
3. When you're emotionally ready, get a new pet
Getting a new dog or cat does not mean you are forgetting your lost pet. It means you are strong enough to experience the joy of having a furry friend again. Even if it means the possibility of going through another painful loss.
The joy of having a pet who is always excited to spend time with you, who doesn't judge you, and is always excited to see you is far greater than the pain of loss.