Similarities between the way we grieve for our loved ones and animal friends


There isn’t a definite answer, nonetheless, the theoretical models of human bereavement can serve as guidelines to understanding the normal response to loss.

“Bereavement: A loss due tot the death of someone to whom one feels close, and the process of adjustment to that loss. Additionally, behaviour of the bereaved and the community after a death, including culturally accepted customs and ritual is referred to as  mourning (Papalia & Wendkos-Olds, 1998).”

Sometimes, pet owners are faced with a difficult question: whether to euthanise a pet. Euthanasia is in fact a decision that lies within the owner, of terminating the life of the animal. This decision further complicates the grief and guilt on pet owners. Mckhann (1999) stated “man is the only animal that can contemplate its own mortality” (p.134). Thus this affects the social consequences that inevitably follows when the decision of euthanising a pet has been made.

The process and decision of euthanasia is common for pet owners, but with little public awareness among pet owners. Which result in pet owners doubting themselves with regards to grieving over their pets and also to get through this guilt that leaves within them.

“This also tells us that society fails to identify and understand the magnitude of animal euthanasia and how it impacts the pet owner and the bereavement process. (pg. 5)”

Therapist will be confronted with a patient who makes decision about euthanising their pet. As a therapist, it is imperative that one’s bias does not enter into the client’s decision-making process. According to Ross-Barton and Baron-Soren:
“Client seek your help because they are confused and upset. They may be unable to think clearly and rationally. They may require a great deal of support in working through their issues in order to achieve an acceptable solution.”

similarities of human and pet bereavement

Through the above table, guilt is a common emotion that follows the death of a pet. An apparent reason is to euthanise a pet. Additionally, when a pet owners cannot afford to save the pet’s life.


On the other hand, Freud’s main proposition mourning is that it is an expression of pathological mourning. Which is believed that the loss of a significant other is a conscious concern of the mourners who are aware of their own feelings, of what the lost person means to them and how the loss may change their lives.


Nieburg and Fischer (1982) identified that pet attachement at different stages will result in different grief reactions. Example, couples who do not have kids and have pets instead, regards their pets as kids. This in turn would result the couple to experience the same type of painful separation and grief responses that a parent goes through when they lose a child. This applies to individuals as well, as they are dependent on pets to give them a sense of companionship. Lastly, older pet owners gets easily attached to pets as it is like their last purpose in life to care for someone else. They can active with them and becomes productive. Thus with different attachment comes along with the grief that could be similar to that when a human loses someone close to them.

The death of a pet can hurt as much as a that of a relative

” I am no stranger to death.” described Joe. His father died due to a stroke and not long after his sister passed on due to cancer. However, the death of “his dog seems even harder.”

Some would be in doubt of their feelings, how could the death of a canine possibly hurt as much as that of a family member?

However it is proven by researches that the animal-human bond is strong. Some pet owners even feel shameful that they are grieving more for their pets than for a sibling or parents.

“But when they realize that the difference is the pet gave them constant companionship, and there was total dependency, then they start to realize that is the reason behind grieving so intensely,” Sandra Barker, director of the Center for Human-Animal interaction.

Even the span with a dog can only last from 13 – 15 years, it is the daily interactions. Every morning them greeting you, when you put on your shoes they would sit beside you, take him out for walks, such interaction actually happened countless times. Hence it make sense that when they are gone. such activities and gestures disappear to, with emptiness being in replaced.

With relatives, even your own family members, there bound to be countless disputes and conflicts over various reasons, but the relationship with a pet dog is way simpler; their love and support seems to have no strings attached.

More than just a dog

Thankfully, many of my closest friends, family members and co-workers have been wonderfully sympathetic, and for that I’m grateful. Others have seemed reluctant to talk about my grief, and I suspect that it’s because they’re trying to stay in denial about the prospect of losing their own animal or trying not to remember the death of a previous one. My least-favorite reaction comes from those who are aiming to be supportive but regularly ask me when I’m going to adopt another dog, a reaction that seems tantamount to saying, “Get over it already. He was just a dog. Isn’t one as good as another?”

That can lead to what psychologists refer to as disenfranchised grief.

“Simply stated, many people (including pet owners) feel that grief over the death of a pet is not worthy of as much acknowledgment as the death of a person,” researchers wrote in a 2003 article in the journal Professional Psychology: Research and Practice. “Unfortunately, this tends to inhibit people from grieving fully when a pet dies.”


3 steps to emotional healing

• reach out to your support system.
According to Tonya, psychotherapist, people often turn to isolation when struggling with grief or depression. However reconnecting yourself to people you often use to hang out with, do activities that you often indulge in before falling into this deep hole will help alot.

After which of reconnecting with the activities and people, it is the time to reflect back about the grief and sadness that you experienced, a review to better understand the situation and yourself.
Question such as “what did you do to get through the grief”,”Who helped you?” and how you can continue to stay out this grief.
Some will think that by thinking about it again is as good as falling back into the trap. however allowing yourself to review the sadness shows how tough you were to survive. And also a time in which you could consider other options in future when dealt with grief. This applies well to me when sometimes I thought back about a quarrel I encountered with and I realised how silly I was and there were ways in which I could better deal it with.

“Allow your body to be active as you engage with the world, but also let your emotions rest, as they have been on a roller coaster of sadness, darkness and re-emergence to light.”

How therapists treats patients #1

A New Treatment Program for the Grief That Won’t End 

“Loss of a loved one is a natural, universally experienced life event and, at the same time, among life’s most challenging experiences.” – Dr. Shear in an article for Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, published in June 2012.

According to research, usually right after death, the intensity of grief also known as “acute grief” will be manageable as time goes by.

“It’s a transformation from acute grief to what we call integrated grief,” Shear explained. “The person stops dominating your mind and rests peacefully in your heart.”

Shear further noted that grief never really ends: “You’re never really going to stop missing someone whom you love who dies.” For most people, however, grief changes as they process their loss and start to re-engage in life.

Dr Shear helps in treating patients suffering from “complicated grief” – people whom felt like it happened just yesterday even though their loved ones was gone for more than a year.


One treatment is “imaginal revisiting” where the patient tells the story of learning about the death and is made to listen to the recorded version everyday. This is help them accept reality and coming to terms with it.

Why can’t 2 co-exist?

To many, pets are like their next of kin, just that some of them have fur. Thus, there is this term to these new breed of kids, ‘furbaby’.

I have read so many articles on how pets, especially cats and dogs have become the a family member and plays different roles in the family. To some, they are a companion, a kid (for couples who do not have children) and a physical living thing other than a human to give them warmth and love.

“I can vividly recall the rapturous joy, the first time he was placed in my arms, 15 years ago – I felt something in my heart twist: the physical sensation of falling in love. In an emotional sense, he was my first child – only this baby was furry, with whiskers and a tail.”
Anna Maxed who received her pet cat and described it as a ‘person disguised as a cat.

When pets pass away, owners have to grief and cry their hearts out in private. Because to public, this is something deemed as ‘offensive, embarrassing and shameful’ to be grieving of a dead pet.

“Why can’t the two co-exist?” referring to the bereavement of a pet and a person?

Research on emotions of pet loss

Pet Loss and Human Emotion  [A research based on reflection on pet loss]

What are the different relationship with pets?
What are the attachment and roles played by the pet in the owner’s life?
Pets are starting to be accepted and treated as a family member. Their level of commitment in terms of health and food care needs is way higher than other family members. Pets play a significant role in our daily lives, some even are dependent on them. Taking dogs as an example, they are trained to aid the disabled, they can even detect someone suffering from cancer and other illness. Demographics even showed that 6 out of 10 households have pets in the United States. There are more pets as compared to the number of children in the households. Which shows are pets are becoming part of a family.
To some, their pets are their playmate, “a brother they never had”, “the boyfriend always present”, the best confidant. Pets are always there for them, someone they could rely on for physical and emotional contact.

Animals have a soul, in which like human, they are able to shower owners with unconditional love, exhibit honesty, dignity and the intelligence. Some see their pets as a splitting image of themselves. In which one could notice similarities between the owner and pet; personality, temperament, attitude and style. (Gunter, 1999).



Mourning are also categorised under a few sorts, self-blame, regret, helplessness, in which leads to grief. There are all sorts of grief that applies to different cases of how the pets passes on. However, the stages of grief can be summarised into 3 stages:

1. Shock and denial
It happens when coming to terms of pet’s death, not wanting to accept the fact that the pet could not live any longer or even the fact that they are gone. This results in owners fear that such instances of death will happen again to someone close to them or other pets. Not wanting to visit places that will bring back memories of their time spent together with the pet.
2. Emotional pain and suffering
Some feel the sense of guilt because they feel they cused the death of their pet indirectly such as not looking after them properly, or even the choice of euthanasia. The psychological pain and suffering might lead them to have difficulty interacting with others in future, or not being able to overcome the grief which leads to physical symptoms such as fatigue and headaches.
3. Acceptance and resolution
There are 2 kinds of people, one who accept the pet loss and the other who are not able to. The first group of people will wish to retain memories spent with their pets are are gone. While the latter will be too traumatised and overcome with emotions but still, they are able to relieve their grief through help and support.

In the current culture, not many will be willing or have a platform to share about how their pets relate to them, how the dismissal of their pets affect them. Reason being, others who can’t relate to the feelings of pet owners finds it strange.

There is a lack of responsiveness to pet loss that causes this topic to be a grey area. Formal support could mean coming from the expertise, therapists to deal with emotional turmoil, and even veterinarian to give the best possible advice on how to deal with illnesses and major decisions. Informal support from family members, friends and even owners who understands their plight.
These areas are missing in which social support is not given to such pet owners. No or little communication between veterinarians and pet owners are received. The states of being emotional could get better with counselling and support. And even the process of mourning for a pet could be accepted and deemed normal from the society has yet to be voiced.

Companion animal euthanasia
“a humane method of terminating the life of an animal who is dearly loved, but has little or no hope for recovery.”

Coming to terms that you will lose your pet eventually is heart-wrenching. Needless to say, whether or not to undergo euthanasia for the pet is another distressing decision. Not much information are provided to prepare owners before and after the loss of pets, lack alone the procedure of euthanasia.


Ref to The Human–Animal Bond and Grief (Lagoni, Butler, & Hetts, 1994) for grief support over pet loss.

From The Psychology of the Human – Animal Bond

Have dogs become a replacement to having kids?
Have dogs become a replacement to having kids?

It is interesting how people actually rather keep a pet than having a child. Do pets give them more affection? A better companion?