Coping with the Loss of a Pet: A Grief Often Underestimated

    Understanding the Emotional Weight of Losing a Furry Family Member


    When it comes to losing a pet, the emotional toll can be as heavy as losing a human loved one, if not more so. This sentiment is increasingly becoming a common understanding, especially in a society where pets are considered family members. According to Leslie Irvine, a sociologist at the University of Colorado-Boulder, the way we perceive pet loss has evolved significantly over the years.

    In the United States alone, pet ownership has risen by twelve percent since surveys began in 1988. This increase is not surprising given that pets often share our daily lives, from waking up in the morning to our bedtime routines. They become part of our family rituals, shaping our lives in ways we often don’t realize.

    Cori Bussolari, a psychologist at the University of San Francisco, points out that our emotional bonds with pets are unique and profound. The release of oxytocin, often referred to as the “love hormone,” occurs when humans and pets share eye contact, further solidifying this special relationship.

    However, the process of losing a pet can be emotionally taxing. The decision to euthanize, often a humane choice, can leave pet owners wracked with guilt. Dani McVety, a veterinarian and CEO of Lap of Love, notes that in-home euthanasia can make the process less stressful for both the pet and the owner.

    Despite the deep emotional bonds we share with our pets, society often fails to recognize the gravity of pet loss. Unlike human loss, there are fewer rituals and less social support to help us through the grieving process. But as Wendy Packman, a psychologist at Palo Alto University, points out, the intensity and duration of grief for a pet can be as significant as that for a human.