“Grieving is the act of affirming or reconstructing a personal world of meaning that has been challenged by loss” (Neimeyer 2000)
At Milton Village Vet our vets and nurses deal with grief issues on a daily basis. Most of our chosen companion domestic animals have shorter lifespans than us so an average pet owner will experience the passing of a pet, multiple times over a lifetime.
British research has shown that up to a third of pet owners felt that the death of their pet was as heartbreaking as the death of their parent, sibling or spouse and that the “closeness” between owner and pet was predictive for the severity of the grief response. Yet the loss of a pet is rarely recognised by the wider community as being significant and owners are often left to deal with their grief alone and without support.
Loss Doesn’t Just Mean Death
The grief and loss literature is primarily concerned with bereavement issues however veterinary behaviourists are now using these models to help pet owners reconstruct new relationships with their pets when impacted by behavioural, medical or surgical disease. Pet owners have certain expectations or assumptions about how their relationship with their pet will grow and develop. Challenges to these assumptive beliefs can be as challenging and distressing as the grief of a pet’s passing.
To put it simply, pet owners can feel grief and sorrow when the relationship that they had envisaged with their pet fails to materialise or is permanently altered.
Phone a Friend?
Some of the emotions associated with the grief response include anger, guilt, shame, sadness, trouble concentrating and disrupted sleep. Supporting owners as they learn to accept the reality of the loss, experience the pain of grief, adjust to the environment in which the deceased is missing and then emotionally move on with life is the role of the veterinary or medical professional and the owner’s support network.
If you or a friend or family member has recently lost a pet then it is very important to understand that it is OK to be sad, and that talking to a non-judgmental, objective and supportive friend or professional is the best place to start.