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Since humankind first domesticated animals, the death of a pet or an animal to which one has become emotionally bonded can be an intense loss, comparable with the death of a human loved one, or even greater depending on the individual. The death can be felt more intensely when the owner has made a decision to end the pet’s life through euthanasia. While there is strong evidence that animals can feel such loss for other animals, this article focuses on human feelings, when an animal is lost, dies or otherwise is departed.
There is no set amount of time for the grieving process to occur. However, mourning is much more intense for a pet upon whom the owner was emotionally dependent. Additionally, some pet owners may feel unable to express their grieving due to social mores surrounding pets. If the pet owner internalizes the grief, the suffering increases.
The stages of grief proposed by Dr. Elizabeth Kübler-Ross was designed in relation to human death, but can be adapted to describe the grief process for the death of a pet. Indeed, pet death includes several lessons: 1) the relationship rather than the object (the animal) is central to understand the loss; 2) the manner of death/loss will affect the grieving process; 3) the age and living situation of the bereaved will affect the grieving process.
University of Michigan did a study of grief over loss of a pet, the study included 174 adults who had lost their pets. Participants were administered a modified CENSHARE Pet Attachment Survey. Results indicate that initially 85.7% of owners experienced at least one symptom of grief, but the occurrence decreased to 35.1% at six months and to 22.4% at one year. Males and females reported different rates on six of 12 symptoms surveyed. The severity and length of symptoms is significantly correlated with the degree of attachment to the deceased pet. These findings indicate that pet loss can be a potential area of clinical concern, especially if the person's attachment to the pet was strong.
Though well-meaning phrases like "time heals all wounds" can simply upset the grieving pet owner, it is true that the one factor required for all coping strategies is time. Coping also involves understanding the emotions surrounding the loss of a pet, and then accepting the emotions to focus towards positive solutions.
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