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Meet Me on the Rainbow Bridge: Coping with Pet Loss

January 26th, 2020 by Laurie Brush

Like their human counterparts, companion animals share an increased death rate during the holidays. Many pet parents face the winter months in mourning.

Pet loss grief can be complicated by a lack of social support, misplaced guilt, and degrees of bonding that might surpass many of our human-to-human relationships. Yet pet loss grief is often “disenfranchised grief” – grief that cannot be easily publicly mourned.

“Our cultural norms and support system play a role in how we react to the loss of our pets,” said Dr. Laurie Brush, founder of Heaven at Home Pet Hospice.

“It’s important to normalize and support pet loss grief, both in humans and in the companion animals left behind.”

Pet Loss Grief Is Real

Research into pet loss grief shows that lasting psychological – and physical – effects can be as strong as grief suffered for human loss. One study published in the New England Journal of Medicine documented a woman who suffered “broken heart syndrome,” a condition in which a person exhibits symptoms that mimic a heart attack, including hormone levels 30 times higher than normal. Another recent study by Eckerd, Barnett & Jett-Dias compared grief severity for the loss of pets vs. humans and concluded that the closeness to the deceased was the strongest predictor of grief severity, not species.

Why Pet Loss Is So Painful

Pets support our emotional well-being and reduce loneliness, depression, and anxiety. Psychologists believe pet loss is so painful because it’s multi-dimensional:

  • Loss of unconditional love
  • Loss of a protégé – It can feel like the loss of a child.
  • Loss of a “life witness”
  • Loss of multiple relationships and routines
  • Loss of primary companion

Help with Healing

Sharing feelings in the safe space created by a support group can be among the most powerful healing experiences for people. In addition, many Heaven at Home clients find that memorializing their pet and engaging in a ritual to celebrate what their fur friend meant in their lives helps with healing.

For more help with pet loss grief, join The West Michigan Pet Loss Support Group hosted the 2nd Tuesday of each month, 6:30 – 8 p.m. at Heaven at Home, 1530 Monroe Ave. NW, Grand Rapids MI. All are welcome. Please RSVP to Ginny Mikita at 616.460.0373 by noon on the meeting date.

Additional Resources You May Find Helpful:


Offsite Resources:

Veterinary Wisdom Pet Parents Resource Center: www.veterinarywisdom.com

Argus Institute at Colorado State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital, which proves free grief counseling relating to pet loss and support to those making end of life decisions for their pets – http://csu-cvmbs.colostate.edu/vth/diagnostic-and-support/argus/Pages/default.aspx

Day By Day Pet Loss Support offers live chat support Sundays at 7p EST, Tuesdays at 8p EST, or Thursdays at 8p EST at www.wholisticpawsvet.com/daybyday.html, Click Chat Room.