Animals

Why Losing A Dog Can Feel Harder Than Losing A Relative

Who can relate to this?

Dogs give us a lot of reasons to love them. They’re adorable. They provide emotional support and reduce stress. And research shows that they’re looking out for our best interest. Simply put, our canine friends are amazing. So it’s no wonder that losing a dog can be tough.

While some may dismiss the loss of a pet by saying it’s “just a dog,” research confirms that losing a dog can feel more difficult even than losing a friend or relative.

dog and human photo
Getty Images | Joshua Lott

So why is it so hard when your dog passes away? There are several reasons.

1. Pets Are Often Long-Trusted Companions

As Psychology Today points out, since dogs live an average of 13 years, you may know your dog longer than you’ve known some of your good friends—or even your partner or spouse.

A dog becomes a constant presence in your life, and may come to represent a life stage. I personally can relate to this sentiment. When my family dog died, I was 24 years old and had known my dog since I was ten. My dog had been there through my coming of age, and I really felt a loss not only of my dear companion but of my childhood and adolescence in a way.

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2. Pets Are A Source Of Unconditional Love

Unlike some of our human friends, dogs provide unconditional love and are never judgmental. Dogs are tuned into our emotional state and can even read us from facial expressions alone.

Worried Pet Owners React To Massive Pet Food Recall
Getty Images | Joe Raedle

3. Making Them Happy Makes Us Happy

The emotional relationship we have with dogs goes both ways. Research shows that dogs prefer praise to treats, which really confirms how much they love us. Dogs want to make us happy, and they do!

Happiness research shows that the key to feeling happy is making others happy, so it adds up that this applies even to our pets.

happy dog photo
Flickr | scottfeldstein

4. Fewer Rituals And Resources Surrounding Pet Loss

When a beloved dog dies, one reason it may be so difficult to get over is that there are no rituals surrounding the loss of a pet such as an obituary, a funeral or a memorial like we have for humans. These customs help us process the loss and our grief and can be an important step in healing.

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Some may choose to donate to a pet-related cause they care about in their pet’s memory or to bury their pet in a dedicated cemetery or location—but these practices aren’t commonplace as with humans.

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Remember, there is no right way to grieve the loss of a pet. It’s perfectly normal to feel sad or maybe even experience anger or denial, which are part of the five stages of grief.

While some people may not understand the pain associated with losing a pet, don’t worry—science is on your side. A paper published in the journal Veterinary Record found that caregiver burden for pets looks a whole lot like caregiver burden for humans. Those caring for a sick pet were found to have higher levels of stress, symptoms of anxiety and depression, and overall poorer quality of life.

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If you’re dealing with the loss of a pet and need some support, check out Living With Pet Bereavement, a site offering advice, information and support for those who have lost a pet.