The 3 Grief’s of Dealing with Pet-Loss

Funeral Industry News April 9, 2012

The 3 Grief’s of Dealing with Pet-Loss

Dealing with the grief of Pet-loss is difficult and sometimes as hard as losing a human friend because there are three types of grief that can impact pet lovers.

The grief of Pet-loss is real, important and shared by pet lovers everywhere. The human-pet bond is very strong. It cuts across time, language and culture. Since grief is the strong stress reaction to any catastrophic loss in our lives, losing a pet companion can rival and sometimes even surpass the levels of grief experienced when losing a human friend.

Can losing a pet really impact a person as much as losing a human? Yes, and the reason is, Pet-loss usually involves three distinct and powerful forms of grief: anticipatory, disenfranchised, and the actual grief of loss. Many pet parents experience all three of these types of grief at once. This compound effect is what can make the loss of a pet even more difficult to deal with than the loss of a human.

Grief for a pet lover does not usually begin with the loss of their pet friend; it begins the moment their Veterinarian suggests or they begin to realize that it is time to start thinking about saying goodbye to their beloved pet. This is anticipatory grief.  This is the grief caused by even thinking about no longer having your beloved pet in your life. Then, when a pet lover tells someone who doesn’t understand the strength of their human-pet bond, how sad or upset they are they often encounter insensitivity: “What’s the problem? It’s only a dog!” This is disenfranchised grief. They then feel isolated because they often do not receive the social support they need. Then, when their pet passes, the grief of the actual loss kicks in because they have to deal with the finality of death.

Because of the pet parents’ love and good care and the advances in Veterinary Medicine, many pets now live a very long and happy life. However, because pets usually pre-decease us, at some point we must deal with the grief of Pet-loss.  Grief is not a disease, and built into our human nature is resilience, the ability to survive major losses. Usually, with time, the support of those who love us, and a good Grief Support Program, we recover and begin to live a normal life again. Never forgetting, but adjusting to our loss.

So, if you ever hear someone say that dealing with the loss of their pet was in many ways more difficult than dealing with the loss of a human friend, explain to them about the three grief’s of Pet-loss and it will help them understand why it was so hard.

Timothy J. O’Brien M.S. author of the “You will always be a part of me…A Guide & Journal for Grieving the Loss of Your Pet” a Grief Support Program for Pet-loss, and the soon to be released new book “Is it time to say goodbye? A guide for considering a difficult decision,” which will be a FREE download to share with Veterinarians and others, available at Tim has been involved with Grief issues since 1991. He has published articles and written a popular continuing education course for Funeral Directors carried by NFDA. For 14 years, he was a columnist for Knight Ridder/McClatchy and has published more than 400 print articles. You can contact him at