Pets and Managing Grief

Pets and Grief: How A Pet Can Help You Manage Grief

Whether the loss is a family member, friend, or someone else, grief has a way of turning our world upside down and shaking our emotional systems to the core. Finding a beacon of light in an emotional storm can be extremely difficult. We all need a support system to stabilize us through the grief process if there is to be any hope of healing. Grief support can come in many forms, such as friends, support groups, and grief counselors. Yet, one of the greatest ways to support grief can come from one of the most unlikely outlets: pets!

Can a Pet Help with Grief?

Pets are living, breathing beings. They depend on us for everything in their lives. From food to shelter to healthcare, pets need our support to survive. All pets have unique personalities, often attributed to human characteristics. As members of our family and household, we spend an incredible amount of time with them. The bonds we share with pets are as unique and special as those with people. As much as they rely on us for care, protection, and companionship, it isn’t one-sided. Pet owners get just as much back and more. Besides benefits, such as heaps of attention, companionship, and love, these cherished creatures also bring comfort and emotional support during difficult times.

How Pets Help with Grief

Unconditional Love

No matter what kind of day you’ve had, pets love you unconditionally. For many pet owners, this comes as a great relief. There’s no need to explain themselves or be concerned about being judged. Pets are thrilled to have you home again. Their unconditional love and support rival that of many friends and family members. Whether you need to vent about your day or be left alone with your thoughts, pets will love you all the same. They won’t interrupt you or be too busy to listen. When it comes to grief, the rollercoaster of emotions that erupt may make the bereaved feel self-conscious. The non-judgemental nature of pets will allow you the freedom to express yourself fully.

Emotional Support

Even though pets don’t speak, they can still pick up on your emotional state. Pets like dogs and cats can sense when you need extra love and support. The most obvious sign of their keen attention is their desire to stay by your side in distress. When it comes to emotional support, the best thing a human being can do for another is show up. Pets understand that naturally. Many people try to help grief-stricken individuals in attempting to solve their problems, which is an impossible task. You can’t solve grief. When suffering a loss, you never fully get over it; however, you can learn how to cope. There are no “right” words you can say to assuage a person’s grief. By simply being present, pets offer tremendous emotional support.

Reduced Stress

The affection pets have for their owners is astonishing. Reconnecting with your pet after being out for a bit is always a happy occasion for them, which helps to reduce a bereaved person’s stress levels. When we stroke pets, the brain releases “feel good” hormones, such as dopamine. At the same time, levels of cortisol, a stress-inducing hormone, begin to dissipate. Most pets enjoy being rubbed and scratched; rhythmic petting relaxes humans and pets alike. Also, lots of dogs and cats enjoy a good cuddle.

Sense of Purpose

Grief can be all-consuming. Thoughts can dwell on the loss, leaving little room for anything else in the bereaved's life. Relationships begin to suffer as they lose focus on other important aspects of their lives. Critical self-care functions, such as cleaning, eating, or bathing, can become limited. Owning a pet is a responsibility that can’t be overlooked. Whether taking them for a walk, feeding them, or cleaning up their habitat, pets give grief-stricken pet owners a sense of purpose. Nurturing and caring for a pet can help keep the bereaved tethered to their daily life. For dog owners, it helps get them out of the house at least once a day for potty needs. While the loss may weigh heavy, caring for a pet can help refocus the mind for short periods.

Which Pets Can Help with Grieving?

Any pet can help the grieving process. It all depends on the relationship you have with a particular pet. While dogs and cats are the most common household pets, there is no limit on which type of pet can offer support with grief. For instance, some people find great joy in spending time with horses. Other unique pets include birds, reptiles, hamsters, and rabbits. Simply being in the company of pets can offset the distress associated with grief.

Pets are ever-constant companions. Unlike many people, you can always count on pets to be there when needed. Thanks to pets' unconditional love and support, you’re never alone in processing grief.

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