Pet Loss Grief: The Psychology of Feeling Blue
What effect does pet loss have on the individual? What about the effect of animal loss on other animals? Animals in the wild have sometimes been observed to "mourn," as noted in the call of a mother bird when one of her young hatchlings falls out of the nest, or a dog who seems to comfort other dogs when another dog dies. It is important for psychologists to understand what an important role pets play on our lives, and how strong the effect of the loss of a pet can be. It is also interesting to note instances when we have observed apparent grief in animals for each other, as this seems to make animals in some way, slightly more "human."
In a study, "Pet loss: Issues and implications for the psychologist,"( Sharkin, Bruce S.; Knox, Donna Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, Vol 34(4), Aug 2003, 414-421, the research team investigated the short and long-term effect of pet loss on families, children, and the elderly. They also looked into how professional counselors and psychologists can help people come to terms with this emotional impact and help them through the grieving process, much as they would the loss of a family member or other close acquaintance. (PsycINFO Database Record 2012). It was discovered that there was a strong correlation between pet loss and emotional issues, especially following other tragic events.
In another study done involving disaster victims, ("The Impact of Pet Loss on the Perceived Social Support and Psychological Distress of Hurricane Survivors," by Lowe, Rhodes, Zwiebach, & Chan, 2009), it was found that people who suffer the loss of a family pet in such disasters, such as hurricanes, earthquakes, and other natural disasters, had a much greater chance of suffering from post-disaster distress, emotional issues long after the event, and other results. After Hurrican Katrina, sixty-three people (17.3%) reported losing a pet due to the disaster. Of these, pet loss was significant to predict forthcoming stress in the aftermath of the event, as well as other stress variables, and this factor was more significant than any of the typical demographic variables often used to determine the outcome of their adjustment following the event.
It is pretty evident from these studies and others that humans mourn and suffer grief at the death of a beloved pet. But what about other animals? Do they mourn for each other? Is it saying too much to state that animals feel loss at the death of a mate, their young, or another animal?
In a recent article in Psychology Today, ("Animal Emotions: Do Animals Think and Feel?") (Mark Beckoff, 2009), he address how even wild animals can grieve. It was noted that a pack of wild elephants, in the wild, often show remorse and grief at the death of a young calf, and some young elephants have been known to wake up "screaming" following their witnessing the death of their mother at the hand of hunters or other wild animals.
When we look at these studies, there seems to be no doubt that not only is it apparent that humans are deeply affected by the loss of a beloved pet, but that the animals themselves are capable of grief for the loss of each other as well. In some cases, it has even been observed that pets mourned the loss of their human master, when they were no longer around.
Given this information, is it any wonder we have such a strong emotional tie to our best friends who seem to love each other, and us, as much as we love them and would miss us if we were gone?
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