The Psychology of Grieving: Why Losing a Dog or Cat Is Like Losing a Family Member


I recently came across an article titled “Losing a pet can be as difficult as losing a loved one”. For many, this is like saying “breaking your femur can be as painful as breaking your leg”. Obviously, it is: it is the same thing! The former simply uses more specific terminology.

However, it is clear that not everyone agrees. There are those who, when they meet someone upset over the loss of a pet, say “buy a new one”. Legally, pets are just property. A cat is something you buy, and a cat is the same as any other, right?

Those who don’t care or have any experience with pets may think so. Nevertheless, it is still fundamentally wrong.

First, human brains are very capable of forming strong emotional connections. Even with individuals we have never met, or those who do not or cannot exist. We even form emotional attachments to inanimate objects and experience a sense of deep loss if they are lost or broken.

Given this, people who form meaningful emotional connections with non-human creatures are Following likely than not. Indeed, this often happens.

Some may still scoff. Because how can you form an emotional bond with something that can’t even talk to you? Easily, it turns out.

Non-human pets definitely cannot provide the same intellectual/cognitive stimulation as another homo sapiens. However, they actually benefits by invoking emotional ties. One evidence is that, with their overall small size but proportionately large heads and large eyes, typical pets have many of the qualities of human babies, which our brains are instinctively and emotionally driven to care for and protect, to a state often confusing. degree.

Indeed, babies also do not offer intellectual or cognitive stimulation, but we tend not to regard them as irrelevant. The very idea is abhorrent, not to mention that it would effectively doom our species.

We humans and other primates are also very tactile creatures, and comforting touch is a priority when forming interpersonal bonds. So despite their lack of spiritual repartee, dogs, cats, rabbits, hamsters, ferrets, and just about anything that can offer warm hugs can often tick emotional boxes that our species cannot.

Admittedly, not all types of animals can offer this tactile dimension. Furry mammals and some soft-feathered birds can. But reptiles, insects, fish, etc. will have trouble here. The ever-emotional human brain can still overcome this hurdle, but it may still explain why some pets are considered more “losers” than others.

But consider this; a pet’s limited cognitive abilities and interactions? They can mean that the emotional bonds we form with them are stronger, no weaker.

The human brain has evolved many complex mechanisms to fully engage with our fellow human beings. Empathy, theory of mind, mimicry, impression management, etc. But most, if not all, involve elements of manipulation, of deception. It’s actually an impressive cognitive ability, but it can nevertheless introduce an element of doubt into any bond we form with another person.

Are they totally honest with me? Do they have ulterior motives? Even if we trust someone implicitly, we know they can misleading bed. And that will ultimately impact our brain’s understanding of it.

But this is not true for pets. If we come home and our dog is happy to see us, we to know it’s not lying. Because it can’t! If our cat chooses to climb onto our chest and purr, it’s hard to think that he’s playing “the long game” and trying to convince us.

And yes, you might be thinking that the behaviors we perceive as love and affection from our pets are overly anthropomorphized interpretations of something more basic (e.g., “Your cat doesn’t want to cuddle, he just wants a warm place to sleep, and he’ll eat your face if you die at home.” But when it comes to the human brain, it does not matter !

Consider how many people have mourned and still mourn the recently deceased Princess Diana or Queen Elizabeth. People they’ve never met in person. Whatever emotional attachment they had was based on a concoction of their imagination.

Why would pets be any different? If the wagging of a dog’s tail is perceived as affectionate arousal rather than a primitive canine signal, then that is what it is when it comes to our brains.

And if we can form as powerful emotional bonds with beloved pets as we do with humans, it logically follows that we experience similar grief when they die, studies have found.

This suggests that grief over the loss of a pet should be treated as seriously as grief over the loss of a family member or loved one. Because as far as our brain is concerned, that is exactly what happened!

Ideally, existing services should be expanded to recognize the death of a pet as a source of grief. It can rightfully be as traumatic as the death of a loved one. And in some ways, even more. After all, no one would ever say “Is your mother dead?” Well, adoption exists, why don’t you just take a new one? »

Such people would be vilified in the extreme. I’m not saying that those who say the same about pets should get the same treatment. But then, the comparison is not exactly unfair.

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