Yes, Pet Bereavement Counselling Is Real: Here's Why
May 15, 2023, 6 min read
If you have recently lost a pet, you may be all too aware of the genuine need for pet bereavement counselling. While some struggle to understand this unique type of therapy, we are here to share everything you need to know about it, and why it can be hugely beneficial for anyone grieving the loss of an animal companion.
Here, we’ll dive into what pet bereavement counselling actually is, why someone might benefit from it, its comparisons to traditional bereavement counselling, and how to cope if you’re struggling with the loss of a pet.
At Augmentive, we aim to provide holistic, tailored mental health support to everyone so they can live their life to the fullest. If you have questions about any type of counselling, we’re here to help.
What is pet bereavement counselling?
Bereavement Therapy is sometimes called Grief Counselling, which is often applied when someone has suffered the loss of a loved one. Grieving for the loss of anyone, be it a close relative, a friend, or in this case, a pet, can bring up many emotions such as sadness, guilt, anger and even regret.
Pet Bereavement Counselling (PBC) is similar to regular grief counselling, but it focuses on the unique relationship we often have with our animal companions. In this process, a professional with experience in pet bereavement can help you process emotions surrounding the loss of an animal, and move forward without them.
Bereavement counsellors can help you adapt to daily life without your pet, process feelings of guilt or regret, and talk about your emotions when you may not be able to elsewhere. Sometimes the circumstances of a pet’s death can differ greatly from that of a human death, with situations like missing pets or euthanasia involved, so it’s important to get the right kind of therapy to help with this.
Is pet bereavement counselling a real thing?
Yes. You might hear people make comments about the death of a pet, such as “it’s only a dog” or “you can always get another one”, but this can be hurtful to a pet owner and doesn’t take into account that someone has likely lost a dependent who was a huge part of their life for years.
Pets can have a big impact on our happiness and wellbeing, as illustrated in our article; How Can Pets Improve your Mental Wellbeing? When something happens to them, it can cause a huge amount of sadness and stress. In fact, more people are affected by pet bereavement than human bereavement, with research estimating around 3 million people are impacted by animal companion loss by euthanasia each year. In comparison, an estimated 2.2 million are affected by human bereavement. Further research indicates that since animals tend not to live as long as people, their owners may experience more than one pet bereavement throughout their lifetime.
It is commonly believed pet owners don’t feel the same level of grief as those who have lost a human loved one, and while this can be true, it does not diminish the pain felt. Research shows those who go through a pet bereavement may experience things such as depressive symptomatology, complicated grief, and may sometimes isolate themselves or even resume smoking.
These feelings can be exacerbated by a lack of support, as society tends to underestimate the significance of a pet loss and may not acknowledge it. When this happens, studies show bereaved pet owners may find expressing their grief feels socially unacceptable.
Here are a few notable quotes from research interviews with people suffering from animal companion bereavement:
- “I could never have predicted the distress I felt for weeks after my partner’s dog was killed in a road accident”
- “Many people just don’t understand how hard it is when your pet dies. This can make you feel silly”
- “He was my dear old dad’s dog. Losing him was like losing Dad all over again”
Why might someone need pet bereavement counselling?
If you have recently lost an animal companion, there are a number of reasons you may consider seeking pet bereavement therapy, such as:
- You may have adopted an animal companion instead of having children, and feel a great sense of loss as well as an empty home.
- You may have worked with your animal companion, for example, a police dog, and need to process feelings of loss as well as adapt to working without them.
- You may have depended on your animal companion as a guide dog, therapy animal, or similar, and need to learn ways of coping without them.
- You may be mourning the loss as well as figuring out how to live life without the caring responsibilities that come with looking after a pet.
- Sometimes pets can be lost in traumatic circumstances, such as in a road accident, being stolen, or going missing. In these cases, you may also be dealing with feelings of guilt or regret for not protecting them, or worrying about where they are.
- You may be required to make the decision on when is the right time to euthanise your pet. As animals cannot verbalise their wishes, making decisions about their end-of-life care can be emotionally and ethically challenging.
- You may have had a pet for a long time, or perhaps grown up with the animal from an early age, and feel extreme sadness at their loss.
“Fellow dog owners will know the excruciating sadness of losing your loyal, loving best friend.” - Miranda Hart, Actor
Is it the same as regular bereavement counselling/grief counselling?
Pet Bereavement Counselling can be very similar to traditional grief counselling, but it is often designed to cater to the specific challenges of losing an animal companion who is also a dependent. Research suggests losing an animal can greatly impact bereaved owners in much the same way as experiencing a human loss.
Can you get pet bereavement counselling on the NHS?
The NHS recognises pet bereavement as a legitimate therapy, however any counselling you receive for this will be for general bereavement, so may not be tailored to this type of loss. Instead, they may direct you to the appropriate organisation or advise you to seek a private counselling practice with experience dealing with pet bereavement. At Augmentive, we offer a free 15 minute consultation to guide you to the best counsellor for your exact needs.
Can you take time off work for a pet bereavement?
This can be a bit of a grey area. Unfortunately it is not a legal requirement for employers to give people time off to process a pet bereavement. Whether or not you are granted time off for this will be at your employer’s discretion.
According to research by Direct Line, 49% of people who have lost a pet will take at least one day off work to mourn their loss, however some do say they feel the need to lie to their employer about the reason for this absence. If you would like to take time off work due to a pet bereavement, it is best to be open with your employer about what has happened, how you are feeling, and how a day or two off work could help you grieve properly.
How do you access pet bereavement counselling?
In the UK there are established organisations, such as The Blue Cross, who help by providing telephone and email support to those who are experiencing pet bereavement.
If you would like a more tailored, personal approach to Pet Bereavement Counselling, we offer a free 15 minute consultation to find the best counsellor for your needs. Our experienced counsellors can help you work through any complicated feelings you may have.
How to cope if you’re struggling with the loss of a pet
Losing a pet is never easy, no matter what the circumstances are surrounding the loss. Here are a few things that could potentially help:
- Remember it is perfectly normal to feel sadness (and sometimes extreme and debilitating sadness) over the loss of an animal companion. Even feelings of guilt and anger are normal depending on the circumstances of the animal’s death.
- Try to ignore what others say about how you should be feeling. No one can tell you how to feel in the moment, or to ‘shake it off’. Take your time.
- Get in touch with someone else who has lost an animal to give you a judgement-free environment to speak about your loss with someone who understands.
- It may help to have a memorial of some sort to help you process. This can be entirely private if you prefer, but it gives you a space to openly express your feelings and lay your pet to rest. You could plant a tree in your garden or create a photo book where you can look back on the memories.
- Look after your mind and body, as any loss can be both emotionally and physically demanding. Get plenty of rest to replenish your energy.
- Any other pets in your home will likely be feeling the loss too, so it can be helpful to focus your energy on making sure they are happy and healthy.
If you are struggling to process your grief, it lasts longer than you thought it would, or you are struggling to continue with daily life after the loss, you may wish to speak to a mental health specialist with experience in pet bereavement.
Our free 15 minute consultation can point you in the direction of the most relevant counsellor who can help you process your feelings around the loss of an animal companion. If you would like to read more on this, take a look at our article; How to find the right mental health specialist.
Whether you’re feeling off-kilter or want to shake up your routine, our state-of-the-art mental wellbeing platform gives you quick and seamless access to world-class support on your terms, from private psychiatric assessments and reviews to broader mental health care: join us today.