No surprise to those who’ve been there: Losing a pet can hurt more than losing a fellow human

Research is proving that “just get over it” when it comes to losing a companion animal is simply not normal. So, if friends and family are telling you that … just ignore them. And if you're a friend or family member of someone who lost a pet, there are things you can do to help them through it.

There are a number of reasons the death of a pet is as hard as—or sometimes, even worse than—losing a human.  


  • Pets are increasingly such close family members because we spend every day, sometimes all day, with them and, especially in their later years, we are the caregivers and providers. And they are frequently our alarm clocks, as well. 
  • Much of the time, it’s the first experience we have with a close death; even children who grow up with pets will likely see them pass before they go off to college.
  • Grieving for a family member or friend is socially acceptable, and people generally don’t tell us to “just get over it” or offer to find a new substitute like they do with pets.
  • Euthanasia is usually the end-of-life choice for older pets, and that’s also something outside the “normal” human experience, because that just isn’t done with humans.

There’s also the 'love hormone' known as oxytocin, which is released when humans stare into each other’s eyes, or when parents look at their children. A 2015 study found that dogs and humans both experience increased oxytocin levels when they look into each others eyes.

“I’m sure if you did the study with other animals it would be the same,” says Cori Bussolari, a psychologist at the University of San Francisco, reasoned.

The social stigma

Wendy Packman, a psychologist at Palo Alto University, refers to the social stigma around grieving a pet as "disenfranchised grief." 

“With disenfranchised grief is there is less support, and the grief can be even worse than for a person because there are no rituals, and when people do go out and do a ritual, when they feel brave enough, they can be ostracized.” 


Steve Culver cries with his dog Otis as he talks about what he said was the, 'most terrifying event in his life,' when Hurricane Harvey blew in and destroyed most of his home (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

How can you help?

Be a listening friend or family member, acknowledge their grief, and don't try to minimize it or dismiss it as trivial. 

Packman sums it up: “The reality is that the more we talk about grief, the more we normalize grief.”

Stress is contagious–but resilience can be too

The way that you think about stress can actually transform the effect that it has on you – and others.

Big Think Edge
  • Stress is contagious, and the higher up in an organization you are the more your stress will be noticed and felt by others.
  • Kelly McGonigal teaches "Reset your mindset to reduce stress" for Big Think Edge.
  • Subscribe to Big Think Edge before we launch on March 30 to get 20% off monthly and annual memberships.
Keep reading Show less

Think of the closest planet to Earth... Wrong! Think again!

Three scientists publish paper proving that not Venus but Mercury is the closest planet to Earth

Strange Maps
  • Earth is the third planet from the Sun, so our closest neighbour must be planet two of four, right?
  • Wrong! Neither Venus nor Mars is the right answer.
  • Three scientists ran the numbers. In this YouTube video, one of them explains why our nearest neighbour is... Mercury!
Keep reading Show less

Horseshoe crabs are captured for their blue blood. That practice will soon be over.

The blood of horseshoe crabs is harvested on a massive scale in order to retrieve a cell critical to medical research. However, recent innovations might make this practice obsolete.

An Atlantic horseshoe crab in an aquarium. Photo: Domdomegg via Wikimedia Commons.
Surprising Science
  • Horseshoe crabs' blue blood is so valuable that a quart of it can be sold for $15,000.
  • This is because it contains a molecule that is crucial to the medical research community.
  • Today, however, new innovations have resulted in a synthetic substitute that may end the practice of farming horseshoe crabs for their blood.
Keep reading Show less

10 novels that brilliantly capture the American experience

The distance between the American dream and reality is expressed best through literature.

American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist James Baldwin poses at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, southern France, on November 6, 1979. (Photo: Ralph Gatti/AFP/Getty Images)
  • Literature expands our ability to feel empathy and inspires compassion.
  • These ten novels tackle some facet of the American experience.
  • The list includes a fictional retelling of the first Native American to graduate from Harvard and hiding out in inner city Newark.
Keep reading Show less