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.”

Compelling speakers do these 4 things every single time

The ability to speak clearly, succinctly, and powerfully is easier than you think

Former U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee rally at the Anaheim Convention Center on September 8, 2018 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Barbara Davidson/Getty Images)
Personal Growth

The ability to communicate effectively can make or break a person's assessment of your intelligence, competence, and authenticity.

Keep reading Show less

This 5-minute neck scan can spot dementia 10 years before it emerges

The results come from a 15-year study that used ultrasound scans to track blood vessels in middle-aged adults starting in 2002.

Mikhail Kalinin via Wikipedia
Mind & Brain
  • The study measured the stiffness of blood vessels in middle-aged patients over time.
  • Stiff blood vessels can lead to the destruction of delicate blood vessels in the brain, which can contribute to cognitive decline.
  • The scans could someday become a widely used tool to identify people at high risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer's.
Keep reading Show less

How 'dark horses' flip the script of success and happiness

What defines a dark horse? The all-important decision to pursue fulfillment and excellence.

Big Think Books

When we first set the Dark Horse Project in motion, fulfillment was the last thing on our minds. We were hoping to uncover specific and possibly idiosyncratic study methods, learning techniques, and rehearsal regimes that dark horses used to attain excellence. Our training made us resistant to ambiguous variables that were difficult to quantify, and personal fulfillment seemed downright foggy. But our training also taught us never to ignore the evidence, no matter how much it violated our expectations.

Keep reading Show less