When a pet dies there are many reasons why the feelings of loss can be far stronger than many of us expect. In addition to the emotional pain of grief, we don’t always anticipate the physical symptoms of pet loss.
Physical symptoms of pet loss can include:
- Digestive problems
- Feelings of lethargy
- Tightness in your chest or throat
- Unexplained aches and pains
- Oversensitivity to light and noise
Why is the bond with our pets so strong?
The bond you build with a pet starts from day one. If you adopted a puppy or kitten they were reliant on you for their every need. This includes the everyday functions of feeding, providing shelter, basic training and house training. It also includes providing emotional support, building trust and keeping your new addition mentally stimulated.
If you have adopted an older pet, then you may have to spend less time on the basic training but more time building up your pet’s confidence and trust.
Providing for all of your pet’s needs as part of your daily routine builds a strong relationship that is very similar to that of parent and child. It is this relationship that fosters the feelings of unconditional love.
The rewards of having pets
We hardly have to go into how rewarding having pets in our lives is. It doesn’t matter if you have a cat, dog, rabbit or something more exotic. There is no doubt that pets in your home enrich your life.
There’s a reason why we say dogs are man’s best friend. They are always happy to see you. They are completely non-judgemental and never tire of your presence. Much of our daily lives revolve around having a dog. When we take them for walks we build an informal social life with other dog walkers and people that share our routine. Dogs can act as a social lubricant and help to remove barriers to connecting with others.
It’s not all about dogs, many cat owners know that their cat can show as much loyalty to their owners as dogs. Take the example of case Tara, a family cat, that saved Jeremy, a young boy, from being
Physical symptoms we may feel when we lose a pet
The death of a pet is shocking. The void left behind can leave us feeling lost and wondering if mistakes were made. Could something else have been done? These are normal reactions to the loss and, to some extent, are expected.
What we often don’t anticipate are the physical symptoms that are associated with grief. It can be frightening when you’re unsure what is causing these symptoms:
You may experience the following:
This can manifest in several ways, including loss of appetite, constipation, diarrhoea or stomach pains and nausea. It is important to keep drinking water and to stay hydrated and try eating small portions throughout the day.
On the flip side, you may find yourself comfort eating to alleviate the feelings of loss.
If either symptom persists you may experience weight loss or weight gain. At this point, you may consider speaking with a trusted friend or mental health specialist about how you can coping with the loss of your pet.
Feelings of lethargy
You may experience a lack of energy. This isn’t surprising as you are on a roller coaster of emotions which can be exhausting. You may have disturbed sleep patterns where you are either sleeping too much or not being able to sleep normally during the night. Chronic tiredness and grief can leave you feeling as if everything is awful and that nothing will feel better. You may find some useful suggestions on how to create a sleep-friendly bedroom from the NHS.
Tightness in your chest or throat
The death of a family member can trigger a syndrome called Takosubo Cardiomyopathy or “broken heart syndrome”. This is a temporary symptom that will reverse itself in a few weeks.
As there is a link between grief and an increased risk of a heart attack you should consult a doctor if you experience any tightness in your chest or throat.
Unexplained aches and pains
A common symptom of grief is aches and pains throughout your body. When you are grieving your body naturally releases stress hormones which cause your muscles to contract. Consequently, you may experience any of the following, headaches, back pain, stiff neck and joint pain.
Oversensitivity to light and noise
Increased or oversensitivity to light or loud noise is a common symptom experienced by those recently bereaved. It is believed to be a stress reaction. If the feelings continue for an extended time or are unbearable you should consult your GP.
What can you do?
When you are emotionally overwhelmed it is easy to overlook the physical symptoms you are experiencing. Taking time to acknowledge how you feel both emotionally and physically is the first step to self-care. Be honest with yourself and those around you. Don’t pretend that you are okay if you are not.
Many of the symptoms described can be linked to the body’s release of adrenaline and stress hormones. Whilst you should start to feel better as time passes, you could try some of these practical steps:
- Hold a memorial service where you bury your pet or if you have your pet cremated, scatter your pet’s ashes
- Create a photo album using pictures of you and your pet
- Spend time reminiscing on happy memories of time spent together
What else can you do?
The NHS provides advice on breathing techniques that can help reduce stress. The NHS’ technique is easy to do anywhere and only takes 3 – 5 minutes. As stress can make many of the physical symptoms of pet loss worse reducing stress can help alleviate them.
You may not feel up to going out or taking part in any kind of exercise. However, we can’t emphasise how beneficial gentle exercise can be for your wellbeing, which in turn will help reduce any physical symptoms.
If you need additional support we have published the contact details for several bereavement support groups.