Pet owners often feel like the love they’ve developed for their dogs over one year is the same as seven years for a friend or partner. Maybe that’s why people say “dog years” go by faster than human years.
Because of this, losing a dog can be devastating. Everyone expresses grief differently, and sometimes our grief manifests differently in reaction to the people we love equally. But why do pet owners sometimes feel even more overwhelmed for their dogs?
Dogs fill roles humans can’t always fill
Loved ones can fill multiple roles for us, such as confidante, exercise partner, and therapist. Still, complete emotional dependence on someone else is unhealthy, according to Cleveland Clinic. Your best friend or partner might be a great shoulder to cry on from time to time, but your loved ones need the space to live their own lives without taking on all of your burdens.
Dogs have the luxury of relatively uncomplicated lives, meaning they can cuddle up when you’re feeling down for as long as you need them. They can listen to your grievances without saying the wrong thing, and they can even understand your emotions. According to DogHealth.com, a veterinarian-written website, dogs can understand the tone of your voice and your body language.
Losing a dog feels like losing a part of you
The most loving pet owners tend to structure their routines around their dogs: wake up to your dog licking your face, feed your dog, take your dog for a walk, pet your dog’s head when it rests on your lap as you’re at the computer, and so on.
We even develop habits with our dogs for emotional responses, such as burrowing our heads in a dog’s fur when we’re sad or jumping up and down with our happily barking dogs when we’re excited. These behaviors intensify the feeling of grief when it’s time to say goodbye, according to PsychCentral, a mental health resource site.
We have natural, healthy boundaries with humans that we don’t need with pets, so our dogs see the most vulnerable parts of ourselves. Dog owners project an extension of themselves onto their dogs, according to the paper “Understanding the dog-human companionship,” which was published in the Journal of Business Research.
You feel responsible for their lives
Adult humans usually have the chance to come to terms with their own lives before they pass on. However, much like parents, pet owners feel responsible for their dogs’ well-being, says PsychCentral.
Sometimes, dog owners feel guilty about their grief by comparing it with their response to human loss. However, our relationships with people and dogs have completely different roles in our lives, and there is no single prescribed way to handle our grief. If you do lose a dog close to you, the American Veterinary Medical Association recommends being patient and allowing yourself to mourn. By acknowledging the special bond you had with your pet, your memories will help your pet live on with you.