Grief from death of companion animals needs recognition: U of A research

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A researcher at the University of Alberta said failure to recognize the grief of someone who lost a companion animal could have negative health effects for older women mourning the death of a cat or dog.


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Carrie Brown, MD, professor of occupational therapy at the university’s School of Rehabilitation Medicine, said she recently studied grief as a risk factor for independence for women 55 and older.

The study, of which Brown was one of the principal investigators, involved interviewing nine single Alberta women whose dog or cat died in 2019, and found that many participants shared news of the death selectively to avoid ignoring their feelings. .

“It’s called ‘deprived grief,’ where society doesn’t necessarily recognize that a person is sad,” Brown said. They knew that some people might say, ‘What’s the big deal?’ It was just a dog. Get another one. “

When these feelings of sadness are eliminated, Brown added, it can cause mourners to withdraw from relationships.


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“If you feel like your friend is judging you because you are upset about your dog’s death, you are not going to spend much time with that friend,” Brown said. “As people get older, they need those relationships, and they need them to be strong — and that keeps them healthy, in the community, and out of institutions.”

According to research cited in the study, the death of a loved one is one of the most common adverse events for people in older age groups, and can increase the risk of immediate and ongoing social isolation, as well as play a role in triggering or exacerbating illnesses associated with persistent anxiety and depression.

Moreover, the study added, the effects of grief associated with such a loss are exacerbated for older adults, who typically have smaller social support networks and deteriorating health conditions, and women in particular, who tend to have fewer financial resources and often bypass friends and family. . family.


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But Brown said the grief of those who have lost their pets is often overlooked, although those feelings are no less real as the study results suggest.

“It has been strong and has lasted. People have really grieved for their pets,” Brown said. “Society in general needs to be more sensitive to the needs of people grieving the loss of a companion animal.”

However, deprived grief is not the only risk factor for older Canadians grieving the loss of companion animals.

According to a 2018 study, a third of Canadians 65 and older are pet owners, a relationship that can come with health benefits that are easily lost when a pet dies, such as daily exercise and spontaneous socialization with others in the event of a dog walk, But Brown also said a sense of purpose.

“As we get older, we lose a lot of purposes — we don’t have jobs and we don’t go to the workplace anymore,” Brown said. “We know that people who have a sense of purpose and feel that what they do has meaning are healthier, and when you take care of an animal, it gives you a purpose in your life.”




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