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How Pets Can Help You Cope with the Loss of a Loved One by Lucille Rosetti

As we know at EricsHouse, coping with the sudden and unexpected loss of a loved one is far from easy. Did you know that pets can help you through the grieving process? Whether you have a pet or you’re thinking of adopting one in the wake of your loss, your furry friend can offer unconditional love and support during this difficult time. In this article, we’ll explore a few concrete ways pets can help you navigate your grief and open space for healing in the weeks and months ahead.

Pets Can Improve Your Sleep

Although grief can make you feel incredibly exhausted, it’s normal to have trouble sleeping after experiencing the loss of a loved one. You may take longer to fall asleep than normal or wake up more often during the night. According to Sleep Advisor, losing a spouse is especially likely to cause insomnia due to the abrupt shift in your sleeping environment. 

This is one area where pets can offer comfort and security for the bereaved. Research shows that sleeping with your dog can diminish nightmares, ease feelings of loneliness, help you relax, and improve the quality of your sleep. Of course, not all dogs make the best sleep partners. Does your dog hog the bed or disturb your sleep during the night? Consider getting an elevated pet bed so they can still sleep nearby

Pets Relieve Feelings of Loneliness

Grief is a surprisingly lonely process. Even if others share in your loss, it’s normal to feel isolated and alone as you learn to navigate this major life change. Thankfully, pets make wonderful companions during times of grief. Pets provide constant companionship and unconditional affection. Even if you feel disconnected from the people in your life right now, a dog or cat can help you feel more socially connected.

Pets Trigger the Release of Feel-Good Hormones

The reason it feels so comforting to be around your pets is because they trigger the release of feel-good hormones in your brain. The Wildest explains that dogs increase our blood levels of oxytocin—also known as the love hormone—much the same as human babies. This is why the bond between pet owners and their furry friends is often compared to that between mothers and their children.

At the same time, being around pets seems to decrease our cortisol levels. Cortisol is a major stress hormone that kicks the body into fight-or-flight mode. Long-term activation of the stress response is common in people navigating a recent loss, leading to many health problems including headaches, muscle tension, digestive problems, and memory impairment. Spending time around your pets can help relieve stress and give your body a chance to heal.

Pets Will Help You Make Healthy Choices

Pets can also encourage you to engage in behaviors that further facilitate healing. Exercising and eating nutritious foods can help combat the strain of long-term stress on your body, making it easier to cope with intense emotions, lack of energy, and other physical side effects of grief. A dog can promote healthy lifestyle habits just by getting you out of the house for a daily walk. Spending more time outside, particularly in natural environments, can relieve stress, improve your mood, and help calm ruminating thoughts. And if you manage to do some walking while you’re out with your pup, you’ll burn off some pent-up energy and induce feelings of calmness.

While friends and loved ones can provide invaluable support after losing a loved one, our pets also have a lot to offer during times of grief. If you don’t have a pet, consider adopting one! Welcoming a new pet into your home can bring a new sense of joy, meaning, and connection to your life in the wake of a loss.

Are you looking for grief support? EricsHouse is a community for healing after a sudden loss, supporting those bereaved by suicide or substance abuse with integrative care, group support, and additional services.