Complicated grief and posttraumatic stress disorder in humans' response to the death of pets/animals

Bull Menninger Clin. Summer 2009;73(3):176-87. doi: 10.1521/bumc.2009.73.3.176.

Abstract

The present exploratory project represents a cross-sectional study designed to determine the percentage of people reporting significant symptoms of complicated grief (CG) and/or posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in response to the death of companion pets/animals. Human participants (N = 106) were sampled from a veterinary clinic. Fifty-two percent of participants had lost one to three pets from natural causes, 60% had never lost a pet to euthanasia, and 37% had lost one to three pets to euthanasia. The study suggests that many people experience significant attachment to their pets/animals and experience significant features of grief reactions (about 20%) after the death of a pet/animal. However, the percentage of people experiencing major pathological disruption is relatively low (<5%-12%). Thus, subclinical levels of grief and sadness are relatively common human responses to the death of companion pets/animals and last 6 months or more for about 30% of those sampled. Severe pathological reactions do occur but are quite rare among human survivors. Implications for mental health clinicians working with affected populations are discussed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Animals
  • Bereavement
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Death*
  • Female
  • Grief*
  • Hawaii
  • Human-Animal Bond*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Psychological Tests
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / diagnosis
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / etiology
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / psychology*
  • Young Adult