Cats, dogs, and other pets are part of the family in more than half of American households. The death of a pet can trigger a grieving process similar to what happens after the loss of a close friend or family member, reports the March 2010 issue of the Harvard Mental Health Letter.
Little research has been done about grief after the loss of a pet. The few studies that do exist suggest that the grieving process can go on for weeks or months. One study of people who had lost pets found that one-third of them experienced grief and sadness for at least six months. Elderly people, who may be lonely after surviving the loss of spouses, family, and friends, are particularly likely to become extremely attached to a pet and may experience more pronounced grief when it dies.
When does "normal" grief give way to potentially harmful grief? Dr. Michael Miller, editor in chief of the Harvard Mental Health Letter, notes that it is time to seek help from a mental health clinician when the feelings of loss and the grieving process become severe enough to interfere with a person's normal daily functioning, such as getting out of bed and eating.
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