The death of a family pet can cause profound and prolonged grief in children and could lead to mental health problems, says a study published in European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (September). Researchers at the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) found some children and adolescents suffer sustained psychological distress that could lead to depression for three or more years after the death of a family pet.
The researchers analyzed the mental and emotional health of 6,260 children who had never loved a pet, loved and lost a pet, or loved a pet without suffering trauma. The Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children in Bristol, England, collected data on the impact of pet ownership and pet loss on children up to eight years of age.
“One of the first major losses a child will encounter is likely to be the death of a pet, and the impact can be traumatic, especially when that pet becomes a member of the family. We found this experience of pet death is often associated with elevated mental health symptoms in children, and that parents and physicians need to recognise and take those symptoms seriously, not simply brush them off,” says Katherine Crawford, lead author of the study.