Losing a pet can cause feelings of grief and may lead to depression in some people. While grief and depression are different, they can both significantly impact a person’s life.

Many people have meaningful relationships with pets. When a pet dies, a person may experience symptoms of grief, which is a natural response.

This article explores depression after the loss of a pet in more detail, including symptoms of depression, tips for coping with grief, and treatment for depression. It also discusses some questions a person may want to consider when deciding whether or not to get another pet.

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Everyone will feel sad at certain points in their life and in response to certain events, including after the loss of a pet.

However, depression is not the same as sadness or grief. It causes a range of symptoms that last for a long time and may require clinical treatment.

These might include:

  • persistent feelings of emptiness, sadness, or anxiety
  • feeling irritable, restless, or frustrated
  • feeling pessimistic or hopeless
  • losing interest in hobbies
  • impaired concentration, memory, and decision-making
  • problems falling asleep, waking up too early, or sleeping in for too long
  • physical symptoms without a clear physical cause, such as headaches, digestive issues, or cramps
  • thinking about death or suicide, or attempting suicide

This can lead to a range of emotional responses that might include withdrawing from relationships, negativity, isolation, or detachment.

Some people with depression might engage in more impulsive or potentially harmful decisions, such as using more alcohol or recreational drugs. They may not be able to attend to usual responsibilities at work, school, or in relationships.

These symptoms can interfere with daily function and cause significant distress.

Some of these may be related to losing a pet. For example, people who previously enjoyed going on long walks with their dog or watching TV with their cat in their lap might not wish to engage in these activities due to the pain of the memory.

In addition, a 2019 questionnaire study found that people viewed their pets’ emotions and needs no differently than they would humans and took on a negative view of the world after the pet passed. A 2020 study suggested the trauma of losing a pet during childhood may also increase a person’s risk of depression later in life.

Grief and depression

The table below outlines some differences between grief and depression:

Emotional pain occurs in waves, often tied to positive memories of the lost pet.Mood and thought processes are consistently negative.
Grief does not usually lead to a loss of self-esteem.Feelings of worthlessness and self-hatred are common in people with depression.
Grief is a natural response to a tragic event or the loss of a close connection.Depression is a disorder, even though the death of a loved one, such as a pet, may trigger the onset of depression.

Mental health professionals do not diagnose depression within 2 months of losing a loved one.

However, bereavement might lead to depression in those who are vulnerable to it, such as those who have already experienced a major loss or have underlying mental health problems.

Grief that occurs alongside depression may last longer and be more severe than grief that occurs solely in response to a trigger such as pet loss.

Suicide prevention

If you know someone at immediate risk of self-harm, suicide, or hurting another person:

  • Ask the tough question: “Are you considering suicide?”
  • Listen to the person without judgment.
  • Call 911 or the local emergency number, or text TALK to 741741 to communicate with a trained crisis counselor.
  • Stay with the person until professional help arrives.
  • Try to remove any weapons, medications, or other potentially harmful objects if it’s safe to do so.

If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, a prevention hotline can help. The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is available 24 hours a day at 988. During a crisis, people who are hard of hearing can use their preferred relay service or dial 711 then 988.

Find more links and local resources.

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Losing a pet can be emotionally grueling. However, coping mechanisms are available to help people focus on positive memories and enhance self-care during a difficult time.

The Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement suggests the following:

  • staying hydrated and eating as usual
  • getting enough sleep
  • avoiding alcohol and recreational drug use
  • processing anniversaries, which may involve buying a passed pet’s favorite treat and donating it to an animal shelter to honor their memory
  • engaging in activities that divert their mind from the bereavement, such as watching a movie, knitting, or even taking a vacation
  • spending time with people who understand the emotional impact of losing a pet
  • trying to focus on positive memories of the pet
  • memorializing the pet, which may involve making a planter box in the pet’s favorite garden spot, commissioning framed art of the pet, or getting a tattoo of the pet

Grief does not have a fixed course or time limit, and people will likely miss their pets for a long time. However, these methods for promoting happy memories and refocusing on daily life may support the grief journey.

People may also wish to try pet bereavement counseling with a mental health professional.

Depression treatment often involves taking antidepressant medication, psychotherapy, or a combination of both. If pet loss triggers a longer-term period of depression symptoms, a person may require intervention from a mental health professional.

Psychotherapy involves talking with a mental health practitioner in regular sessions. They can help guide the individual through new thought patterns or support them in altering habits that may worsen depression symptoms. These sessions may be in-person or remote.

Antidepressants can also help to change some chemicals the brain produces that interact with mood or stress response. These may take 4 to 8 weeks to have an effect. People may need to try a few different medications before finding the one that is most suitable for them.

The decision to get a new pet after losing one is deeply personal — there is no right or wrong time.

The American Kennel Club suggests a person may want to consider the following before making the decision:

  • Has the family or individual found closure after the previous pet passed?
  • Has enough time passed for people in the household to fully grieve and avoid feeling resentment toward the new pet?
  • Is silence and stillness in the household causing too much emotional turmoil?
  • Does a person who just lost a pet have expectations around the new one’s personality?
  • Do they have the time and finances to invest in building a relationship with a new pet, which can take extra resources and energy?
  • Are there other pets in the household to consider when introducing a new member into the family? They may also be grieving.
  • Does the person feel that introducing a new pet will distract from the memory of the first?
  • Has the individual taken the time to look after themselves before looking after another animal?
  • Would a person be emotionally ready to lose another pet in the future, as this is a likelihood?

Depression and grief are different, but both may occur after the loss of a pet. Grief is a natural response to loss, while depression is a long-term disorder.

Symptoms of depression vary but may include persistent feelings of sadness, loss of interest in hobbies, and difficulty sleeping.

People may cope with grief by spending time with other people who understand the emotional impact of losing a pet, distracting themselves with hobbies, or speaking with a mental health professional. Treatment for depression may involve psychotherapy, antidepressants, or both.

A person should speak with a doctor if feelings of grief from losing a pet are interfering with their daily life, or if they are experiencing any symptoms of depression.