PET LOSS

Pet owners can form a strong emotional connection with their pets. This bond can equal, and in some cases, surpass the depth of the bonds created with other people. When a pet dies, the loss of this connection or bond may result in grief. In some cases, complicated grief from Pet Loss happens when normal grief symptoms persist and cause long-term functional impairments such as distress and preoccupation with the deceased pet.[1]

Canadian Statistics

  • Thirty percent of pet owners have experienced a severe form of grief caused by the death of their pet.1
  • In 2011 to 2012, around 75 calls were made to a Pet Loss Support Hotline (PLSH) by bereaved pet owners to discuss the death of their pet.1
  • Sixty-nine percent of bereaved pet owners who made a call to PLSH also sought support from a support group, family, friends, or significant others.1 Few individuals accessed counselling services.1
  • Thirty-two percent of bereaved pet owners who called PLSH reported having no social supports.1

Behaviours associated with Pet Loss:1

  • Took time off from work because of the grief
  • Difficulty performing daily activities
  • Missing or neglecting your routine
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • No appetite
  • Keeping busy to avoid thinking about the loss

Feelings associated with Pet Loss:1

  • Grief
  • Guilt
  • Shock
  • Denial
  • Depression
  • Anger

Thoughts associated with Pet Loss:

  • “I cannot believe my pet is dead. I cannot believe this happened.”
  • “I should have taken better care of my pet. If I did, this would not have happened.”
  • “I do not know what to do anymore now that my pet is gone.”
  • “I’m so lonely.”

Pet Loss and the Body:[2]

  • Significant weight loss or gain
  • Insomnia/hypersomnia
  • Fatigue
  • Restlessness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Increased risk for cardiovascular diseases

Pet Loss and the Brain:[3]

Complicated grief is perceived as a continuous and chronic stress which causes a loss of neurons and results in brain deterioration and cognitive decline. The loss of neurons may disrupt the connection between the prefrontal cortex and the cortex (frontal, temporal, and occipital lobes) and the subcortical areas (amygdala and hippocampus). This lack of connectivity in the different brain areas may explain the difficulty that people have when it comes to resolving the grief.

The limbic cortex (the emotional center of the brain that includes the amygdala, hypothalamus, and hippocampus) plays a role in a person’s judgment, insight, motivation, and mood. The amygdala, on the other hand, is responsible for coordinating behavior and responses to the environment, whereas, the hippocampus plays a role in memory formation. Lack of connectivity or damage in these areas may result to difficulty in processing or controlling mood, difficulty with memory, and difficulty selecting appropriate responses that fit the situation.

Does Psychology Work?

  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy (EMDR): Research shows that EMDR is effective in treating PTSD and complex trauma.[4] The prolonged and sudden death of a pet can result in trauma symptoms including distressing images of the suffering pet.[5] EMDR can help those suffering from Pet Loss by treating trauma symptoms brought on by the loss.
  • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT): Research shows that CBT is also effective in treating Depression and grief.[6] Bereaved pet owners who are experiencing grief and trauma symptoms would engage in cognitive restructuring and learning coping skills.
  • Interpersonal Psychotherapy (IPT): IPT focuses on stressful life events such as grief by instilling hope and helping people connect with social support networks. Research shows that IPT is effective in treating grief and Depression.[7] This can help bereaved pet owners who are also experiencing Depression due to Pet Loss by giving them hope and strengthening their social support.

Tips to Help Manage Pet Loss! [8]

For some people, losing a pet is just like losing a loved one. Here are a few tips to manage grief after Pet Loss:

  • Recognition and acceptance of loss and change: It is important to identify the painful emotions experienced, such as grief, anger, and guilt, and how these emotions are linked to pet loss. Recognizing and understanding what you are going through will help you accept or come to terms with what has happened.
  • Normalization of grief: It is also important to understand that experiencing grief after the loss of a pet is as impactful for some as the loss of a friend or family member is to others. Grief is a natural reaction to a loss and it is perfectly alright to express that emotion.
  • Take care of yourself: Keep in mind that it is important to take care of yourself and work toward eating healthy, staying hydrated, staying well rested, and keeping in touch with loved ones.

Grieving for a loved one, whether human or animal, is never easy. The first few months are often difficult and subsequently, you may find that grief comes in waves, surfacing from time to time. For some, grief becomes more persistent and causes distress and difficulty functioning at work, home, or school. Bereaved pet owners can seek help at Hopewell Psychological where therapies are tailored to your individual needs. We are available during day time and in the evenings and work out of multiple locations. You do not have to go through this alone. We are here to help.

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*Psychologists are covered under Insurance Companies in Canada. You will need to check with your insurance company about the specific details regarding your coverage.

References

[1] Remillard, Liam Wade, Meehan, Michael P., Kelton, David F., and Coe, Jason B. “Exploring the Grief Experience Among Bereaved Pet Owners.” Anthrozoos 30.1 (2017): 149-161. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/08927936.2017.1270600

[2] Sadock, B. J., Sadock, V. A., and Ruiz, Pedro. “Kaplan & Sadock’s Synopsis of Psychiatry.” Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer. 2015. Print.

[3] Saavedra Perez, H. C., Ikram, M. A., Direk, N., Prigerson, H. G., Freak-Poli, R., Verhaaren, B. F. J., Hofman, A., Vernooij, M., and Tiemeier, H. “Cognition, structural brain changes and complicated grief: A population-based study.” Psychological Medicine 45. (2015): 1389-1399. DOI: 10.1017/S0033291714002499.

[4] Cusack, Karen, Jonas, Daniel E., Forneris, Catherine A., Wines, Candi, Sonis, Jeffrey, Middleton, Jennifer Cook, Feltner, Cynthia, Brownley, Kimberly A., and Olmsted, Kristine Rae. “Psychological treatments for adults with posttraumatic stress disorder: A systematic review and meta-analysis.” Clinical Psychology Review 43. (2016): 128-141. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cpr.2015.10.003

[5] Shapiro, Francine. “The Role of Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy in Medicine: Addressing the Psychological and Physical Symptoms stemming from adverse life experiences.” The Permanente Journal 18.1 (2014): 71-77. https://doi.org/10.7812/TPP/13-098

[6] Arnberg, Alexandra, and Ost, Lars-Goran. “CBT for Children with Depressive Symptoms: A meta-analysis.” Cognitive Behavioural Therapy 43.4 (2014): 275-288. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/16506073.2014.947316

[7] Cuijpers, Pim, Donker, Tara, Weissman, Myrna M., Ravitz, Paula, and Cristea, Ioana A. “Interpersonal Psychotherapy for Mental Health Problems: A comprehensive meta-analysis.” The American Journal of Psychiatry 173.7 (2016): 680-687. http://dx.doi.org/10.1176/appi.ajp.2015.15091141

[8] Meichsner, F., Psych, D., Schinkothe, D., and Wilz, G. “Managing Loss and Change: Grief Interventions for Dementia Caregivers in a CBT-Based Trial.” American Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease & Other Dementias 31.3 (2015): 231-240. DOI: 10.1177/1533317515602085

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