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Pet Caregiver Support Blog…

Traumatic Pet Loss: Impacts on a Grieving Pet Parent

By Stephanie Belak, LSW, MSW

The loss of a pet due to an accident or emergency can be one of the most difficult things a pet parent will have to endure.

Witnessing a traumatic loss may become unbearable for some pet parents. Traumatic loss can throw off the homeostatic balance of a “normal” functioning person and can be even more pronounced for a person with a history of trauma, anxiety, or depression.

Traumatic Pet Loss May Cause Emotional and Psychological Impacts on Pet Parents

The level of emotional and psychological trauma a traumatic pet loss will have on a pet parent’s psyche can be correlated with the severity of the event, the person’s relationship with the pet, and his or her state of psychological well-being.

For example, if an already depressed person witnesses a beloved pet get hit by a car, ingest toxic or fatal substances, or become the victim of a violent dog attack, there is a strong likelihood for an increase in depression and anxiety, or experience signs and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that can include re-living or repeated intrusion of the loss through thoughts, images, dreams, hallucinations, and dissociative flashbacks.

On the other hand, a psychologically healthy person who witnesses the traumatic death of a pet may also experience PTSD  signs and symptoms for the first time or experience an acute onset of depression.

PTSD may recur for those who already have had trauma in their lives. Past traumatic memories and feelings may return when the body is reminded of a similar pain.  Someone who has experienced the death of an important person in his or her life may be reminded of this past loss if there is a traumatic loss of a pet. It can emotionally trigger the brain and create a traumatic, compounded grief and trauma that can hinder this new grief journey.

Pet Parents Need to Work Through Traumatic Pet Loss

It is important for pet parents to work through pet loss trauma in a healthy manner as they mourn the loss of a beloved pet. They should not ignore the signs and symptoms of PTSD, increased anxiety or depression, or symptoms that do not go away. There is support and our counseling for this that can really help!

If you are suffering from pet loss trauma, ask for help from your primary physician, a mental health professional (Licensed Social Worker, counselor, or psychologist), or one of the many Day By Day Pet Caregiver Support licensed counselors. Day By Day Pet Caregiver Support is offered in-person, through support circles, online chats, our own Yahoo group, and our 24-hour hotline.

Grieving pet parents often find that just becoming familiar and understanding the emotions that may come with a traumatic loss can be very helpful in recovering from trauma and loss. We also recommend Alan Wolfelt’s book Reframing PTSD as Traumatic Grief .

Here are other helpful links to check out:

 

Stephanie Belak is the Support Services Director for Day By Day Pet Caregiver Support

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