The Fourth Stage of Grief – Depression

“Depression (major depressive disorder) is a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think, and how you act. Fortunately, it is also treatable. Depression causes feelings of sadness and/or a loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed.” (psychiatry.org)


It is important not to generalize depression in any way. If you have clinical depression diagnosed by a physician, you understand the depth of the disorder. I don’t have any new or breakthrough thoughts to offer about clinical depression in this blog.


I am writing about the situational depression people experience after losing a family pet, not clinical depression. It is a fine line. However, the purpose of this blog is to discuss depression in the context of pet loss. 


The feelings of depression while grieving your pet may mirror clinical depression. To prevent a spiral into clinical depression, be aware of the nuances between situational depression, such as that felt after the loss of a pet, and clinical depression.


So, what are some of the signs of depression?


Signs of Depression:

1. Hopeless outlook

2. Loss of interest

3. Increased fatigue and sleep problems

4. Anxiety

5. Irritability 


When someone is grieving their pet, it is common to feel hopeless, lost, tired, have trouble sleeping, experience increased anxiety and irritability. Change in set routines, loss of unconditional love from your pet, watching your children feel sad are all uncomfortable emotions. Where once we could have ignored the signs of our aging pet and their steady decline or illness, we are facing a reality that can no longer be denied. All the denial and bargaining we may have done to thwart the inevitable now feels in vain. We here, grieving. AND IT SUCKS!


1. Hopeless outlook

Feeling hopeless after the loss of your pet is normal for everyone in the family. After all, you loved, nurtured, and included your sweet pet in the family dynamic. The void left behind can be huge. Looking at the future without them can feel empty and hopeless.


2. Loss of interest

Not feeling interested in activities after the death of your pet is also natural. There will be an adjustment period. Nothing much feels the same for a while. 


3. Increased fatigue and sleep problems

Your sleep patterns may be off since your loss. If you shared your bed with your pet, the loss is felt even more. Thinking about the coulda, shoulda, woulda decisions you made about your pet’s health seem to happen in the dead of night when the house is quiet, keeping you from sleep. Their absence felt, sleep is fitful. Heightened emotions increase fatigue. 


4. Anxiety

It is a well-known fact that having a pet reduces anxiety. Logically, the loss of a pet increases anxiety. Trying to manage the loss without acknowledging the pain increases anxiety. 


5. Irritability

Experiencing the death of a beloved pet upends the family’s emotions. The complexities of each family member’s grief are enough to cause friction, as well as short tempers.   


There are a few other things to consider if you or a family member is experiencing a longer-than-expected period of grief. Contributing factors to prolonged grief are:



Senior pet owners face difficult obstacles in their pet bereavement process, especially if they are isolated. People without family or a social network tend to put a lot of their attention on their pets. Losing the pet is a jarring life event. 


An elderly pet owner may have undergone the recent death of a spouse or another close family member or friend, which ignites a fear of mortality.


Keep watch on the elderly in your family or neighborhood for any of those factors! Keep an eye out for any worsening depression symptoms from spiraling into clinical depression. 


Other than that, the antidote to counteracting situational depression after losing a family pet is awareness, patience, and time. 


Awareness of the signs of depression so they can be named not denied or worse yet, ignored.


Practice patience with yourself or others who are cycling through the stages of grief their way. 


Allow time to heal. The adage, time heals all wounds is true. The loss of your pet will leave a mark on your heart. You will get through it but, it does take time. If you think short-term pet bereavement counseling will be helpful, do it. It helps to talk about your grief. Talking is kryptonite to situational depression.


If you or anyone in your family is having prolonged depression symptoms due to the loss of the family pet, please seek the assistance of mental health professional.  


Wishing you peace in your heart,


Image courtesy of Leio McLaren

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