Pet loss and Postpartum Depression?

While it is acknowledged that loss during pregnancy and the postpartum can be a risk factor for the development of PPD, the general reference is to loss of human relationships. When an important family member or close friend dies while a mother is pregnant or after delivery, a significant support in that mother’s life is lost.

The mother may have imagined how her baby’s life would have been enhanced by this cherished relationship, or how the wisdom and experience offered by this person would have helped her through new mothering. A connection is severed, reducing the new mother’s circle of social support. It is not hard to appreciate the impact of such losses and understand the connection to emotional suffering.

But what about the significance of animal loss? Many expectant mothers are deeply bonded to their animals. It is not unusual for partners to have adopted animal companions prior to having children. And those animals share in the bonding of these unions… sometimes, animals are even present at the marriage or commitment ceremony of couples! Many couples describe their animals as their children, even after giving birth to a human infant.

Yet animal companion loss continues to suffer from a sort of disenfranchised grief. The grieving person is told to “get over it” and that they can always adopt another creature. After all, it was “only” an animal.

Tell that to a growing percentage of pet owners who suffer through devastating grief when they lose a precious animal companion. For some, that animal held cherished memories, or provided unconditional support when times were tough. An overwhelmingly loving presence in most lives, such losses are not easily processed. The animal may have gone through the pregnancy with the mother, sensing her status and already becoming protective of her and her unborn child. Or it may have welcomed the new infant with the family, quickly becoming a first line nanny!

In my practice, I have had many mothers talk to me about such losses during or after pregnancy and the devastating grief that follows. Others may express guilt, feeling that the baby’s arrival left little time to devote to the animal companion whose needs became secondary to that of the infant. For such families, the loss of an animal companion can represent a major challenge that could lead to transient or clinical depression.

The subject of animal companion loss can bring a wide variety of reactions. For those who have experienced this devastation, it brings validation, connection to others who have endured this loss and choose to express the depth of their attachment to their departed friend.

But for those who have not had this kind of relationship with a family pet, they may inadvertently dismiss such reactions as unhealthy and overblown, further alienating someone who is deeply grieving.

If a pregnant or new mother you know has recently lost a precious pet, please support her through this loss with understanding and validation. Ask about it, ask about the animal’s life and meaning. Be willing to listen.

Here is a wonderful article on pet loss. If you would like to learn more, please click on over to the this story by
Andrea Kahn which also describes my own work on this important topic.
. One way to advocate and extend understanding of this form of loss is to send feedback or commentary to the publication. So if you are moved and have had this experience, do leave Andrea a comment.

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