Do Pets Grieve?
The loss of a beloved family pet can overwhelm everyone in the household. Your remaining pets can also be deeply affected by the loss of a companion animal. They may show immediate signs of depression or other behavioral changes. Some pets become so despondent, they die soon after their companion of what seems like a broken heart. Although it is not intentional, their needs are often overlooked as you struggle through your own painful feelings of grief. With just a few simple steps you can help your remaining pets understand what happened to their best friend so you can all move through your grief and into healing.
What are the signs of pet grief?
After a pet dies, the hierarchy within the home shifts as the remaining pets adjust to the loss. Some pets will react immediately to the loss of a companion animal while others carry on as if nothing happened. Some pets will suddenly lose interest in food or treats while others will hide or sulk around in a sorrowful way. Many grieving pets will whine, meow, or yowl as they search the house looking for their companion who suddenly disappeared. If the pet that died was more dominant or self-confident the remaining pet can become fearful of things that never bothered them before. If your pets were together for a long time their grief may be more pronounced lasting for days, months, or longer. There are many signs of grief but listed below are a few of the most common behavioral changes.
Signs your pet may be grieving:
- – Loss of appetite
- – Restlessness
- – Lethargic or no interest in toys
- – Vocalizations – yowling, crying or whining
- – Neediness
- – Avoidance
- – Changes in normal sleeping patterns
- – Inappropriate elimination or marking
- – Destructive behavior
- – Aggression/dominance
- – Sudden fearfulness/anxiety
How to help your pets understand the loss of a companion animal
Our remaining pets are often excluded from the final moments of another pet’s passing. Many become confused about what happened to their companion as they are not able to see the body after death. In the wild, animals inspect the body of their companion which provides closure and an understanding that the life force of the animal is gone. But what happens if you are not able to let them inspect the body? What else can you do?
The best way to help your pet understand what happened is to talk about it. When you communicate openly with your pet, images will flash across your mind as you speak. Those images play like a mini-movie in your head and your pets will be able to intercept those images.
Hearing your voice and watching the images will give them a better sense of the changes that have taken place. Speak slowly and softly as you would to a child of about nine or ten years of age. Another option is to allow the remaining pet to inspect a towel or blanket with the deceased pet’s scent on it. Ideally, try to give your remaining pet the opportunity to sense their companion has died.
Would it help to get another pet?
Every situation is different so decide wisely before bringing a new pet into your home. Some pets are very excited about a new companion while others are not. If the resident pet is older, weaker, or not in the best of health then it may be best to leave well enough alone and not add any new pets to the household.
However, a new pet can breathe new life and laughter into a depressing situation and draw some pets out of their grief. Be mindful that a new pet will change the energy within the household and care should be taken to make sure the new pet is a good match for your family. Trust your intuition and if it feels right then it will likely be okay. If it doesn’t feel right, then wait for a better time.
Openly express your feelings
The best way to help your remaining pet is to openly share your feelings. If you are sad and missing your other pet, tell them exactly how you feel. They may not understand all the details about what happened but hearing your words will ease their minds and help them heal faster.
Although it is a painful and difficult time, honor your grief and allow yourself to feel all of your emotions. As you move through your grief into healing your pets will likely do so too. They can absorb your emotions like a sponge and will naturally feel more balanced when you do. Watch your pet closely and consult with a trusted veterinarian if their condition continues or worsens.
The 8 steps to help your grieving pet heal faster
1. Spend more time with them and focus on their needs with extra love and TLC
2. Talk openly about the pet you lost and share all of your favorite memories
3. Bring home a new toy, cat tree, or a new, cushy bed
4. Take more walks or engage in playful activities to help them release pent up emotions
5. Do not leave them alone for long periods of time after the loss of a companion pet
6. Tell them you will grieve together and you will move into healing together too
7. Picture the outcome you desire such as all of you being happy, healthy, and living life to the fullest
8. Keep their routine as normal as possible and avoid any trips, changes in diet, or other disruptions to their schedule
Embrace every precious moment
When you are ready, celebrate your memories of the pet you lost and remember to make their life more important than their death. Your remaining pet will feel the love in your heart and know that their beloved companion has left this life with dignity and peace.