How a Pet Grieves: Understanding Your Dog or Cat’s Loss

If your pet is grieving, there are actions you can take to help him recover and move on.

When contemplating the responsibilities of being a pet owner, most people usually think about the routine, day-to-day activities, such as feeding, bathing, exercising, and loving your dog or cat. Though these things are important, there are times when pets have additional needs, one of which is emotional care when your pet is experiencing grief. When a family member or another pet dies or leaves the household, it is important for a pet guardian to understand how their other pet[s] may be grieving, what signs to look for, and how to best support their grieving pet emotionally. There are actions you can take to help your pet recover and move on.

When a pet’s owner dies or leaves the home, especially if the pet and owner were together for many years, the pet may experience confusion at his or her owner’s absence, which can lead to depression or grief once time passes and the owner has not returned. Because animals can form strong bonds with other pets in the household, they may also experience grief over the loss of another pet. Certainly, your pet’s experience of grief is different than what a human may experience. Our dogs and cats don’t cry, and because they live in the moment, don’t experience feelings of guilt or regret for “unfinished business” they may have had with the person who is no longer in their lives. Pets are sensitive to our moods and often will respond to the sadness and changes in behavior of the remaining people in the household. If you are sad and anxious, your pet will pick this up and mirror your feelings.

Signs that your pet may be grieving include sudden destructive chewing or clawing, whimpering, lack of appetite, constant pacing as if he is searching for his lost companion or owner, and emotional outbursts, such as snapping or growling at people. Your pet may also have changes in sleep patterns. You may notice that your pet craves more attention and reassurance from you, or loses interest in what were previously favorite activities.

Some things you can do to help ease your pet’s grief include spending extra time with your pet, frequently petting and talking to him reassuringly, providing him with comfort items, such as favorite toys and blankets. For pets that have lost their owner, consider providing items that carry the scent of their owner such as an item of clothing or a pillowcase. It is important to try to keep your pet’s routine as much the same as possible, as the disruption in his regular routine may cause more distress. If an “alpha” pet has left the household or died, allow your remaining pets to establish their new pecking order, but step in if fights escalate.

The sudden loss of another pet or person that was previously an important part of your dog or cat’s life can be disorienting and upsetting to your pet. Once you realize that your pet is grieving, you will be able to help your dog or cat during its grieving process with some extra TLC. If you have lost a pet, allow your remaining pets to re-establish a normal routine before you adopt another pet.

Has your pet shown signs of grief? How did you help your own pet cope?

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