When Pets Grieve

We all find it hard to say goodbye
Our pets are just like us in many ways. Many of us can clearly understand their moods and emotions by the way they look at us or the way they wag their tail.

Our pets display emotions every day, but do they experience a complex emotion like grief? Grief is a reaction to the sudden absence of something or someone who brought comfort and satisfaction—and many pet owners will attest that their pets grieve when they lose a loved one.

Research now confirms that our dogs, cats and rabbits experience symptoms of grief when they lose a beloved human or animal companion. Grief has even been observed in wild species. Elephants have been seen caressing the body of a deceased companion. There are published reports of pets who constantly search for a deceased loved one and animals who no longer want to play or eat when a companion dies.

Animal Friends recently received a call from a couple whose dog lost her lifetime canine companion. The dogs grew up together and were inseparable. When one of the dogs passed away, the surviving dog began crying all night, having accidents in the house and losing her appetite. Our team at Animal Friends explained to the couple that their dog was grieving. As a pack animal, she was mourning the loss of a member of her family pack.

Many grieving dog often act as if they’re searching for something. They become restless or lethargic, lose their appetite, have accidents in the house, cry and don’t want to play. Dogs are certainly not alone; many cat and rabbit owners report similar experiences with their grieving pets.

Just as you’d comfort a grieving friend, you can help your pet cope with grief. First and foremost, keep your pet’s routine as normal as possible. This may be difficult if a pet’s primary caregiver has passed away, but it is essential to maintain as normal a routine as possible. Second, don’t reinforce any behavioral changes. If your pet stops eating, don’t change the food, and don’t increase the amount of attention you give your pet. It may lead to new problems, like separation anxiety.

If you have multiple pets, they’ll need time to form a new household hierarchy. Most importantly, don’t get a new pet until you are ready. If you attempt to bring a new pet into your home too soon, you pet could sense this and your plan could backfire. Try pet-sitting for a friend or family member. This will allow you to figure out if it’s time to welcome a new pet into your home.

If you find that nothing helps your pet, speak with your veterinarian. Your vet can help you decide whether prescription medicine will be effective to help calm and relax your pet.
In the end, it takes time to recover from the wounds loss brings, and you may find it takes a great deal of time for both you and your pet to adequately grieve. Animals are very sensitive to human emotions; if you’re upset, your pets will likely sense this and may display unusual behavior. If you’re finding it difficult to deal with the loss of a pet, you may find it helpful to speak with a bereavement counselor and attend a Remembrance and Celebration
Ceremony at Animal Friends.

Both humans and animals find it hard to say goodbye, but with love and understanding, we can work to help our animal friends cope with loss.

To learn more about Animal Friends’ Remembrance and Celebration Ceremonies, call 412.847.7031.

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