When you think about how closely our companion animals mirror our moods, emotional states, and energy levels, it’s natural to assume that they feel the way we do. We’ve all heard of dogs and cats that are highly tuned in and aware in the wake of an owner’s illness, death, or emotional setback. It makes perfect sense for a pet to feel this way toward a caregiver on whom their feeding and care depend, but it also raises questions about how pets grieve in general.
Each animal is an individual, and no two pets experience loss and grief in the same way. That being said, however, it’s not uncommon for pets to exhibit tell-tale signs of depression following the death of an owner or animal sibling or friend. As long as there aren’t any underlying physical health problems, the following behavioral changes are part of a natural reaction to grief:
- Lack of appetite
- Increased sleep
- Searching for the deceased person or animal
- Attempted escape
- Scratching at doors or windows
- Increased vocalization
Sometimes a pet may manifest grief with destructive behaviors, such as marking, chewing, barking, or aggressiveness. These symptoms can also indicate other health issues. We encourage you to bring your pet in for a wellness visit to rule out potential illness.
Off the Clock
There’s no formula to measure how long pets grieve, but it can range from 2 weeks to 6 months. An animal that was particularly close to the deceased may never fully get back to his or her former self.
Many pet owners wonder if they should adopt another pet to help a grieving pet recover from a devastating loss. You know your pet the best, but it’s important to make this decision very carefully.
If it’s fun and companionship that you think your pet misses, first try to introduce him or her to new friends at a dog park or doggie day care. You might be surprised at his or her unique reactions to a new friend. Please let us know if you have concerns about bringing a new pet into your home following a loss.
Helping Pets Grieve
Understanding that grief is a part of life and that suffering loss is universal will help you compassionately support your pet. Try some of the following ideas:
- Offer an item that still holds the scent of the deceased.
- Give extra love and attention.
- Uphold routine as best as you can; mealtimes and exercise routines should continue on as before.
- Get outside together and try to enjoy nature and fresh air.
- Give your pet extra time; don’t expect him or her to overcome grief too soon, but believe that normalcy is in sight.
- Add environmental enrichment such as a new cat tree, Kong’s, or challenging food puzzles.
- Schedule support for your pet during the times you cannot be home. Make sure you have a person who knows your pet well and won’t pose a threat. When pets grieve, daily care, focused interaction, and constant reassurance are critical for eventual healing.
Time is a Great Healer
Animal bonds run deep. Whether a pet is left behind by a beloved owner or a furry best friend, the fact is that pets grieve. However, when they’re given emotional support and the time to mourn their loss, time will heal the wound.
Our veterinarians and staff understand that it’s very difficult to see animal family members in pain. If you have any questions or concerns, please give us a call.