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Dogs grieving the loss of their four-legged companion or companions

Laurel2When a family loses a beloved furry companion, it’s often heartbreaking for everyone and, what we don’t always realise is, that it is just as traumatic for a single surviving pet who now has lost his or her friend. We, as animal lovers know how difficult it is dealing with our own grief and then you suddenly realise that the remaining pet has stopped eating, is showing signs of depression and withdrawing from the family or pacing the properly for many hours looking for their friend to return. It is incredibly stressful to see this and it occurs often when two pets are closely bonded and one of them dies. Experts say this is in many ways similar to how humans grieve the loss of a loved one.

These are possibly some of the signs you may notice:

  • Changes in sleeping patterns
  • Changes in eating habits
  • Lack of interest in normal activities
  • Reluctance to be in a room or home alone, or away from human family members
  • Wandering the house or property or even trying to get outside to look for their lost friend.

Here are some suggestions to help your surviving pet get through this time

  • Closely watch your pet. The grieving cycle isn’t a specific period of time in either humans or companion animals, so keep a close eye on your surviving pet for signs of distress and unusual behaviour. It will help you if you are aware of what to expect and how to react during this time when everyone in the family is feeling sad and upset by the loss.
  • Keep daily routines as consistent as possible. Daily routines help your pets so try and keep mealtimes, exercise, walks, playtime, grooming, bedtime, and other daily activities to their regular schedule.
  • Keep your pet’s diet and mealtimes the same. It is quite possible that your pet may lose his appetite following the death of a friend. However continue to give him his normal food at the same time each day to maintain his routine. Try not to tempt him with lots of different choices of treats or special delicacies as this will not help him or her get back to his normal lifestyle. Try to get his appetite back to normal in as short a time as possible. If he doesn’t pick up after several days or he’s not making any attempt to eat at all make an appointment with your vet just to rule out any underlying health problems.
  • Take care not to unintentionally reward your pet’s depression. It is extremely difficult not to over compensate with extra cuddles and attention to your surviving pet. If you can, try to go outside and play games or take more walks in different places. If your dog has enjoyed training in the past do short fun training sessions with lots of praise and yummy treats. Play hide and seek or fun scent games where they have to find treats hidden in the garden or something similar. The more active the dog becomes the more likely he will get his appetite back and feel like his old self.
  • In multi-pet homes, allow surviving pets to establish their own social structure. When there are two or more pets in the family, each member will have a specific relationship within the group. When an animal dies, a temporary instability within the group is created. This may result in conflicts that are concerning to us but unless one of your pets is becoming a problem with the others, it’s best to let them re-establish their dynamics on their own. Just keep a watchful eye. If there is any growling, barking, hissing, or even attacking that isn’t decreasing as they settle into the “new” changes, it is advisable to consult either your veterinarian or a qualified animal behaviourist for guidance on how to resolve difficulties between your pets. Don’t leave it too long before seeking advice but rather nip it in the bud to avoid further stress and anxiety.
  • Think wisely rather than emotionally before adding a new pet to the family. Replacing a new pet should be considered wisely and in the best interests for both human and animal. Dealing with loss and grief is an individual emotion and some family members may not be ready as quickly as others.
  • Take care not to further upset your pet with emotional displays in his presence. We know our dogs are highly sensitive to our emotions so when dealing with your own grief try not to show your emotions in front of them. Unfortunately it is possible at times to cause them more distress when they see you crying.
  • Give it time. As with the loss of a human family member there is no rule as to how long our pets’ memories are. It is apparent that dogs do remember companions for quite some time. Generally it is believed that grieving pets may take days or up to a few months, but normally they do return to their “old” selves. If you feel that your pet’s grief is taking too long and he or she is not getting over the loss of their friend speak to your veterinarian or a highly qualified animal behaviourist. They will be able to assist you.
  • Consider having your pet present at his companion’s death. This possibly sounds a wee bit morbid, but some families feel it helps to have the surviving pet present during the pet’s passing or allow them to see and smell their friend’s body once death has occurred. This is entirely your own personal decision. Some pets have no obvious reactions to their friend’s body, but it may help in some ways that there is no need to search the property for the animal that has passed.
  • Use natural grief remedies, if needed. There are some excellent homeopathic and Bach flower remedies such as Honeysuckle and Green Hope Farm Grief and Loss remedy; as well as all the Rescue Remedies that can be given to your pet until you see an emotional change for the better. Please always consult either your veterinarian or a professional homeopath before administering any remedies to your pets.

By Joanna, Trainer