Do pets grieve the loss of another pet?
Pets raised in a household with other pets are part of a pack, and they generally enjoy each other's companionship. They do take notice when their companion is no longer present. The death of a pet impacts both the human and animal family members. As a veterinarian there are two questions I am often asked by grieving pet parents: does the surviving pet know that his or her companion has died? Will that surviving pet grieve their loss?
Having performed euthanasia in the home for over 30 years I’ve made some observations that I will share with you. When the other pet is present, whether it be during the euthanasia procedure or immediately following it, the surviving dog or cat seems to react little to the passing of the their housemate. For instance, a dog may come and sniff the area around their deceased friend, gathering information from the new smells around their companion-the smell of the blanket, my scent and the smell of my equipment. However there have been a few occasions, but not many, where the surviving dog has made physical contact with the now deceased friend by lying next to the body, sniffing the face or hind end; but generally their focus is the new changes in the environment related to my presence; and to the emotional state of their human family. Pets are acutely aware of our emotions and will react to our happiness as well as our sadness. The physiological changes that occur with death (such as cooling of the body and rigor mortise) take time, and their friend has been removed from the home well before the. So except for witnessing their friend leaving through the front door, the remaining pet is generally unaware that he or she is gone. In the animal kingdom death of a pack member is accepted as part of life, and generally a new norm is quickly embraced. This is a survival adaptation. Yet another question surfaces; and that is, do pets grieve?
The answer is yes. Dogs and cats rely heavily on the security of daily routines and interactions. Their housemate is an integral part of that structure. Absence of their housemate causes confusion. It can be a source of separation anxiety and grief. What are the signs that your pet is grieving?
- Searching areas of the house for their friend-sniffing familiar places, pacing.
- Withdrawal from the family or on the other end of the spectrum, a new sense of neediness from their human companions.
- Vocalizing more or demonstrating destructive and compulsive behaviors.
- Excessive grooming in cats or change in use of the litter pan.
What can you do as a pet parent to help your pet cope with the grief?
As mentioned earlier, our pets feed off our emotions, so it is important to normalize things as soon as possible. Your grieving impacts them, so try your best to shelter them from your sorrow and to interact positively with them. Try to keep their routines as regular as possible and give them that added attention when needed. At times you may have to ramp up the activity. However, do not reward disruptive behaviors.
Your veterinarian can direct to you valuable resources to help you and your pet through the loss of pet family member. Remember the healing process takes time both for you and your pet. You are in this together.