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Do animals grieve the loss of another pet?

Posted on: November 23rd, 2010 by

A dog mourns after losing a canine friendBy: Dr. Fiona, DVM
For Pets Best Insurance

Losing a pet is one of the hardest parts about having one. The furry animals become part of the family and take up a piece of your heart. After a loved one is gone, life can change drastically, not only for you, but also for other pets in the house.

Scientists are still uncertain exactly how pets perceive emotions, and if they are aware of emotions. Certainly simple emotions such as fear, pleasure and hunger are well documented in animals, but more complex emotions, such as grief are the subject of debate. In addition, we are uncertain how much dogs and cats understand about death.

Regardless of how animals actually perceive emotions, it is well documented that the sudden loss of a companion pet can be difficult for the remaining animal, causing some behavioral changes along the way. Obviously the loss of a pet is difficult for people too, and it is possible that animals may perceive their owner’s sadness, in addition to their own.

Signs Your Pet is Grieving

1) One of the most drastic changes when one animal in a multi-animal household dies is the change in the structure of the ‘pack’ hierarchy. Dogs and cats have very well defined social roles, with leaders and followers. Without the companion, your remaining pet’s role may be ill-defined. A normally more submissive dog may suddenly have no one to follow, and a leader may have no one to lead. This can manifest as behavioral changes; your pet isn’t sure how to act any longer.

2) You may notice a decrease in social interaction, such as hiding or segregating from the family. A decrease or increase in appetite, which can lead to weight loss or gain, can also occur. Some dogs may pace or even look like they are ‘searching’ for their lost loved one. Vocalizing excessively may occur in dogs; urination and grooming habits may change in cats.

How to Help Your Grieving Pet

1) Helping your pet adjust to the loss may have the added benefit of helping you cope as well. It is important not to ‘reward’ sulking or brooding behavior, but rather engage the pet in a new activity. Positive training is a beneficial way to help your pet learn its new position in the family and move on from loss. It can create a bond between you the handler and your dog. It also creates clear communication between you; this bond and communication make it easy for the pet to look to you for leadership. In fact, sometimes in this situation, a dog’s personality will actually blossom after the loss of another dog, allowing them to recognize a different more confident role.

2) A training class that uses positive methods or private lessons from a trainer may help you to learn the skills you’ll need. Dogs can keep learning for their entire lives, this new knowledge can make a grieving dog more confident and sure of itself. A confident dog that knows it’s ‘role’ is generally happier and easier to be with.

3) Another thing that is important to helping a grieving dog cope is increasing the activities it loves to do. For example, a dog that loves to play fetch at the park might benefit from a few more fetch sessions than you normally do. It could be simple things like extra brushing, or getting to ride in the car while you run errands, or maybe a new squeaky toy. Even just a few more minutes of play time can help a dog adjust to life without its companion, and may make you feel better too!

Should You Get a Second Pet to Fill Void?

Getting another dog is controversial and if it’s not the right time for you in terms of your grieving, free time, or finances, don’t do it. Dogs can adjust to being without canine companions in time, and some will even blossom. Just like people, pets will deal with loss in their own way. If you feel your dog needs other canine companions, but aren’t ready for a new dog, try the dog park, a doggy play date with a friend that has dogs or a training class. This will give you, your family, and your other pet time to grieve and rediscover their place, and eventually, open your hearts to love again.

If you are concerned that your pet’s health is suffering from their loss, call your veterinarian.

 

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15 Comments

  1. Patricia Lightfoot says:

    We had two young kittens. Suddenly one of them died. The one that lived continually hid under our bed; was suddenly very unsociable. It’s been about two years now; 6 baby kittens were dropped off by my car in my work parking lot. I brought them home and hand fed them. They are now about 4 months old. The kitten that was hiding previously now acts like she’s the 6 kittens’ mother. The 6 new baby kittens have given the other cat new life. I’m so happy!

  2. Michael O'Donoghue says:

    This is a very good article about pets grieving other pets. People often tell me their pets are not the same after the loss of another pet, but they have no clinical signs of illness. They really need that extra attention.

  3. Sarah S says:

    I recently lost a cat after he was attacked by a dog. The other 2 didn’t know what to do at first but it’s funny how they have picked up traits of the cat we lost, things they never did before. My cat Fuzzy that has been with the cat we lost since he was a kitten, and has started cuddling with Nermal (our other remaining cat). Before we lost Idgy, Nermal and Fuzzy couldn’t stand eachother! Nermal has been cuddling with me more as well, which is odd, but much needed. I think he can sence the hurt I feel, and he is doing a great job of filling my arms where Idgy would normally be. I know they can feel that something is different and feel the need to help us heal too.

  4. Katie at MPVH says:

    What a great article – wonderful insight into the pet grieving process! When I had to put my old kitty, Sammy, to sleep, my other cat, Dutch, constantly “meowed” and paced for days. Then, he completely shut down – even catnip didn’t excite him. When we adopted a dachshund, Porsche, a few months later, he started acting out, so we used D.A.P. (Dog Appeasing Pheromone) and Feliway diffusers around the house to keep them calm during the introduction period. Now they cuddle on the bed – we’ve even put them both out in the back yard on harnesses!

  5. Paula says:

    We recently lost our eight year old cat, Charlie. It was a huge shock. Our 2 1/2 year old cat, Mayo, who is extremely active and mischievious adored Charlie although Charlie never really warmed up to Mayo. Charlie was jealous of Mayo and though he tolerated him, he never allowed Mayo to get very close to him. Since Charlies’ death about 7 wks. ago, and until just this week Mayo completely quit eating, has become bone thin, lay’s around and doesn’t want to be active at all. We will pick him up and he just falls over on us. At first he would go all over our house calling and looking for Charlie. We would see Mayo walking all through the yard where Charlie used to lay or sit in the shade and hear him meowing as if he were trying to find Charlie. There is no question in my mind about animals having emotions and suffering grief. Finding a way to help them get through it is the difficult part.

  6. Dayve says:

    What’s odd is I was looking through this article for the opposite reason. Our 12 year old beagle just passed away here at home and our other 7 year old beagle seems aloof and unaffected. She certainly knew what was going on, our dog was sick for 2 months. With all the crying in the house, I find it hard to believe my other dog does not know what happened to her companion. They were best buds, but lately due to his health they have ha little interaction. My son is almost mad at our other dog for showing no signs of grief at all. Our dog actually seems quite happy, so it is a little irritating I suppose since the whole family is In mourning. She was such a submissive dog I can’t figure out why she is so unaffected by this loss.

  7. Khadijah says:

    I just lost my best girl I use to call her. She was my 8 year old spitz ‘Heidi’. The sweetest dog ever! I also have a male chihuahua mix (poppi’) and a male spitz(frosty). Now these two have always been frienemies. Heidi passed days ago; my other male spitz has been sleeping in the house in my room and just doesnt want to come out, frustrating poppi(he’s the inside dog). Even in the fews days heidi’s been gone, these two have become somewhat closer. I guess theres no female to fight for now so they have called a truce. I do agree that extra time with your remainder dogs/cats, it does help. I enjoy brushing them; playing fetch more and they love it right back.

  8. Adelle says:

    Hi. I recently lost my beloved dog of sixteen and a half years. My cat of eight years, is definitely grieving. She sits next to my dogs grave, and sometimes on top of it. She has also taken to sleeping on my side of the bed, rather than my husbands. Also previously unwalked on shaggy carpet, seems to be no problem as she casually walks over it, and kneads it, then lays down with us, she has never done this before. She is spending a lot more time with us. It is so sad to see, and keeps reminding me that our Dog has gone.
    So Sad….

  9. Claudia says:

    I lost my precious Jack Russell (Fox) 6 days ago. I am still grieving. My Beagle (Paige) looks lost. She has never been separated from Fox. We give her extra loving and hope time will heal all our heart aches.

    • ANNIE says:

      I AM SORRY FOR YOUR LOSS OF FOX I WAS SAD WHEN I READ THAT BECAUSE I UNDERSTOOD EXACTLY WHAT U MEANT I HAVE A 16 YR OLD WESTIE AND A 14 YR BOTH FEMALE AND I AM SO WORRIED THEN HAVE NEVER BEEN APART SINCE DAY ONE NEVER.. I AM SO CONCERNED FOR MY 14 YR OLD WESTIE . IT JUST JUST HURTS THINKING ABT IT I CRY EVERYTIME THINK ABT IT SOME TIMES I WONDER IF I DID THE RIGHT THINK BY THEM DOING EVERYTHING TOGETHER . I ALMOST FEEL LIKE I WILL MOURN FOR HER . I AM SO SAD I GET SO UPSET. I DONT KNW IF I BE ABLE TO HELP HER. EVERYTHING WAS THE TWO OF THEM DONT KNW WHAT TO DO .

  10. Dani says:

    My dog Bear died suddenly in the middle of the night and my other dog laid there with the body until we got there in the morning and found the body. Ever since, when we let my other dog Bogie out to go potty, he sniffs where the body was and won’t use the bathroom, and just looks around the yard. He is usually VERY entergetic and happy, but has just been laying around and sleeping. He just looks at you very sad like. No doubt Bogie knows his best friend is dead.

  11. John says:

    I just lost my 10 year old Beagle. He was my best friend, he went everywhere with me. He even went on our honeymoon. We have a 5 year old Bassett Hound who is pretty sad. She is eating okay but she is mopey and won’t sit in the chair Milo the Beagle used to sit in. I miss him so much. He loved us very much and we will love him always. We have a candle, his collar and some pictures sitting on our mantle to honor him. He left us 3 days ago. We have been giving the Bassett extra love to make sure she is okay. We will always love him. We know he is waiting for us at heavens gate. RIP Mr. Milo, love ya buddy.

  12. depressed says:

    We lost our 11yr old lab about 1 month ago. I still can’t believe he’s gone. There’s no doubt that our other dog is still mourning as well. They were together every day for the last 7 yrs. When we let him out to potty, he still searches for his best friend. He also just sits and stares at his buddy’s grave. I just hope we can help each other cope with our tragic and sudden loss. We miss you baby murph.

  13. Kenny says:

    I had just lost my god ,my best friend (maggie) her sister, mitzee, which have never been seperated in 8 years is not eating or responding to any attention this makes me and my wife very sad .I dont no what to do , This is a very sad week.

  14. Amber says:

    Our mommy pit bull witnessed her 1yr old son hit by a car today. She has been aggressive to her other pup the girl and very withdrawn. She has been sleeping all day. I hope she gets through this okay, I feel terrible for her.

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