do pets mourn the loss of their friends?

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do pets mourn the loss of their friends?
Posted by Dr. Kim Smyth on Nov 19 2014

Losing a pet is so very difficult for us. While researching this blog entry, I came across an article in the Washington Post from 2012 written by a man who had recently suffered such a loss. He explained it so eloquently: the love we share with our pets is a simple love. They are just happy that we are there. Though it’s been a year and a half since I lost my dog, I found myself in tears all over again while reading his words.

Just as we mourn the loss of our four-legged friends, so too do the other furry family members in our households.

Pet behavior often changes after the loss of a companion, and it will vary from one animal to the next. Even if you thought your pets were not very good friends, the loss of one changes the dynamic of the house and your pet’s routine, too.

Symptoms of grief

Searching the house or yard for the lost pet is a common behavior for pets who have lost a companion. Many clients report that their surviving pets will search places favored by the lost pet or will wait at the door, as if at any minute, their friend will return.

Loss of appetite is another common symptom of grief. Pets may eat less food or they may stop eating altogether. In cats, this is a dangerous behavior. Cats are apt to develop a life-threatening condition called hepatic lipidosis (or fatty liver disease) if they stop eating or even if they just eat a decreased ration for an extended period of time. Cats who aren’t eating (for any reason) should see a veterinarian as soon as possible.

Pets may be more anxious than usual, perhaps because they got social cues from their lost companion. Changes in sleep patterns and play time are to be expected, as well. If you have more than one surviving pet, expect the social structure of the house to change.

How to help your grieving pet

Usually, grieving in pets is temporary, and some of their feelings may actually be in response to your own grief. You can help your pets through their pain, though. Set aside some time each day for exercise and play time. This will benefit you both. It may also be helpful to use pheromones to help calm your distraught pet—they are available for dogs and cats, either as a spray, a plug-in diffuser or a collar.

Give your pets the space to figure out their new hierarchy on their own. Do not allow them to injure each other, but also do not punish their behaviors—they are working out some complex issues, and punishing them will only add anxiety. Instead, reward positive behaviors.

Finally, many veterinarians advocate the idea of letting the surviving pet see the deceased pet. This may mean accompanying you to the veterinary clinic if you’ve made the decision to humanely euthanize an ill or injured pet. This is a very personal decision, but I do think being allowed to see and smell their deceased companion decreases the surviving pet’s grief. They are less apt to search for a friend who simply disappeared.

Losing a four-legged family member affects all members of the family. If your pet is experiencing prolonged grief, he or she may benefit from medication temporarily. Talk to your veterinarian if your pet needs a little help out of the doldrums after a loss.