It goes without saying that pets are like four-legged family members, and animals that live in the same household are likely to bond over time. When a furry sibling friend passes, it can be difficult for the other pets in the house to understand what is truly happening.
Navigating loss can be overwhelming, for you and your pet’s surviving friend. Not every pet will exhibit signs of grief, but many will communicate that they are recognizing the shift in family dynamics through somber behaviors and other changes. Supporting your pet through their grief can be a challenge while you face your own, but there are things you can do to help you both along the way. If you aren’t sure about how your pet is reacting internally to the loss of their fur friend, you can also use certain details to gauge if they are on a mostly healthy, or a concerning road.
The most important thing to remember about the grief journey is that time can be the most important factor that drives healing progress, and doing it with a companion gives you both someone to lean on during the tough spots.
How Do You Help a Dog Cope With the Loss of Another Dog?
Not much is known about how domestic pets like dogs and cats view death, but many pet owners can account for the notion that animals feel grief when their friend passes away. Grieving with a pet is unique to each situation, but you can be a vital resource for each other throughout the journey. In fact, 74% of pet owners report positive mental health impacts from having a pet, making them great allies for your grief, as well.
Comforting a pet through grief can feel challenging because you want to offer support without reinforcing unwanted behaviors. When a pet is processing the loss of their friend, they may express their feelings through unwanted behaviors like growling, snapping, whining, pacing, and resource guarding, but trying to soothe them with affection may simply reinforce that these behaviors are okay. Instead, you want to avoid reacting. Letting an animal process their emotions with these temporary behaviors can offer better results than soothing or scolding them.
Closely watch your pet’s behavior; while behavior changes are to be expected, rapidly progressing or destructive unwanted habits should be addressed by a dog behavior and training specialist.
There are steps you can take and factors to keep in mind while aiding a grieving pet through their pain in order to soften the pain they feel. It may seem difficult not to react when you know your pet is sad, but the tips below can proactively help them process grief.
Maintain a Sense of Normalcy
Pets, especially dogs, feel most comfortable when they fall in line with a system and routine. Keeping most aspects of their daily routine in order can be a healthy way to help them process grief. If you go for walks at certain parts of the day or have specific feeding times, it is important to keep these daily activities as they are, without dramatically changing their normal schedule. Sudden changes may be shocking for pets, and adding more things they’ll need to adapt to, on top of a recent loss, can be overwhelming.
Show Extra Love and Support
Many pet owners will experience more-dependent behaviors from their animals after the loss of another pet, possibly because they feel most comforted when you are around.
Spending extra time with your beloved family member will show them that they can trust you enough to continue leaning on you for support, and they’ll likely return the favor by being a consoling friend when you need comfort. If your pets spent most of their time together, they may seem extra dependent because being alone isn’t something they are used to. More walks, playtime, and snuggles on the couch can be some of the best ways to support each other through grief.
Create a Space for Your Grief, and Try to Keep Your Pet From Seeing You Too Emotional
Our pets are extremely sensitive to our emotions and will often react based on how we present ourselves. Grief is a delicate process for humans and pets, but animals will instinctively carry the emotions of those they are close to, making them vulnerable to your emotional state at any time. Give yourself a safe space to grieve by offering your pet things like enriching toys, playdates, or time at daycare while you spend time alone processing your own emotions. This crucial time can help you avoid projecting your pain onto your pet.
Enlist the Help of Dog-Walkers or Sitters to Keep Them Surrounded By Company
Of course, your pet will need time to process their own understanding of the situation, but they’ll need less alone time. Some animals may retreat and avoid spending time with anyone, but it is important to encourage them to socialize again, starting with you.
Once your pet is comfortable socializing with you, or if you have an overly dependent animal, you can welcome other caretakers and pets, or even simply bring them around your friends to promote the formation of new friendships again.
Dog daycare can also be a good option, once they have made progress towards a more-normal routine. A facility like Greenlin Pet Resorts is designed to offer pets everything they need for a day of fun and enrichment. Building a community for your pet can help them adapt to what their next chapter will look like.
Invite New Activities Into Routine
While you want to avoid overwhelming your pet as they grieve the loss of their fur friend, some new experiences can be beneficial. Slowly but surely invite your dog to try new things, starting with small things such as new treats and new routes for a walk. These new activities can be a great way to show your pet that new experiences await them post-grief, which is oftentimes a motivating message. If your dog enjoys outdoor adventures, try a new hike! If your cat is a fan of specific treat textures, explore the new options at the store!
Have Your Pet See the Body of Their Deceased Friend If Possible
In some cases, this may not be plausible, but having your pet see the body of their deceased friend can act as a moment of closure that offers them the experience they need to understand the situation. Passing on may be a confusing concept for animals to realize, not much is known, but seeing the body of their fur friend may make the concept “real” so they are not left confused about why their buddy is no longer around.
Don’t Rush to Expand the Family Again
It is critical that you offer your pet enough time to grieve before expanding the family once again. Many pets will have positive responses once a new family member is added, but they must have time to process their environment in this new way so that when another pet is added, they are confident with their surroundings. This can help prevent resource guarding and territorial behavior.
Signs Your Pet May Be Grieving
Grief is expressed in many forms, and every pet will react differently to a sudden change in the family like a death. A recent survey of dog owners has found that 86% of pups display unwanted behavior changes after the loss of another pet.
The biggest indicator of grief is that their general disposition has changed, so regardless of what said change is, you have noticed they are acting differently. Some behaviors are directly attributed to grief when they suddenly develop after the loss of a loved one. With your support, many of these behaviors will subside on their own as they process the change.
Many of the most common behaviors that signal a pet is managing grief include:
- Change in appetite: Pets that are grieving may experience a rapid decline in appetite. This should be closely monitored because it can have serious health risks.
- Vocal changes: Many pet owners report that their pet sounds different after losing a fur friend. They may speak, whine, or beg differently. These changes are oftentimes temporary but you can always address concerns with their vet.
- Habitual changes: Changes in eating, sleeping, and going to the bathroom are common. This is an example of why sticking to your pet’s consistent schedule is important while they grieve, as it can positively impact habitual changes.
- Change in personality: Your pet’s general disposition may change, including more distant or dependent behaviors. They may also be more or less aggressive and hyper because of grief.
- Seeking out the deceased friend: This often happens when the surviving pet does not understand that their friend has passed, and is generally avoidable by showing them their friend’s body. When this is not possible, you can help them by offering distractions or extra attention.
Remember That Grief is a Journey
Ultimately, grief is a journey. Moreover, this journey represents the love you and your pet shared for your late fur friend.
While every grieving family will manage the loss of a four-legged friend differently, the main takeaway is that the pain is temporary. Even though the love you share for your pet will never go away, thankfully the grief and all sharp emotions related to it will dull with time. You and your pet will likely spend a lot of time together while you both grieve, and leaking on one another to promote the healing journey can be a connecting experience.
If your pet needs extra attention, supervision, support, or stimulation during their adjustment period, they can always come to Greenlin to make new human and furry friends. We offer enriching dog training sessions and dog daycare that can provide them with stimulation, exercise, and a sense of companionship after a time when their pack can feel like it has grown smaller. We also offer dog boarding for pets having difficult coping with being at home alone. Reach out to one of our six Harrisburg locations for more information on how we can help your pet make a healthy adjustment towards a new normal.