Helping Our Pets Grieve the Loss of A Companion Pet

When a beloved pet dies, it can affect everyone in the home including our remaining pets. We often get asked by grieving pet parents how to help the remaining pets in the home and when they should be concerned about a remaining pet’s behavior. We hope this post will help any of you facing this difficult situation.

First, it’s important to understand it has been shown time and time again that animals do grieve for their other four-legged companions. That being said, it’s equally important to realize that they may not grieve in the way we expect them too. It’s for that reason that one of the most important things to remember is not to put any expectations on your remaining pets for what their grieve “should look like” Your pet’s reaction to the loss is often a combination of the cues they get from the way you are grieving and the relationship they had with the other pet. They can sense your sadness and anxiety. However, just like humans react differently to grief, so do our pets and it’s important to accept however they do or don’t show their grief.

There are suggestions which many veterinarians and animal behaviorists give on how to help your remaining pet cope with the loss. Some of these suggestions, along with our own, are below. While we use dogs and cats as in the examples below, the same suggestions can be used for other types of pets. We hope you find them helpful.

If possible, consider allowing your remaining pet to view the body of the pet who has passed.  If you are having your pet euthanized at home, you may want to consider allowing the  remaining pet a chance to view the body of the pet that has passed on. This can help them get “closure” and understand what has happened. Some Veterinarians will allow you to bring the remaining pets to the office so that they can view the body once the euthanization is completed. Another option is to snip some hair off the pet that has passed for the remaining pet to see/smell. This is a very individual decision, and only you know what is best for your pets.

 Give your pet extra love and attention, but be sure and only “reinforce” positive behavior.  Let your pet know how much you love him/her by spending extra time loving and playing with them. Talk to them and let them know how much you miss “your beloved pet” too, but that you will get through this time together. The thing you don’t want to do is let them get away with things that wouldn’t ordinarily be acceptable, like excessive barking or jumping on/scratching furniture.

Keep the same routines as when your other pet was alive.  Continue to feed your pet the same type of food you normally fed them at the same mealtime and in the same place. The same goes with walk time or “bed time”. Changing routines on top of the loss of their friend can cause additional stress for the remaining pets.

Provide more exercise and stimulation.  The loss of your remaining pet’s friend can often lead to boredom, especially when there has been a close bond between them. Make extra play time for the remaining pet. Take the dog for extra walks or rides in the car or schedule in some extra play time at home.

Monitor the behaviors of the remaining pet.  It’s not uncommon for a remaining dog or cat to not eat as much or to be lethargic during the initial grief or on the other end of the spectrum to be restless or eat too much. However, if this behavior continues and you begin to get concerned, we recommend contacting your Veterinarian. There are herbal remedies like Bach Flower or even prescription remedies your Veterinarian may suggest. A visit to your Veterinarian may be in order at this time.

Don’t rush into getting another pet.  Many times, an initial response to the loss of a pet is to go out and get another one, yet this is not always the best thing for either the family or the remaining pet. Your remaining dog/cat may not have the energy or patience for another one in the house, especially if s/he is grieving. Allow time for everyone in the house to begin to heal from the loss. Also, consider how your remaining pet reacts to other pets in general.  If the remaining pet is a dog, how do they greet other dogs they see outside? If it’s a cat, how do they react to other cats they may notice outside? When some time has passed, and you feel you are all ready for a new pet, include the remaining one in the decision. If possible, bring him/her to meet the new addition/or schedule a “meet and greet” at your home. Consider fostering a pet as an alternative to see how it goes.

The loss of an animal companion is often as difficult for the remaining pet. However, with love, patience, considerations and time, it is possible for the remaining pet to heal and thrive again.





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