Life After Loss: 5 Ways to Support Your Grieving Pet
If you’ve been a multi-pet household before and lost one of your animals, you’ve likely experienced a grieving pet. Dogs and cats, like people, experience sadness and grief after loss. Canines are especially sensitive to the loss of a fellow pet.
Because we can’t communicate with our pets and explain what is happening, their grieving process is more difficult to understand. Be on the lookout for these signs that your pet is feeling sad from loss, and use our tips to support your grieving pet.
Signs Your Pet Is Feeling Grief
- Loss of appetite
- Sleep changes
- Chewing or aggression
- Changes in bathroom habits
A Grieving Pet Might Withdraw
Self-isolation is a common symptom of grief in pets. A normally social and cheery dog might choose to spend more time alone after they’ve lost a friend. You might notice them exiting the room where the family is spending time, or choosing to retreat to their doggie safe space a little more often. Even aloof cats might be more withdrawn following a loss.
Loss of Appetite Is a Common Sign of Pet Grief
Another common, and sometimes serious, sign of grief for animals is the refusal to eat or general disinterest in food. This sign should be monitored closely because it can become dangerous if your pet refuses to eat for too long and starts losing weight. Furthermore, loss of appetite in pets can also create some unhealthy patterns (such as excessive dog treat use in an effort to make up for lost calories).
Pets May Struggle with Sleep Changes During Grief
Your pet’s sleep schedule might change after a loss, as well. You might hear them up and about at night if they feel restless. Alternatively, they might seem lethargic and take more naps than usual. Healthy sleep for cats and dogs is just as important as a healthy diet, so this sign of grief should be monitored closely, as well.
After Loss, Your Pet Might Become Aggressive or Destructive
Behavioral changes are sometimes seen in grieving pets. A normally calm dog or cat might become unusually aggressive and less interested in affection. Destruction of furniture and other items by chewing and clawing can also be a sign of grief manifesting as stress.
Bathroom Accidents Can Be a Result of Grief
Like sleep and diet, your pet’s bathroom habits might experience an interruption while they are mourning the loss of a friend. A potty-trained dog might have accidents in the house, and a nervous cat might start going outside of the litter box.
A Grieving Pet May Call Out for the Lost Pet
Sometimes, you might notice out-of-the-ordinary vocalizations during a grieving period. Your cat might wander around the house, meowing for the lost friend, and you might hear a dog let out the occasional searching bark. This isn’t like human crying and the way we voice our grief – it’s often because the animal is confused and doesn’t know where their friend has gone. These vocalizations are more about searching than mourning, but they are still a sign of grief.
5 Ways to Support Your Grieving Pet
Even if you don’t notice any distinctive signs of grieving in your pet, here are some strategies for supporting your animal when they have lost a fellow pet:
- Provide closure if possible
- Be upbeat and positive around your pet as much as possible
- Try new activities as a distraction
- Spend more time engaging with your pet
- Consult a veterinarian if needed
Provide Closure for Your Pet Whenever Possible
It may seem morbid, but it can be helpful for your animal to see the deceased body of their friend when possible. Animals recognize death in part by smell, so letting your pet approach, smell, and even nudge the body of the passed animal will help them recognize what has happened. It may not assuage or even mitigate their grief, but it will help avoid any confusion that could hinder the grieving process.
Your Voice and Behavior Will Impact Your Pet
When you have a grieving pet, you are probably grieving, too. Loss affects the whole family. While you need to process your own sadness, it’s also important to be present and supportive of your animal. Your voice, tone, and behavior have a remarkable impact on your pet’s mood, so try to be cheerful and positive in your interactions with your pet. Your upbeat manner might help them get over their sadness.
New Activities or Tricks Can Be a Happy Distraction
Distractions are a healthy way to cope with grief for both humans and pets. You might consider introducing a new activity to your grieving pet, such as a new interactive toy for your cat or teaching your dog a new command. Learning something new gives your pet something to focus on, and that can be helpful in moving them forward in the grieving process.
Spend More Quality Time with Your Grieving Pet
Your grieving process will impact your pet. Even if your pet’s lifestyle hasn’t changed at all, if you are grieving, they might start to carry your grief in empathy. It’s important to try and be as upbeat and positive as you can around your pet to help them start to get over loss. Use a happy tone of voice and try to behave normally and cheerfully when you’re around your pet.
Consult Your Veterinarian If Your Pet’s Grief Signs Are Serious
It’s important to be patient as your pet processes their grief. It may take weeks for them to become adjusted to their loss. But if your pet’s grief signs become serious and start to affect their health – for example, consistent refusal of food – then you should consult your veterinarian. They can offer guidance and additional support to help your pet process grief in a healthy way.
Your Pet Will Likely Grieve Human Friends, Too
Pets can grieve the loss of their human family members, too. You might even notice a grieving pet outside of a death, such as when a child leaves for college or someone moves out of the house. Pets feel the loss of their family members, both other pets and the humans in their lives. If you have a grieving pet, try to support them with our tips, and don’t hesitate to reach out to the professionals for help.