Losing a loved one tops the list of the most devastating experiences we can have, and, for many people, the loss of a pet can be just as painful. However, have you ever considered the impact losing a pet can have on surviving pet family members?
To anyone who’s ever shared their life with a pet, it probably comes as no surprise that animals experience complex emotions. We may not be able to sit down and talk with them about their sadness, but there are plenty of ways we can help them work through pet grief and be able to enjoy life once again.
Do Animals Mourn?
There’s plenty of evidence documenting mourning in animals. Elephants are known to congregate around the body of a deceased family member. Chimpanzees often exhibit behavioral changes in response to loss, including anger, depression, and refusal to eat.
On the other hand, it’s important to realize that much is still unknown about pet emotions. One thing to note is that many pets feed off our own emotions, and people tend to anthropomorphize pets (assign them feelings based on our own emotions).
Signs of Pet Grief
Behavioral changes are the most common way by which pets express their grief. In a 1996 study by the ASPCA, it was found that over 50% of dogs and cats showed at least 4 behavioral changes following the loss of an animal companion.
Signs your pet may be grieving include:
- Loss of appetite
- Changes in sleeping patterns
- Vocalizations (barking, howling, meowing)
- Lack of interest in usual routine
- Destructive behavior (chewing, digging, scratching)
- Searching for deceased companion
- Aggression, depression, or other changes in behavior
Some of these behavioral changes may also indicate an underlying health problem. We encourage owners to schedule an appointment to rule out any illness or injury that may be a contributing factor.
Supporting Your Pet
There are numerous ways pet owners can help their fur friends work through their grief and ease them along the path to healing. For example:
- For the first few weeks following a loss, don’t leave your pet alone. Enlist the help of family members, neighbors, or other friends to ensure your pet has a companion at all times.
- Do your best to maintain your pet’s normal schedule (meal times, daily walks, etc.).
- Distraction can help; try out new games with your pet, walk a new route, or take a visit to the dog park, groomer, friend’s home, or any place your pet hasn’t been in awhile.
- Make sure to take time each day for extra snuggles and attention.
- If the deceased lived alone with a pet, he or she should be adopted by a close family member or friend, if possible. Otherwise, commit to working with a rescue organization that specializes in sensitive issues such as pet grief.
Like humans, each animal experiences the loss of a loved one differently. Keep an eye on your pet, and don’t hesitate to contact your friends at Shelden Veterinary Care with any questions or concerns.