Do Our Pets Grieve?
11 November, 2014
We all know how hard it is to lose one of our beloved furry family members when they cross to the rainbow bridge. The mourning and sadness we feel is profound and we never forget our pets but learn how to cope with the grief. However, what happens when our pets outlive us? Do our pets grieve for their owners?
Studies show that both cats and dogs sense the loss of another pet, especially if they were close friends. Cats can usually deal with the grief more readily and/or just don’t show the loss as readily. Pets may also show signs of loss and mourning in ways that the remaining family or caretaker may not recognize. Although somewhat different, dogs do feel the loss of loved ones. Many dogs have a significant degree of attachment to their owner that leads to anxiety and distress when even short-term separation such as a vacation occurs and therefore the loss can be felt deeply.
Do all dogs feel the loss of their owner?
Dogs that are extremely attached to their owner and have a sense of separation anxiety are likely to be hit hard following their owners passing. Some of the signs of these types of dogs are when the following has occurred in the past: bark, whine or howl immediately after you leave, exhibit destructive behavior in your absence (and often directed toward doors and windows); house soiling when you are away and/or depression when you go for a short trip.
While we can’t ask a dog how he feels, we can (and do) sometimes see all the visible signs of depression in grieving dogs that we see in a recently bereaved or an otherwise depressed person. Dogs that are mourning will be unenthusiastic and lethargic, mope, eat less, become anti-social, sleep more or sometimes show the opposite spectrum and are restless. Most dogs will lose weight and mope. The signs are not that different than a human in mourning.
Dogs, like people, will usually get over their depression in time
As time goes on, dogs like humans, will become less depressed over time. It can last a few months and sometimes even longer depending on the bond of the dog with his owner.
Below are some recommendations on how a new caretaker can help our dogs get through the loss of a loved one:
Allow time to heal the wounds and merely be supportive and loving to our dogs. Make sure the grieving dog continues to eat and drink, even if this means helping the dog eat his favorite foods. Keep the dog on the same amount of food and maybe extra treats. Spoil the dog!
If possible, try to have the dog with you or the new caretaker during the daytime and at night. Have the dog sleep in the bedroom with his caretaker or new family so he can have a new sense of belonging.
Provide distractions during the day such as toys, delicious food treats, games, daily walks so that the dog is gainfully entertained. Some coaxing may be necessary to get the dog off the couch and up!
Try to interest the dog in interacting with people or dogs. Sometimes a visitor dog to the house will stimulate the affected dog’s appetite and activity to help get over the grief.
Daily exercise is extremely important as it has a calming, soothing, and mood elevating effect. Aerobic (running) exercise is best if this can be done to get the dog’s happiness level back up.
Medication, as a last resort, must be prescribed by a veterinarian and only when the anxiety is too severe for a dog to handle.
A dog’s grief is proportional to the bond with the owner
As much as we love our dogs, their separation anxiety and grief is directly proportional to the strength of the bond with us and is a function of the dog’s reliance and dependence on us. Owners who feed into a dog’s intense dependence on them are more likely to have dogs that do not cope well when left alone for any reason. The emotional pain dogs feel on their owners death is an extension of, an extreme version of separation anxiety. It isn’t recommended that you detach yourself to your dog, but try to make it healthy. If they are independent, your dogs will be better suited to deal with all kinds of separation anxiety, even just leaving them for the day.
Think of your pets as your kids
If you have friends or family that take care of your dog or dogs when you are away, have a plan in case something happens to you. We want to make sure that our dogs or even cats are left in good hands with a home that will love them. We spend so much time with our pets and they give us so much love that we need to think ahead as to whom and how they will be cared for in our absence.