When a family pet dies, it can be overwhelming for members of the family – including the other pets in the home. Yes, pets can in fact grieve the loss of other pets.
You may not notice the behavioral changes that your pet exhibits while you are grieving the loss of your pet. Some pets may not react while others may develop signs of depression.
Some signs to watch for include:
- change in eating habits
- loss of interest in family members
- increase in attention requirements
- change in sleep patterns
- change in vocalization
- crying while looking for the lost pet
There are steps you can take to help your pet through this time of grief.
Maintain your regular routine. Try to keep daily activities on schedule including walks, mealtimes, playtimes, grooming, and other daily activities that you normally do with your pet.
Keep your pet’s diet the same. Though your pet may lose his appetite, don’t be tempted to change the food. Offer the same food your pet is used to. Making a change to the diet could increase problems for your pet by causing gastrointestinal upset. If your pet does not begin eating after a few days, make an appointment to see your veterinarian.
**If your cat does not eat for 2 days, seek help. Cats that are not eating can develop a potentially fatal condition called hepatic lipidosis.
Provide more attention. Provide your pet with more exercise and stimulation. If your pets played together, your remaining pet may become bored and may be experiencing anxiety with the loss of his playmate. Providing more exercise or stimulation may help your pet deal with this boredom. Play a game of fetch with your dog, go for a walk, or try a few short training exercises. Play “pounce” games with your cat or pull out her favorite catnip toy.
Avoid rewarding your pet’s depression. This is tricky. While you may want to comfort your pet, avoid comforting him while he is displaying unwanted behavior, otherwise you may inadvertently reinforce this negative behavior. Instead, distract your pet with positive activities as described above.
Don’t jump into getting another pet. While the temptation exists to get another pet immediately, take some time to consider if that is the right choice for your family and your remaining pet(s). Your remaining pet(s) might not readily accept a new dog or cat in the home. Try dog “playdates” in your home first and see how your dog reacts. Keep in mind that adding a new pet is stressful for cats at the best of times, so adding a new cat or dog during an already stressful time is not wise.
Be sensitive. Pets pick up on our emotions. Encourage family members to be sensitive to the pets in your home when grieving. By all means, seek comfort with your pet by cuddling and petting him, but try to avoid emotional displays in your pet’s presence to avoid distressing him further.
Time. It is true that time heals all wounds. Give everyone in your family, including your pets, time to grieve. Your pet may grieve for days or months, but eventually your pet will return to his typical behaviors.
If at any time you feel your pet is really suffering and you are concerned, seek advice from your veterinarian.