Our Pets need us to be their advocates and to ensure we are doing all we can to support them, especially when they too are feeling grief. Just like in humans, not all pets will deal with grief the same, and some may not be affected at all. It’s important to remember that there is no right or wrong way for your pet to grieve, and as you know them best, your awareness and careful observation is the most important support you can offer.
You might notice behavioural changes
Pets can be more demanding, clingy or needy, seeking less affection from you, seeking out the deceased’s favourite spot, increased duration of sleep, slower eating, increased frequency/volume of vocalisations, avoidance of regular sleeping locations, aggression toward people/other animals, changes in elimination behaviours.
Ignore Unwanted Behaviour and Reinforce Positive Behaviour
For example: if your pet is scratching at the door as you leave – don’t say anything or comfort them. Give lots of praise and comfort when you return home and any other time, that they are behaving in positive, usual ways.
Don’t rush the process
Some pets may seem to get stuck in their grief, while others will go through the grieving process quickly or appear to not grieve at all. Typically, a grieving pet’s behaviours last for less than six months, but this is often longer than many pet owners may have thought. Generally, pets who are making their way through grief in a healthy manner, do improve gradually as time goes on.
Keep your Routine as Similar as possible
Routine provides stability and comfort for our pets, so even though it may be sad for you, try to keep the same treat, walk, feeding, bedtime routines.
Expect a change in the Social Order (if you have more than one surviving pet)
They may vie for Alpha status, and you may see more challenges between pets. One may eat the others food or steal their treats. You may see changes in the general behaviour of your pets. e.g. if he/she rarely barks/meows, they now may vocalise for every passer-by.
Remember that each of your Pets have Different Personalities
They are individual like we are. Perhaps now they are without their buddy, you will notice personality changes, and it’s important to remember that these may not necessarily be unwanted behaviours. With the change in the household dynamic, your pet may find new ways of expressing themselves. You may find it interesting and fun to get to know your surviving Pet just as themselves.
Keep your Pet Busy
This is particularly important when your pet is left alone. Invest in some toys that stimulate their mind, such as snuffle mats, treat hiding toys/kongs.
Here are some wonderful reference videos for some ideas from our very own Dr. Eloise:
Food Toys and Brain Games for Dogs DIY
Food as Play for Cats – DIY Cat Toys
Other Things to Note
Be mindful that your Pets grief reaction can be very different to that of their Human family members. Your pet’s reaction may be delayed, or even show no grief reaction. You may also have a pet who grieves more than his or her human family members.
Be aware of projecting or putting your own feelings onto your Dog or Cat. e.g. you may comment “he/she looks sad” when in fact they are just concentrating on something.
Give your pet attention and comfort whenever you can, remembering, not at times of unwanted behaviour though.
Be careful of not bonding with your surviving pets… ask for help from family, friends or your Veterinarian if you are not attending to their needs.