How to help a grieving pet
When a furry family member crosses over the bridge, it’s hard on everyone, including surviving pets. Dealing with your own grief, and the grief of your human children, is difficult enough without also worrying about a remaining pet that may have stopped eating or is showing other signs of depression.
When two fur children are closely bonded and one of them dies, the surviving pet may have what experts refer to as a “distress reaction” that is similar in many ways to human grief. Some of the signs include:
Changes in sleeping patterns
Changes in eating habits
Changes in urination habits.
Changes in grooming habits
Lack of interest in normal activities
Reluctance to be in a room or home alone, or away from human family members
Wandering the house, searching for their lost friend
Tips for Helping Your Surviving Pet Deal with a Loss
Take the time to grieve.
I have suggested to guardians to hold a memorial. It needn’t be anything major, simply take the time to sit quietly outside and speak to them about your feelings about the fur child across the bridge. This time spent together acknowledges that you are both grieving and by working on replacing your grief with happy memories your surviving fur child will have the opportunity to work through their grief.
This may seem contradictory to training methods, but I find it valuable. I am by no means saying that you should do a daily memorial, I am saying that you should spend time together and allow each other to feel the loss and feel your daily routine and “normal” emotions return.
Closely monitor your surviving pet.
It’s best to pay special attention to your surviving pet for signs of grief. Knowing what to expect, and how to react, can be very helpful during a time when everyone in the family is feeling a deep sense of loss.
Keep daily routines as consistent as possible.
Pets do best when they know what to expect from one day to the next (this is true for all pets, not just those who are grieving the loss of a buddy). Try to keep mealtimes, exercise, walks, playtime, grooming, bedtime, and other daily activities on a consistent schedule. While it is important to try and keep your daily schedule running smoothly it is also important to allow your pet time to grieve, they may not want to go for their daily walk, and act out. Acknowledge their behaviour and try some positive reinforcement to alter a negative situation. Take a step back if need be.
Keep your pet’s diet and mealtimes the same.
Your pet may not have much of an appetite in the days following the death of a furry family member, but continue to offer him the same food he’s used to, at the same time each day.
If his appetite doesn’t pick up after several days or he’s refusing to eat anything at all, make an appointment with your veterinarian to rule out a health problem. Cats, in particular, should not go without eating for more than a couple of days or they risk developing illnesses.
Keep your pet busy.
If your dog is home alone for the first time, get them a toy that stimulates their mind. A treat-hiding toy is great for this purpose. If treat-hiding toys aren’t your dog’s thing, try a new squeaky toy. If you are walking your dog regularly and for an appropriate amount of time, it can help reduce his or her anxiety level when you aren’t home.
Think twice before quickly adding a new pet to the family.
Don’t automatically assume that acquiring a new pet to “replace” the lost pet is the answer. Dealing with loss and grief is a process that is individual for each of us and each of our fur children, and while some family members may be ready immediately for a new pet, others may not be.
Give it time.
Your pet’s grieving process may take a few days, weeks, or even months, but eventually most pets return to their normal lively selves.
If at any point you feel your pet is suffering unnecessarily or there is something more going on than simply missing his friend, I recommend discussing the situation with your veterinarian as a first step.
Consider having your pet present at his companion’s death.
This may sound a bit morbid, but some pet guardians feel it helps to have the surviving pet present during euthanasia, or allow them to see and smell their friend’s body once death has occurred.
Your pet may have no obvious reaction to his friend’s body in death, but it may help him to comprehend there is no need to search the house for the animal that has passed.
It is completely up to you, remember that each of us are individual in our grief.
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