The loss of a pet can be a very emotional time for both humans and other pets in the household. We take a look at the important steps to help pets grieve and to help your pet cope with the loss of a cherished furry friend.
As pet owners, one of the toughest experiences is the loss of a pet. The majority of pet owners will outlive numerous canine and feline companions throughout their lives, with some being able to prepare for this impending grief. For the pet who is left behind, this can cause sadness and grief as they adjust to life without their constant companion and playmate.
So how can you help your pet adjust to this new way of life?
Particularly with dogs, it is vital to keep your regular routine. This includes their daily walk, the time they are fed, dog grooming habits, and more importantly, all of the rules and regulations that were expected when their companion was alive.
Understandably, many pet owners make the mistake of allowing the remaining pet to do things they were previously not allowed when their companion was alive, such as sleeping on couches or on beds. Many households allow the rules to completely lapse during the grieving stage.
For a dog who has had certain rules abolished, can lead to confusion in their ‘pack’ and evoke feelings of insecurity. This can ultimately lead to an anxiety response.
Real-Life Experience – Jazzy and Bronson
“My Dobermann Jazmine suddenly passed away, from a heart condition, in a boarding kennel while we were away on holiday. It completely broke my heart, almost paralysing me with grief and sadness. When we collected her brother Bronson a week later, we showered him with affection and love. I will never forget watching him from the rear-view mirror as we pulled away from the kennel. He looked so sad and lost without his best friend.
“Jazmine was a larger than life dog. She was extremely boisterous and needed some pretty strict rules to ensure she was a well-mannered and behaved dog; these were also Bronson’s rules. This included sleeping on her bed when in the house, and not being allowed on furniture, not being allowed in the kitchen and all the basic stuff like sitting before meals. She was certainly a leader to Bronson.
“However, in the days after her death, we relaxed the rules drastically. In fact, we basically abolished every rule and restriction he had ever known. Allowing our Bronny-Boy to do whatever he pleased including cuddling on the couch and even on our beds. At first, he seemed very uneasy about it all, but we put this down to his grief for his best friend. It wasn’t until the smoke-alarm sounded one day, sending Bronson shaking and quivering in fear that we realised these rules and regulations made him feel safe. By removing these we ultimately removed his sense of security.
“He not only had lost Jazzy, he’d lost a leader, a position he wasn’t comfortable replacing. By not reinstating the rules, that gave him a big sense of security and the knowledge that we were good leaders, we unknowingly encouraged the extreme anxiety that remained with him until he also passed away many years later.”
Symptoms of Grief in Pets
In a recent study researchers discovered that behavioural changes are common in pets when it comes to the loss of a companion animal. It also looked at some of the more common symptoms for cats and dogs during this period. These include:
- Increased vocalisation
- Increase in attention from owners
- Distancing themselves
- Decrease in appetite
- Increase in sleeping patterns
- Seeking out favourite areas of their lost friend
It’s important to understand and know the signs of grief in your pet. Like with all losses, it takes time to heal and become accustomed to the pain. Allow your pet the time to grieve alongside you. Like with humans, all pets will show their grief in different ways. Reading the signs and giving support when needed. The key is to balance this with a steady routine and your existing rules.
It’s also important not to rush introducing another pet to fill the void. Your pet is grieving for the loss of their friend. They are not grieving because they miss a companion or playmate. Adding another pet too early can cause additional stress, and you may end up with a sad pet, who now has to deal with the over-attention of a boisterous puppy or kitten.
All grief takes time. As the old saying goes “time will heal all wounds” allowing your pet this ‘time’ is vital before seeking out a new playmate.