How to comfort a grieving pet
There's no doubt that losing a pet is difficult. Grief takes a toll on all members of the family - and that includes other dogs or cats in your household. Animals experience grief and loss in their own way, and it's important to recognise this and comfort them accordingly. Read on to find out how you can help your pet deal with grief.
Recognise the signs of grief
Just like humans, animals can react to grief in different ways depending on the individual. Some pets may seek extra attention and comfort whereas some might prefer to spend more time alone. Similarly, some pets might be more vocal than others.
Common signs of grief in pets:
- - Seeking more attention or being clingy
- - Seeking less affection
- Going to the deceased pet's bed or favourite spot
- - Sleeping more than normal
- - Decreased appetite or eating slower than normal
- - Whining, howling or meowing more frequently
- - Pacing the house
- - Hiding
Other signs of grief might include aggression or changes in grooming or toileting behaviour (such as toileting outside the litter box).
Even if your pet was not close to the deceased pet, the change to your household can cause some anxiety. Dogs being pack animals learn to see their family as a unit and when a member dies, this can leave them feeling unsure of their role. Both dogs and cats are highly tuned to their human's emotions, which means if you're feeling sad, this impacts them too. The use of calming pet pheromones such as Adaptil or Feliway may be used to help your pet adjust to the new normal. Zylkene is another supplement that is recommended to help your pet cope with changes to their environment. Your veterinarian may also recommend a therapeutic diet known as Royal Canin Calm, if your pet continues to show signs of being unsettled or anxious.
Be attentive - at the right time
While it's completely normal and okay to comfort your grieving pet, it's important to avoid inadvertently reinforcing unwanted behaviour. This means timing your attention accordingly. For example, don't reward your pet when they are being overly clingy or howling, as doing so could teach your pet to do more of this behaviour to get your attention. Instead, praise and reward your pet when they are doing what you want them to do. Try to ignore unwanted behaviour as much as possible.
Exercise releases endorphins and is a great antidepressant for both you and your pet. Take your dog on a longer walk or spend time playing their favourite game. Engage in interactive play with your cat to help get them moving and use stimulating toys to decrease their anxiety levels. Not only will this help lift your pet's mood, but yours too!
Stick to your normal routine
Pets crave routine - and this is more true than ever while they are grieving. Sticking to your usual schedule helps your pet know exactly what to expect. This means keeping to their normal sleeping, walking and meal times as much as possible. However, if your pet is now home alone during the day it's probably worth checking in on them to see how they are coping.
Monitor their appetite and health
Lack or change in appetite is a common sign of grief in pets. While this is normal, try not to indulge your pet. Keep feeding them the same food at the same time and keep mealtimes low-key. Regular exercise and play will help to increase your pet's appetite, so keep up with their favourite physical activity.
The severe stress of losing a companion can sometimes trigger other health issues, so keep a close eye on your pet and take them to your vet if they refuse to eat for more than a few days. If your pet shows signs of grief or depression that go on for longer than two weeks, you may also need to seek veterinary advice. There are medications available to help improve mood and decrease feelings of depression or anxiety.
Be a positive role model
While it may be difficult, try to limit displays of grief in front of your other pet. It's normal and healthy to express grief, however our pets are incredibly sensitive to our emotions. By crying in front of your pet, you might be escalating and prolonging their own distress. Your pet relies on you to guide them - if you're calm, it's more likely your pet will be calm too. Try to speak to your pet in a happy voice even if you're feeling down.
Allow time before introducing a new pet
While it might seem logical to get your pet a new friend, it's recommended to wait at least a few months. Allow time for your pet to grieve and adjust to the new household dynamic before introducing any new arrivals. The presence of a rambunctious new puppy or kitten can be stressful for older pets, which is more to deal with on top of their grief.
Of course, if your dog loves playtime with other dogs you can arrange play dates or take them to the dog park to make sure they get enough doggy interaction. Spend more time playing with your cat or doing another activity they really enjoy, such as brushing, to encourage healthy social interaction. You might even find a shy pet comes out of their shell as they adjust to their new role in the family unit.
Losing a pet is hard on everyone, even more so when you see your other pet grieving their departure. A cliche for a reason, time heals all wounds and your pet will come to accept the loss when enough time has passed. In the meantime, allow them to grieve and heal. On the positive side, your shared loss will help to build your bond with your pet and bring you closer together.