Losing a Pet: The Grieving Process in Pets

Research in both the human and animal world shows that grief caused by the loss of a pet can be as devastating as grief caused by the loss of a human loved one. While the field of Human Psychology provides bountiful information regarding the grieving process for people following a loss, very little is known about how much our pets are able to understand about death. On one hand, pet owners may have experienced a dog who became lethargic, upset or anxious, or even fell ill after their family lost their other pet. On the other hand, the loss of a companion might not affect the remaining pet at all. Some pet owners even notice a positive change in the mood or behavior of the remaining pet. Even when the two pets are perceived as closely bonded, we don’t always realize the stress a relationship may be causing for one or both pets.

Like humans, the severity of the symptoms and how or when they manifest will vary from pet to pet. In dogs, regardless of the severity of grief caused by the loss, an important thing to remember is that your surviving pet has lost a pack member, and thus they will perceive a change in their role within the pack. This uncertainty might cause your dog to test his limits by misbehaving or asserting dominance in inappropriate ways. If you observe this behavior, positive training is the best way to correct it and help your dog find his new place in the pack.

Although it is less noticeable in cats, they too may experience grief after losing a companion. You might notice your cat sniffing and wandering as though looking for their companion. However, due to cats' territorial nature, they seem to adjust easily to the absence of the other pet. Both cats and dogs may experience grief after losing a companion, and they will likely look to you for comfort and direction. Spending extra time with your pet to console them will benefit both you and your pet as you work through the loss.

It is common to question whether the surviving pet is lonely, and people often consider adopting a new companion. Although this can be therapeutic for both the pet and the pet owner, it is important to keep in mind the additional responsibilities that come with new pet ownership. No matter how young or old, your new pet will require visits to the veterinarian and training to get them acclimated to their new home. You will be spending a lot of time with your new pet, subsequently taking time away from your grieving pet. This might undermine the intent behind the adoption in the first place-- helping your pet heal.

However your pet’s grief appears, strengthening your relationship after you experience the loss of their companion will not only help your pet through the grieving process, but it can help you heal as well.

Source: http://www.veterinarypartner.com/Content.plx?P=A&S=0&C=0&A=1400