Do Pets Grieve? Dogs and Cats in Mourning
In 1858, Mr. John Gray of Edinburgh, Scotland passed away and was buried in Greyfriars Churchyard. His Skye Terrier, Bobby, spent every night for the next 14 years lying on his master’s grave regardless of rain, hail and snow until his own death in 1872. A statue and water fountain were erected in 1873 to honor Bobby’s devotion.
While perhaps the most famous story of a pet’s grief, Bobby is not the only pet to mourn the passing of his owner. Following the loss of a closely bonded owner or another pet, our pets can suffer separation anxiety or depression just as people do. Whether they show signs of loss and mourning depends on the individual pet, their bond and perceived dependence on the deceased and, since pets can’t speak, our own ability to interpret pet behavior.
Clinical Signs of Mourning in Pets
Pets that normally display separation anxiety in their owner’s absence are more likely to be affected by a permanent loss. The pet may panic at first and eventually become depressed. While we obviously can’t ask our pets how they feel, there are often visible signs of depression in bereft dogs that are similar to the ones we see in a recently bereaved person. Some behaviors will be unique to your pet.
- Lack of energy and interest
- Absence of play
- Listlessness, moping, whining
- Loss of appetite or weight loss
- Reduced social interactions
- Increased daytime sleeping
- Nighttime restlessness or insomnia
- Behavior reversal (affectionate, demanding pets will become distant; distant pets will become more needy)
In people, depression after a loved one’s death usually decreases over time. The depression can be as brief as two months or last much longer. Sometimes medical or psychological help is required. The same is true in pets. While some will eventually recover from the loss and forge new bonds, others will seem to be in a perpetual kind of funk.
How to Help a Pet Overcome Grief
While it may seem like there is nothing you can do to help a grieving animal, there are many ways to assist in the healing process of pets.
- If possible, let your pet see or be near the deceased. It may help him or her understand what’s happened. If you are euthanizing a pet in a multiple-pet home, let the healthy pets be present during euthanasia or let them see the deceased animal’s body.
- Allow time to heal your pet’s wounds if possible. Make sure he or she continues to eat and drink. Do your best to maintain a normal routine.
- Talk to your pet. Try and be positive around them. They won’t understand the words but they’ll pick up on your emotions. Something simple like, I feel so upset, but it’s not your fault. I know you feel sad too. Avoid positive interaction when your pet is displaying an unwanted behavior. You may wind up positively reinforcing that negative behavior.
- Make sure your pet has company during the day and at night. Consider letting her sleep in the bedroom with her remaining human and/or animal family.
- Offer distractions like toys, treats, games and excursions. Daily exercise is extremely important for all dogs, grieving or not. For grieving dogs, a walk can be an especially positive, calming and soothing experience.
- Our pets often mirror our own emotional state and behaviors. Allow yourself time and space to come to terms with your own grief. Seek help if and when you need it.
- Speak with your pet’s veterinarian about anti-depressant medication. This option should only be used as a last resort. Never give your pet anti-depressants without speaking to a vet. Doses for humans and pets are very different.
Grief is a painful process, for you as well as your surviving pet. Yet our grief is part of how we honor someone’s passing and is a testament to the depth of our love. While every person and pet will grieve in their own way, the most important thing is to not let it become all-consuming. Part of honoring someone’s memory is finding joy in the simple things.
National Cremation is the nation’s oldest and largest provider of simple and affordable cremation services. Whether you have an immediate need or want to plan your cremation services in advance, we’re always available to assist you and your family. Call (855) 469-9474 or contact us online for more information.