Do Pets Grieve?

What many people find hard to believe is that animals can form very firm attachments with each other. Even pets that outwardly seem to barely get along will exhibit intense stress reactions when separated. In fact, grieving pets can show many symptoms identical to those experienced by the bereaved pet owner. The surviving pet(s) may become restless, anxious and depressed. There may also be much sighing, along with sleep and eating disturbances. Often, grieving pets will search for their dead companions and crave more attention from their owners.

How can an owner help the grieving pet?
By following the following recommendations:

  • Keep the surviving pets’ routines as normal as possible
  • Try not to unintentionally reinforce the behavior changes. If the pet’s appetite is picky, don’t keep changing the food. All that does is create a more finicky pet. Do not overdo the attention given to the pet (s) as it can lead to separation anxiety
  • Allow the surviving animals to work out the new dominance hierarchy themselves. There may be scuffles and fights as the animals work out the new pecking or pack order. This will be mostly displayed in dogs
  • Don’t get a new pet to help the grieving pet (s) unless the owner is ready. It is sure to backfire unless the owner is emotionally ready for a new pet. It is likely that people still grieving won’t have the energy for a new pet
  • Should the owner let the surviving animals see and smell their dead companion?
  • There is no evidence that doing so will help the surviving pet(s), but some people claim that it does
  • Usually, all it accomplishes is to make the owner feel better. Therefore, if the owner wants to have the surviving pets “say good-bye,” then it should be allowed

Healing process
Given time, healing will occur for the bereaved owner. However, there are several things that the grief-stricken owner can do to help speed up the healing process:

  • Give yourself permission to grieve. Only YOU know what your pet meant to you
  • Get lots of rest, good nutrition and exercise
  • Surround yourself with people who understand your loss and let others care for you. Don’t forget to take advantage of support groups for bereaved pet owners
  • Learn all you can about the grief process. It helps owners realize that what they are experiencing is perfectly normal
  • Accept the feelings that come with grief. It always helps to talk about the pet. If your thoughts are muddled to can help to write your feelings down or draw a picture to express yourself
  • Indulge yourself in small pleasures
  • Be patient with yourself and take as long as you need to mourn. DO NOT let society dictate how long mourning should last, anything up to TWO YEARS can be classed as normal
  • Give yourself permission to backslide. Grief is like waves in the ocean: at first the waves come in fast and hard, but as time goes on, the waves become less intense and further apart. Do not be surprised if holidays, smells, sounds, or words trigger a relapse. Be particularly aware of birthdays, anniversary and any other celebration
  • Don’t be afraid to get help. There are a number of pet loss support groups and grief counselors available to help you through this difficult period
  • If it helps then be sure to consult your own “Higher Power” be it either religious or spiritual.

Grief is probably the most confusing, frustrating and emotional thing that a person can experience. It is even more so for pet owners. Society in general does not give bereaved pet owners “permission” to grieve openly. Consequently, pet owners often feel isolated and alone. Luckily, more and more resources are becoming available to help the bereaved pet owner realize that they are NOT alone and that what they are feeling is entirely normal.