Grieving is a natural phenomenon for humans. Many of us know it all too well. Did you know that animals grieve also? Just like us, our cats and dogs mourn the loss of a furry companion or their guardian. They can end up showing symptoms of depression, act out in surprising ways, and can even go through personality changes. Just as the journey is predictable, yet unique for every human, our furry companions go through the same process. However, many of them can’t talk about it. They often don’t experience compassion or understanding from their guardians, and may even suffer the compounding loss and fear of being re-homed while going through the grieving process. The trauma is real, but there are things we can do to help our feline friends and canine companions through the grieving process, even if we’re experiencing grief as well.
Recognize The Signs Of Grief in Your Pet
Just like humans, the signs of grief can look very different from individual to individual. Sometimes it can be difficult to identify symptoms in our pet if we aren’t sure of what to look for. This list from a study in New Zealand and Australia can help anyone who isn’t sure what grief might look like for a cat or dog.
- Attention seeking
- Being clingy or needy
- Seeking less affection
- Revisiting the deceased favorite spots
- Sleeping for longer intervals
- Slower eating
- Increase in frequency and volume of vocalizations
- Avoiding favorite spots
- Aggression toward people and animals
- Changes in elimination, such as where and when they use the litter box or need to go outside.
Each of these behavioral changes can have a range of intensity. And some are more common with dogs or cats. For example, sleeping more is 17% more common dogs than cats, but they do both exhibit this behavior. Also, increased frequency and volume of vocalizations occurs in both,but is far more common in cats.
How to help a furry companion deal with grief
Identify Needs. While there is no cure for grief, we can take several steps to offer comfort, companionship, and solace to a pet experiencing grief. Remember, simply cuddling more often may not be what Fido needs. Helping a pet is more about identifying the signs, listening to what they may be telling us, and then offering the assistance they require for healing. And it’s helpful to remember that we can’t rush the process. The average grieving period for a pet is about six months. That said, some dogs and cats will exhibit symptoms for much longer. And even when the symptoms are gone, it doesn’t mean they no longer miss their loved one. It merely means they have adjusted to life without them and the new routines they have now.
Engage. While humans can benefit from a pep talk or a soothing conversation about the best our lost loved one had to offer, dogs and cats need to be engaged in other ways. We can try to draw them out with their favorite toy, more frequent walks or visits to favorite parks and trailheads. Consoling our pet too much could end up reinforcing their lethargy or disinterest. If we can help them feel lighter and break up the long silences with activities they love, we can increase their chemical levels for joy and happiness.
Keep daily routines. While engaging in more playtime and cuddle time can help, we also need to stick to old routines as much as possible. The idea is to minimize upset and compounding losses or uncertainty. Animals find comfort in routine and knowing what to expect, so we need to maintain walk schedules, mealtimes, and the times we come and go from work. Long hours at work, while a pet is already suffering a loss, can cause severe anxiety that can develop into more serious health problems.
Allow pets to revise their social structure. In multi-pet homes, there is always a social hierarchy. If there are multiple survivors coping with the loss of a companion, let them work out and revise their new social structures. Break up fights as this is not acceptable behavior when revising relationships. And always make sure all animals have a safe place. This is particularly important if an animal is directing aggression, particularly unrelenting aggression toward another pet. Everyone needs a safe place to grieve in their own way.
Don’t add a new pet too quickly. Many households want to quickly fill the void left by a loved one or animal companion. However, animals need time too, and making them welcome and get to know a new animal too early (within six months) can be extremely difficult. Also, introducing a new cat or dog to a home that is grieving can be difficult for the new animal. Consider all members of the household, including the potential new member and think about what is fair and healthy for everyone.
Natural remedies are available. Bach flower can be soothing for some pets. Ignatia can be helpful. And some are experimenting with CBDs; however, dosages and long-term effects have yet to be tested and regulated, so use stronger homeopathic remedies with great caution. Anxiety and stress can cause a significant downturn in the immune system, leading to lower overall health. Try EcoImmune all-natural immunity booster and supplement for dogs and cats. It’s also useful for fur babies who are fighting infection, dealing with allergies, or suffering from chronic health problems.
Veterinary intervention may be needed. For some, the loss of a companion can cause secondary problems like anxiety, which can lead to significant health risks. Grief can also mask signs of other, unrelated illnesses. When dogs or cats develop a loss of appetite, it should be observed carefully to make sure they are able to take in nutrients. If their lethargy or loss of appetite becomes persistent, or they develop other symptoms, such as vomiting or diarrhea, a visit to the vet should be made a top priority.
Many people don’t realize animals experience very deep emotions, including grief. However, the concept is science backed in global studies and across species. Talk to a friend, neighbor, or family member who may not realize that animals are more than cuteness with fur. They do experience a grieving process and need space and understanding when they exhibit behavioral changes or changing needs. We can all learn from the enduring love and loyalty our cats and dogs bestow upon us, but when it comes to grieving, we can also all learn something about strength.
- “10 Tips for Helping Your Grieving Pet,” Psychology Today
- “Dog in Mourning: Helping Our Pets Cope With Loss,” Cesar’s Way
- “Helping a Dog Through Loss,” The Other End of The Leash