When an owner or fellow housemate passes away, dogs show signs that could be interpreted as grief. They may experience:
• loss of appetite
• change in sleep patterns
• a need for extra attention
• a generally sad demeanor
But you should also note you may not witness any of these changes.
Do dogs grieve?
Many anecdotes suggest that animals do feel what humans call ‘grief’, including an understanding that the deceased is not coming back, but there is little scientific evidence to back this up. What we do know is that many species are affected by loss and experience feelings of sadness and loneliness.
When a person or pet with whom a dog has spent a lot of time passes away, their regular routine is likely to change. Dogs can become upset or stressed by this disruption and you may notice a change in their behavior, including the signs listed above.
Dogs may also react if they become aware that you are grieving. Humans’ behavior changes when they are visibly upset and your pet may pick up on this or experience confusion.
Dogs may show no signs at all when another pet in the home passes away. If there was no particular bond between the deceased pet and the surviving dog, you may find your dog appears unaffected by the loss.
How can I help my grieving dog?
The best thing you can do is be there for your dog. Dogs are creatures of habit, so keeping their routine as close to normal as possible is a good way to avoid the stress of disruption. Keep meal times the same and don’t change their diet. Make sure they are eating, drinking and toileting properly.
Dogs may experience anxiety when a person or pet they spent a lot of time with no longer comes through the door at the same time each evening, or isn’t there to share in the excitement of going out for a walk. It’s ok to comfort your dog if they come to you for a cuddle.
Praise your dog for calm behavior and ignore the behavior that it’s best not to encourage. It’s utterly heartbreaking to see your dog waiting hopefully for a family member who you know is not going to return, but try not to fuss your dog while they wait as you will encourage them to continue waiting. Instead, either leave your pet be or encourage them away from their waiting spot to come and play with you instead.
Pheromones may help to calm dogs that are stressed. Ask your vet about these.
Take the time to focus on your bond with your surviving pet. Think about what makes them happy and do more than that. For some dogs this might be getting lots of fuss, and for others it might be training, play or longer walks. Human or animal, loss affects us all, but we cope best when we care for each other.
Should I show the body of my dead pet to my surviving dog?
If your family pet has died from a cause that doesn’t pose a risk of infection to your surviving dog, and you feel comfortable doing so, you can show your dog the body of your deceased pet.
Do be aware that the body may smell differently to when your pet was alive, and this may upset your dog and cause them to react in a way that is not as calm and ‘respectful’ as you might hope. Remember that dogs will not have the same awareness of respect for the dead as people.
Should I get another pet to keep my surviving dog company?
When a pet passes away it can be tempting to get another quickly, not only for your own benefit, but so your surviving pet will have another companion, but don’t rush into this decision.
Dogs are sociable animals that live in family groups, so your surviving dog is likely to adapt well to a new canine if the pair are a good match.
Introductions should be carried out slowly.
Only get a new pet if you feel it is the right thing for you, your family, and your pets.