Here are a few ways to help your pet cope with the death of a fellow animal. These tips are especially important if you’re noticing changes in your pet’s activity level, food intake, or general health.
To learn more about mourning, read How Animals Grieve by Barbara J. King. It’s a fascinating look into animals’ emotions and ways of coping with death and abuse.
“Last week the Internet and European news outlets were flooded with poignant photographs of Gana, an 11-year-old gorilla at the Münster Zoo in Germany, holding up the body of her dead baby, Claudio, and pursing her lips toward his lifeless fingers. Claudio died at the age of three months of an apparent heart defect. For days Gana refused to surrender his corpse to zookeepers, a saga that provoked among her throngs of human onlookers admiration and compassion and murmurings that gorillas, and probably a lot of other animals as well, have a grasp of their mortality and will grieve for the dead and are really just like us after all.” ~ “About Death: Just Like Us or Pretty Much Unaware?” The New York Times, September 1, 2008.
Many pet owners notice an obvious change in their surviving pet’s demeanor, habits, and behaviors after an animal dies. Other pet owners report no change at all. It’s probably safe to assume that surviving pets notice the absence, some are affected by it, and some need time to heal – just like humans do.
5 Tips for Helping Your Dog Cope With Death
Is your surviving pet reacting to an the loss of a family pet? Here are a few tips for easing the transition for animals…
Expect your surviving pets to respond in some way
“Surviving pets may whimper, refuse to eat or drink, and suffer lethargy, especially if they had a close bond with the deceased pet,” say the folks at the Humane Society of the United States. “Even if they were not the best of friends, the changing circumstances and your emotional state may distress them. However, if your remaining pets continue to act out of sorts, there could actually be a medical problem that requires your veterinarian’s attention.”
If your surviving pet’s behavior, habits, or demeanor doesn’t revert back to normal within a month (or sooner if the animal is seriously distressed), consult a veterinarian.
Give your pet extra of love and affection
“Pets observe every change in a household, and are bound to notice the absence of a companion,” writes Moira Anderson Allen in 10 Tips on Coping With Pet Loss. “Pets often form strong attachments to one another, and the survivor of such a pair may seem to grieve for its companion. Cats grieve for dogs, and dogs for cats. You may need to give your surviving pets a lot of extra attention and love to help them through this period. Remember that, if you are going to introduce a new pet, your surviving pets may not accept the newcomer right away, but new bonds will grow in time. Meanwhile, the love of your surviving pets can be wonderfully healing for your own grief.
Stick to your routine…maybe
Some pet owners and pet experts say to stick to the same routine, while others encourage significant changes. On one hand, the same routine can be a source of security, while a different routine can be a healthy distraction. How do you decide? Take your pet’s personality, age, and lifestyle into account. Does your pet adapt well to change, or does he like routine? Does he seem happy and interested when trying new things, or most content sticking to the same foods, treats, walks, and schedule?
Trust your gut when you’re trying to figure out what’s best for your surviving animal. Don’t hesitate to talk through the death or separation with a veterinarian or pet expert.
Get another animal to help your pet adjust
“In my case, another pet was necessary to help not only me, but another surviving pet that was having a hard time dealing with the loss,” writes Gary Kurz in Cold Noses At The Pearly Gates. “For me, this worked extremely well. It helped me, and it helped my other grieving pets. For a short time, it was nothing more than a diversion from the pain, but eventually the new pet brought new joy to our house. This can be a very big step, and it is something each of us must weigh carefully.”
This is another tip for helping animals mourn that isn’t agreed on by all pet owners or pet experts! Some say yes, get a different pet right away…while others wait for years or never get another animal. Again, it depends on your surviving animal: does he like other animals? Does he seem lonely or bored? It also depends on you: are you ready to welcome a new pet into your home?
Leave your deceased pet’s toy or blanket out
This suggestion is based on research from the animal kingdom: “Nobody knows what emotions swept through Gana’s head and heart as she persisted in cradling and nuzzling the remains of her son,” writes Natalie Angier in “About Death: Just Like Us or Pretty Much Unaware?” “But primatologists do know this: Among nearly all species of apes and monkeys in the wild, a mother will react to the death of her infant as Gana did — by clutching the little decedent to her breast and treating it as though it were still alive. For days or even weeks afterward, she will take it with her everywhere and fight off anything that threatens to snatch it away. ‘The only time I was ever mobbed by langurs was when I tried to inspect a baby corpse,’ said primatologist Sarah Hardy. Only gradually will she allow the distance between herself and the ever-gnarlier carcass to grow.”
Whether it’s wise to leave a deceased pet’s toy or blanket out depends on your surviving pet, you, and your household. It seems like animals who grieve need time to say goodbye, but it may not be true for all animals.
“You think dogs will not be in heaven? I tell you, they will be there long before any of us.” ~ Robert Louis Stevenson.
I think the same goes for cats! If you’re surviving pet loss, you may find my ebook helpful. In Letting Go of an Animal You Love: 75 Ways to Survive Pet Loss, I share pet loss tips from dozens of interviews with pet experts, veterinarians, pet psychics, and pet owners who survived their cat or dog’s death.
If you’re having a hard time mourning your animal’s death, read Can’t Live Without Your Dog? How to Survive Your Pet’s Death.
If you have any thoughts on helping your pet mourn and cope with death, please comment below…