Losing a beloved pet is devastating for people, and this loss can be just as upsetting to other animals in the household. Pet grief is somewhat of a mystery, and the subject of grief among animals has been the focus of many researchers for decades.

From the heartbreaking image of a dog lying down in front of his owner’s casket to the mourning rituals of elephants, grief in animals (as well as other complex emotions) has been well documented. However, while the emotional life of animals is obviously rich, there are few studies that examine how pets mourn the loss of other pets within the home.

Because many owners report behavioral changes in surviving pets, let’s take a closer look at pet grief and what owners can do to support their four-legged friends.

When Pets Mourn Another Pet

Although scientists are unsure of how pets perceive the world around them, they’re fairly confident that pets experience a range of emotions. Add to this complexity the fact that feelings or expressions can vary between individuals. Not all dogs, for example, may show signs of mourning just because it’s observed among others.

Like their relationship with owners, pets form bonds with other members of the household. This is particularly true for pack-oriented animals like dogs. Cats can also adapt to a social context in which other animals become familiar.

In fact, in many ways, household pets form very strong bonds with other animals in the home because they spend so much time together. Their world is considerably smaller than ours, so familiarity becomes critical to safety and well-being.

Therefore, when another pet dies, surviving pets will typically experience a sense of anxiety or stress. As a reaction to this sudden change in household dynamics, they may even frantically seek out the deceased pet.

In many cases, the clinical symptoms of grief in pets will resemble separation anxiety. The impact of the loss tends to be stronger in animals who have existing anxiety issues or those who have developed strong relationships with other pets in the home.

How You Can Help

After the loss of a cherished animal companion, it may be tough to process your own sense of sadness and loss. However, by helping your grieving pet, you may also experience a greater sense of healing and comfort.

  • If possible, let your pet see and investigate the body of the deceased, which can be helpful to understanding what has occurred.
  • Enlist the help of a dog walker, family member, or other loved one to provide exercise and interaction with surviving pets so they’re not alone.
  • Spend positive time with your pet each day, such as a 30 minute cuddle session or a walk to the park, to help provide reassurance.
  • Don’t be too quick to add another pet to the family, which may exacerbate behavioral issues or stress.
  • Tend to your own feelings of loss by reaching out, getting support, and accessing our pet loss resources to help you through this difficult time.

If your pet is experiencing ongoing depression, weight loss, or other health issues, please contact the team at Billings Animal Family Hospital. We’re always here for you and your pet.