Last week, we took a look at pet grief after the death of an owner. This week, we’ll cover how animals cope with loss that involves another household pet.
What do pets feel when a companion dies? Is there evidence of grief? How can you help a pet cope with such a loss?
Bonding and Animal Emotions
Although we’re still uncertain about how much animals understand the concept of death, we do know animals feel a range of emotions, including grief.
A primal drive of most mammals is to seek security within social groupings and to establish marked territory to ensure their survival (e.g., social bonding within a pack or family). Canines in particular display pack behaviors (establishing hierarchy, resource guarding, etc.), even among humans and different species in a home. For cats, although they aren’t pack-oriented mammals, they are territorial and don’t enjoy changes or disruptions.
We may never know whether household pets bond out of instinct, adaptive intelligence, or a true understanding of companionship. However, what we do know is that there are marked changes in the behavior of some animals after another family member pet dies.
Recognizing Pet Grief
Pet grief varies depending on many different factors. Some pets may experience distinct behavioral changes while others may not seem affected at all.
There are several reasons for this, including species, the strength of the bond, and cognition (how aware an animal is of the presence of others in the home).
Some responses that have been associated with pet grief include:
- Loss of appetite
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Clinginess or avoidance/hiding
- Vocalization (howling, whining, meowing, etc.)
In some cases, pets may display destructive behaviors that often mirror separation anxiety (increased accidents/litter box changes, chewing, barking, etc.).
Because many of these symptoms can also be indicative of a health issue, we recommend your pet be examined to rule out illness.
Supporting Your Pet After the Loss of Another
Not surprisingly, helping a pet get through the loss of another household pet is much like helping a grieving human. Time and TLC will help your pet feel less stressed and anxious about the transition.
Other ways to help a pet cope with loss include:
- Spend more time interacting with your pet – especially through forms of exercise or fun activities.
- Add more enriching distractions to the environment, such as a new cat tree, safe chew toys (like a Kong), and challenging food or treat puzzles.
- Offer extra cuddle time.
- Make sure someone is always with your pet during the first few weeks after a loss.
If your pet doesn’t seem to improve after a few days, we also recommend scheduling a behavior consultation to assess whether additional supports are needed.
Also be aware of how your feelings and behaviors might be reflected in the surviving pet. Animals are attuned to our moods and reactions, so by giving yourself the support you need to mourn the loss, you’re also helping your pet.
We understand how devastating the loss of a pet can be, and we’re always here for you and your loved ones. For more information about pet loss or to schedule a consultation, please contact the team at Animal Kind Veterinary Hospital.