The Guide to Pet Bereavement: What to Expect After the Loss of a Loved One

August 21, 2017

This guide helps you console your pet through the loss of its loved one, be it a human or another animal. You will learn some of the warning signs that your pet is having a hard time dealing with her grief, as well as some of the ways you can both be there for each other as you mourn. Remember, your furry pal is dealing with a traumatic experience, too. Although she may not be able to tell you exactly how she is feeling, there are plenty of things you can do to help her return to her normal, happy self.

Clinical Signs of Mourning in Pets

Pets that normally display separation anxiety in their owner’s absence are more likely to be affected by a permanent loss. However, many animals that aren’t typically prone to stress may also be deeply affected by the loss of a loved one. You may notice that your pet initially seems to be panicked over the change and continues to act unlike her usual self in the days and even weeks following the passing of a loved one. As with people, how your four-legged friend displays and communicates her despair will be unique. And since we can’t ask our pets about their feelings, it’s important to keep an eye out for some of the common visible signs of depression in our furry friends. Often, these are similar to the same symptoms a human loved one might be suffering. The following resources provide helpful information on some behaviors to keep an eye out for in a grieving pet.

Lack of energy and engagement. Did your little loved one used to beg you for a morning walk, but now seems to be more interested in sleeping in every morning? Just like with humans, symptoms like lethargy, increased daytime sleeping, and a consistently mopey demeanor could indicate that she is hurting deeply and doesn’t know how to cope.

Absence of play. It’s not normal for an animal to suddenly lose interest in playtime unless there is an underlying physical or emotional issue. Just like we tend to have “off” days, so may your pet. But a new, regular pattern of disinterest in a game of chase or fetch is a warning sign that something more troubling is going on.

Loss of appetite or weight loss. Pet parents typically know exactly how much their creature eats on a normal basis. If your pet is affected by the chemical imbalances that are characteristic of depression or anxiety, this could directly affect how much she is willing to eat.

Reduced social interactions. If your pet suddenly seems disenchanted by other people and animals – especially those with whom she already shares a bond – she may be silently suffering.

Nighttime restlessness or insomnia. Your pet may have been used to sleeping with her human or animal companion, and now has to switch to a new routine of sleeping solitarily. Additionally, increased sleeping during the day and feeling the need to constantly search for the lost loved one may make evening rest a difficult task.

Behavioral reversal. Oftentimes, affectionate, demanding pets will become distant while independent pets will become increasingly needier following a permanent loss. Just like with humans, your pet may be looking for a way to cope, and doesn’t know the best way to interact with others during the transition.

In people, depression after a loved one’s death usually decreases over time. The depression can be as brief as two months, but it may last much longer. Whatever the case, sometimes medical or psychological help can be beneficial, and the same is true when it comes to our pets. While some animals will eventually recover on their own with our support, others will seem to be in a perpetual kind of funk. While it may sometimes feel like there is nothing you can do to help your pet overcome her obstacles, there are many ways to assist in the healing process of pets. The following resources provide useful information on supporting your pet in her time of distress.

As people, we have funeral services for our loved ones, where we are able to say goodbye and come to terms with our loss. This same concept may also be beneficial to our pets. Whenever possible, try letting your pet see or be near the deceased. It may help her understand what’s happened. If you are euthanizing a pet in a multiple-pet home, consider letting your healthy pet be present during euthanasia or let them see the deceased animal’s body.

Talk to your pet using positive words and phrases. It can be therapeutic for you to share your sadness with your animal by saying something like, “I feel so sad. It’s not your fault, and I know you are hurting too. You are such a good girl, and I love you.” She may not understand the words you are saying, but she will pick up on your emotions and feel comforted.

Make sure your pet has company during the day and at night. Just as we seek support when coping with loss, so will your pet. If you don’t already, consider letting her cuddle with you on the couch or allowing her to sleep in your room at night so she doesn’t feel lonely.

Offer distractions like toys, treats, games and excursions. Daily exercise is extremely important for all dogs and cats, whether they are grieving or not. Regular activity will help increase the amount of feel-good endorphins in your pet’s brain, which will be a quick and natural mood booster.

Groom your pet regularly. It will be soothing to your animal, and strengthen your bond with her. Cats who are depressed may also groom themselves less frequently, and your extra care and attention will keep her healthy as well as make her feel pampered and comforted.

Allow time to help heal your pet’s wounds. We don’t move on immediately when someone we care about passes away, and the same will be true of your pet – it may take longer than you wish it would. Trying to keep a consistent routine as much as possible will help make the transition as smooth as possible, although your pet may be a little reluctant to participate. If she is having appetite troubles, try supervising her feedings, and then limiting her to 10-minute periods of dining time. This may invoke a sense of urgency, and help her regain her appetite. (However, if your pet has gone a day without drinking and more than a day or two without eating, visit your vet right away.) If your dog seems uninterested in taking a walk, put the leash on her and coax her out of the house, or take her on a car ride to a nearby park. If she is small, you can start the walk by carrying her. Odds are, being outside in the sunshine will encourage her to take a stroll.

If your pet seems to really be struggling, speak with your veterinarian about anti-depressant medication. This should not be the first option you consider, but in extreme cases, it may provide a temporary or even long-term solution for your pet’s depression or anxiety. Keep in mind that medication doses for humans and animals are very different, and you should never give your pet medicine without consent and instructions from your vet.

Take care of yourself. Our pets often mirror our own emotional state and behaviors, so when we’re feeling down, we may unwittingly be affecting the mood of our pet. Allow yourself the time and patience to grieve however you need to, and seek extra help from a medical professional if you feel you can’t fight the battle on your own.

Grief is a painful process, for you as well as your surviving pet. Yet our grief is part of how we honor someone’s passing and is a testament to the depth of our love. While every person and pet will grieve in their own way, the most important thing is to not let it become all-consuming. Part of honoring someone’s memory is finding joy in the simple things – a theory both you and your beloved pet can put into practice together.


Leave a comment!

Keep the conversation going! Your email address will not be published.