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The Ralph Site - pet loss support

Welcome to The Ralph Site Blog

Hello, and welcome to The Ralph Site Blog.

We celebrate the unique place that pets have in our lives through regular features and practical advice on pet bereavement and other animal-related matters.

Pet loss support

The Ralph Site is a non-profit online pet loss support resource which provides support to pet carers coping with the loss of a beloved companion. There are a website and an active Facebook community with a public page and a private group.

Pet carers’ community

The Ralph Site aims to provide a non-judgmental and supportive place for those pet carers who have lost a much-loved member of the family. We know all too well the pain and heartbreak that accompanies the passing of your pet. And whilst these pets can never be replaced, we may find room to enrich our lives further with others when the time is right.

At The Ralph Site, we understand the special bond between you and your pets.

Thank you for your support.

 

How to cope when pet loss grief overwhelms you

Within the worst moments of pet loss grief, it can be hard to imagine that you’ll ever function ‘normally’ again. You feel exhausted, stuck and overwhelmed. You can’t think clearly and sometimes wonder how you can go on as you’re in so much pain.

One of the most challenging things about grief of any kind is that it isn’t linear. The feeling of being overwhelmed can hit you like a crashing wave weeks, months or even years after your loss. 

So, how can you cope when you’re overwhelmed and drowning in grief? We’ve put together some tips.

Tips for coping when grief overwhelms you

  1. Acknowledge that you’re grieving

It might sound obvious but the reason you feel the way you do is because you are grieving. You have lost someone truly special and now carry the burden of their absence. 

The question is, have you allowed yourself to acknowledge this or have you been trying to carry on as ‘normal’ (whatever that may be to you)?

Grief isn’t always something we cope with well as a society. We know death happens but we don’t really know how to talk about it.

With a disenfranchised grief like pet loss, it can be even harder to talk about what and who we’ve lost or to find support and sympathy. People just don’t understand how heart-breaking pet loss can be unless they’ve personally experienced it.

As a result, you may feel that you have to keep the true extent of your pet loss grief to yourself or that you’re alone.

One of the first steps towards coping with overwhelm is acknowledging the presence of grief.

  1. Feel your feelings, whatever they may be

Grief is complex and ever-changing. You might be feeling lonely, sad, bereft, angry, guilty or anxious – or some combination of the above – at any given moment. No wonder you feel overwhelmed!

Although your instincts are probably to keep busy and move through your grief as quickly as possible, this response usually has the opposite effect, keeping you stuck in the moment of your loss for longer.

The truth is that the only way to cope with grief is to experience it in all of its forms. 

This means letting your feelings come and go without judgement or resistance. There is no right or wrong way to grieve but try to touch your feelings and give them space to exist. As scary as this sounds, you can only move through grief by making contact with it.

  1. Find safe spaces

It can be helpful to earmark some safe spaces that you can go to when you’re feeling overwhelmed. This will look different to everyone but here are some potential safe spaces:

  • A warm bath or shower where you want somewhere private to cry
  • Parking your car in an empty car park on the local industrial estate when you want to scream at the top of your lungs to release your anger
  • A friend or family member you can call or speak to for comfort
  • Your favourite hill, beach or park when you want space to think

And don’t forget virtual spaces too. The Ralph Site Pet Loss Support Group on Facebook is a safe space to talk about your grief.

  1. Trust that nothing lasts forever

As hard as it can be to believe it, the reality is that even the toughest, darkest of moments lived in grief will eventually pass or change shape in some way. 

Trust is so important right now. Trust that you will eventually find a way back to yourself beyond these feelings of being overwhelmed. Yes, you may always carry your grief with you but, when it’s allowed space to be expressed, most people find it eventually softens and becomes easier to carry. 

  1. Be kind to yourself

What you’re feeling is natural, normal and completely understandable. Your grief exists because it’s a part of love. You need time to adjust to your loss. This takes a lot of emotional energy, which is why everyday life can feel so daunting when you’re mourning a pet. 

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, try to pinpoint one small thing that you can do right now to take care of yourself. It doesn’t have to be a huge thing. 

Could you sit with a cuppa somewhere peaceful or read a passage from your favourite book? Is there someone you could call for a chat or even send a text saying hi?

Maybe you need to go even smaller. Can you close your eyes, take a deep breath and release it slowly?

It’s amazing how small actions can help you to cope with overwhelm, even if it’s just standing up for a few moments, walking five paces and then sitting down again to bring your mind back to the here and now.

Accessing support

If you are feeling overwhelmed, it’s important that you reach out for support if you feel able. Just knowing someone is there for you can help to lighten the burden of grief or at least to reshape it into something more manageable.

There are a growing number of dedicated pet bereavement counsellors who understand the impact of pet loss. You may also find the Blue Cross Pet Bereavement Support Service helpful. Of course, The Ralph Site is here for you too.

Always know that you’re not alone. Shailen and The Ralph Site team
The Ralph Site, non-profit pet loss support

Gone too soon: Coping with the loss of a young pet

When a young pet joins your family, it is always a time of excitement and happiness (with some possible training stress thrown into the mix for those of you with dogs, cats, or rabbits!)

You think about the years of fun, love, and companionship ahead of you. This is true whether your young pet is a tiny hamster, a quirky axolotl, a snake, a guinea pig, a playful kitten, or a giant breed of dog (and every shape, size, or species in between).

As you plan for the future that includes your young pet, their death is probably the farthest thing from your mind.

Sadly, though, many people within The Ralph Site community find themselves having to cope with the loss of a young pet. It could be what has brought you to this site.

Is there a way of ‘coming to terms’ with the premature death of a pet? How can you process your loss when your companion has quite simply gone before their time? Is it possible to find comfort when all you can think about is how horribly unfair life is to rob your pet of their future when there was still so much of it in front of them?

Death is never easy

We know that death is never easy but when a young pet dies, it can throw everything you know into doubt. People talk about the ‘natural order’ of things and the cycle of life and death but reconciling that with a young animal can feel impossible.

All that potential. All those experiences that you hoped to share. Surely, to lose those before they had a chance to happen goes against the ‘natural order’ of life?

We’ve talked before on The Ralph Site about coping with sudden and unexpected pet loss. Perhaps, in pet loss terms, nothing is more sudden and unexpected than when a young animal dies.

It can be incredibly hard to process.

In the face of such a bereavement, people report a wide range of emotions. Bewilderment is common – surely this cannot be real? Anger too – it is so desperately unfair. You might feel anxious and unsafe because it seems like nothing has happened as it should. And let us not forget the guilt that is so deeply tied to pet loss. Guardians of young pets often experience a significant amount of guilt because they feel they should have been able to guarantee their companion a long life. 

Whatever you are feeling, there are no right or wrong emotions. Grief is different for everyone and it is important to experience your feelings as they happen instead of bottling things up inside.

It is unfair and heart-breaking and so very wrong that your young pet has died. No wonder you feel all these emotions and more.

Unhelpful things other people say

Pet loss is a type of disenfranchised grief that is not recognised by everyone in our wider society. You may find that some of your friends and family just do not know what to say to support you. This could be because they do not understand the depth of your loss or because they do not want to say the wrong thing.

When a young animal dies, it is very common to be told, “Everything happens for a reason”, “He’s in a better place” or “It just goes to show that you never know what’s going to happen, which is why we need to live each day like it’s our last” (and other varieties of things people say when they are trying to give a bereaved person comfort).

These expressions can be hurtful. Your pet was in the best place with your family – a place where they were loved, and they mattered. What kind of reason can there be for a young animal to die? 

Even sentiments like “we have to live like there’s no tomorrow” can be tough to take. After all, youth is so often about creating the foundations for the future. It is natural to want to make plans with your pet. The fact that you can’t can leave you feeling cheated.

People mean well when they say these things, but the truth is that sometimes the best thing anyone can do is sit in silence with you or tell you that they care, and they are sorry for your loss.

If you don’t have anyone who can say this to you face-to-face right now, The Ralph Site Facebook group is full of people who have experienced losses of their own and will metaphorically sit by your side in support at this tough time.

Coping with your grief

Is there a way to ‘get over’ grief? This is a question that many bereaved people ask.

The truth is that grief never truly goes away. However, it does change its nature with time – or maybe it is more accurate to say that we learn to live with it as part of us. It becomes part of our new ‘normal’. Check out some of the grief analogies that explain this perfectly. 

If you are struggling after losing a young pet, the following may help you:

  • Allow yourself time to feel the truth of your loss

When a death is unexpected, it is common to feel shocked, confused, numb and full of disbelief. Surely, someone has made a mistake?

In many ways, death rites in our society create space for these early feelings. They give you practical tasks to focus on when you are reeling from shock. They also help you to feel that you are accompanying your deceased loved one on a passage from life into death, which can be hugely comforting.

But, of course, these rites are not automatically part of pet loss, a fact that can leave you lost in terms of how to react to your bereavement.

You may find it helpful to arrange a memorial service for your pet or arrange a cremation or burial. The act of doing this can give you time to feel the truth of your loss.

Remember too that you will continue to need time.

Grief is not linear, and it does not come with an expiry date. It takes a long time to become part of the fabric of who you are, and it is threaded with many emotions. Be kind to yourself and sit with whatever you are feeling instead of trying to push your thoughts and feelings away. 

  • Think about the quality of your pet’s life, not the quantity

It is natural to be preoccupied with the fact that your pet has died and the circumstances surrounding their death. Most people respond to bereavement in this way.

Your brain will be doing everything in its power to make sense of what has happened, even if there really is no explanation to be found.

The downside of this need for sense is that you can get stuck on the events surrounding your pet’s death rather than celebrating their life. It is important to make their story about more than how they died. 

How would you describe your pet to someone who did not know them? What were their unique quirks? What happy memories did you share together? How did it make you feel to hold them or spend time with them? 

It can be helpful to remind yourself of all the ways your pet had a great quality of life, even if they were robbed of quantity. 

  • Recognise that your pet’s death was beyond your control

When we experience pet loss, especially when we are mourning a young and previously healthy pet, we often look for someone to blame. It could be that you are blaming yourself, a family member or even a stranger who was somehow involved in your pet’s death, e.g., a driver or your vet.

Again, blame is a common response to loss, especially as we strive to make sense of what happened. However, it can cause you to become consumed with anger and is generally a futile use of your energy. After all, even if someone is directly to blame, it cannot change what has happened.

A helpful tactic here is to think about the circumstances and intentions surrounding your pet’s death. 

Did you or anyone else intend to cause harm to your pet? 

If you or anyone else could have known what would happen, would they have done things differently?

Could you or anyone else have known what would happen?

The chances are that there was no intention of harm or malice towards your pet. As unfair as it is, accidents happen, and illnesses occur. If only they did not. 

Please think about your own intentions towards your pet and recognise that you only ever wanted good things for them. Their death does not change the truth of that.

  • Honour your pet’s life

The founder of the worldwide Scout movement, Robert Baden Powell, said that we should each “Try and leave this world a little better than you found it”.

In fact, many people believe that this is the very definition of a life well lived – to make our own little corners of the world better for having existed in them.

Well, your pet achieved that. They made the world better by existing and the memories they have given you ensure that this gift will always stay with you. 

Is there anything you can do to continue this legacy? Is there goodness that you can put into the world to honour your pet?

Perhaps you could support an animal charity, foster or adopt another animal when you feel ready or raise awareness about an issue that affected your pet, such as road safety or a rare health condition.

Even creating a memorial or writing a letter to your pet about the life you had hoped they would live can help to provide comfort.

  • Talk about your loss

It is important to be able to talk about your loss if you need to. Ideally, support will come from your friends and family but sometimes it helps to speak to other bereaved pet carers who understand the array of emotions you are experiencing. The Ralph Site Pet Loss Support Group is there for you.

You might also find it beneficial to talk to a pet bereavement counsellor. Many people find this instrumental to processing their grief. The Blue Cross Pet Bereavement Support Service is an excellent starting point.

Just know that, although your loss is yours alone and no-one can truly know how you are feeling, you are not alone in your grief. The Ralph Site is here for you.

Shailen and The Ralph Site team
The Ralph Site, non-profit pet loss support

Best Friends Forever: A book about practical steps and wisdom to ease pet loss

In Best Friends Forever, Debbie McLeod weaves together her own reflections on pet loss with real-life stories and poems collected from bereaved pet carers. The book is a powerful, practical guide that combines compassionate thoughts of loss with easy-to-grasp concepts aimed to help you process your grief and move through feelings that you might be struggling to express.

It’s clear that Debbie has a great affinity with animals and has experienced pet bereavement in her own life. The book takes an honest look at the anger, sadness and fear you may feel following the death of a pet.

However, although the book explores the difficult and often overwhelming emotions of grief, its real strength is its optimism. Debbie encourages us to recognise the unbreakable bonds formed with much-loved pets and how these bonds continue, even after death.

A spiritual journey

There is a deeply spiritual element to this book, which will be of great comfort to readers who believe or are looking for signs that our pets live on beyond their inevitable physical death.

Throughout the book, Debbie recalls the signs and messages that she and other bereaved pet carers have received from their deceased pets. In fact, Chapter 6: Whispers of Love is dedicated to examples of moments when the people interviewed for the book have felt the presence and reassurance of their departed animal companions.

Even if you don’t believe in any kind of afterlife, there is still plenty in Best Friends Forever that will resonate. Debbie talks beautifully about how the love we feel for a pet lives on inside of us, as well as in our memories or by shaping the path our life takes.

Validating all pet loss grief and experiences

This book will offer comfort to bereaved pet carers from all walks of life. Whether you’ve suffered the trauma of having to rehome a pet or having a pet go missing or you’ve lost an elderly pet, there will be someone in the book who has shared a similar experience.

There are also examples of people grieving for dogs, cats, horses, rabbits, hamsters and gerbils. Any type of loss is treated with equal sensitivity and compassion.

Debbie explores how the loss of a pet can sometimes tap into other bereavements in our lives that we perhaps haven’t dealt with. Several of the pet carers shared with her about losing a parent and only starting to grieve for them when their pet died.

Pet loss poems and reflective exercises

The poems that punctuate the key points covered in Best Friends Forever are powerful and moving. Written by the interviewed pet carers or by Debbie but with the carers’ approval, each one is a beautiful testament to the animal that inspired it. You can almost feel the unique personality of each pet surrounding you as you read each poem. The verses also provide a shorthand into the different experiences of grief.

Another strength of the book is the reflective exercises at the end of each chapter. These exercises encourage us, as bereaved pet carers, to sit with and acknowledge our feelings rather than attempting to bury them. Debbie gives ideas for helpful activities such as journaling, meditations and reflective questions to help you process your grief.

Reading this book, the message that stands out is that love and grief are both parts of the same whole. In other words, whenever there is deep love in life, deep feelings of grief will be experienced. The truth is that love – even with the risk of loss – is what makes life worth living.

A quote from David Henry Thoreau introduces Chapter 7; “There is no remedy for love, but to love more”.

And that’s the essence of Best Friends Forever. Debbie encourages us to see death and grief as part of a bigger picture, an unavoidable but essential element of life, and a transition rather than an end. We will come through our grief changed from the people we were before our loss but that change will be shaped by the unconditional love, trust and kindness given to us by our pets. The love we feel lives on.

Best Friends Forever is available for purchase on Amazon.

Author Debbie McLeod runs a Facebook group dedicated to Spirituality and Pets. This supportive group focuses on the wisdom, healing and teachings our pets bring us whether on this Earthly Plane or in Spirit.

You can also find out more about Debbie at https://www.debbiemcleod.co.uk/ 

An unrehearsed grief: Why pet loss can feel so challenging

Are you struggling to cope with the loss of a pet? Have you been shocked by the depth of your grief? Do you feel like no-one around you understands how much pain you’re in?

Here at The Ralph Site, we hear bereaved pet carers talk about their sense of loss and the isolation that often comes with it on a daily basis. 

If you’re familiar with this blog, you’ll see that we’ve talked about pet loss being a disenfranchised grief and what that means in past articles.

In today’s blog, we wanted to touch on this again but from the perspective of how hard it can be, when we lose a pet, to know how to grieve and the extent to which society allows us to express our feelings.

Society enables us to rehearse human bereavement

As we go through life, it’s arguable that we regularly see a blueprint or rehearsal for what happens and how we might feel or behave when a human dies.

TV programmes, films, books, plays, songs, etc. often feature the death of a character. We watch the funeral, wake and aftermath of each death play out in front of us; different but familiar all the same, due to the shared rites and rituals. 

Even if we’re fortunate enough not to experience human bereavement first-hand, we have a road map for how to behave when it happens to others. We know that we can support a bereaved person by doing things like sending a card, cooking, writing an obituary, attending the funeral, sharing our good memories, and so on.

When a human dies, in most cases anyway, people come together to support those hardest hit by the bereavement. It’s hard-wired into us to know that we can and should offer solace.

And yet, our rehearsal for what to do when someone dies rarely translates to pet loss, even though the emotions are often the same. At best, we might get a Facebook message of condolence or a hug of support from one or two friends. 

In many ways, it’s this absence of support, milestones and ritual – all things that society has evolved to help bereaved people cope – that can make losing a pet so hard to process.

How do we grieve? How do we experience our feelings if we aren’t free to express them?

A private grief?

Although things are improving and pet loss is talked about more widely, there’s still a sense that pet loss grief belongs behind closed doors, something that’s private and can only be understood by those in our pet’s inner circle.

Within the four walls of your home, the absence of your pet may be deafening, a void in your life that thunders at you day and night. But every time you step outside, you’re expected to leave your grief behind, like a coat that you must shrug off every time you leave the house.

After all, there’s a job to go to, people in the world experiencing human bereavement, tough times for everyone. People who don’t know any better will thoughtlessly remind you of this. “It was just a dog/cat/horse/rabbit”, they’ll say, as if this instantly puts your grief in perspective and will make you stop hurting.

But you know that your pet wasn’t ‘just’ anything.

You have a right to grieve

What our wider society sometimes fails to understand is that love is love and that, at the end of a life, grief comes wherever love exists. As C. S. Lewis famously said, “The pain I feel now is the happiness I had before. That’s the deal.”

Our pets are witnesses to so much in our lives. Often, a pet can pre-date our best friends, partners or children. They can have been with us as we passed through different stages – entered adulthood, started new jobs, achieved our goals, retired, lost human loved ones and so much more.

You may be grieving for a companion who has been an integral part of your life for 10, 20 or even 30 years or longer. Alternatively, you may have lost a pet who was still young, in which case you’re grieving the lost potential of their future. 

In both scenarios, why wouldn’t you be heartbroken?

Not only has your pet died but it marks the end of the chapter of your life that you shared with them. 

It’s not just other people who don’t know how to respond to pet loss grief. As the bereaved person, we can feel really confused about how to think, feel and behave too.

Without being able to rehearse a societal ‘norm’ for responding to pet loss, we can end up putting undue pressure on ourselves about how we should respond. You often hear people say, “I don’t know why I’m still so upset” or “I know I should be over this by now”.

You may be experiencing this yourself, feeling embarrassed about crying constantly or unable to explain why you’ve suddenly lost your appetite for food and life, or why it’s hard to go into work and concentrate. You’d recognise and accept these symptoms of grief if you had lost a human loved one – and everyone around you would recognise them too.

Look to what you know about grief

The lessons you’ve learned about grief, even as a passive observer, are relevant to pet loss, even if our wider society still needs to catch up with recognising this.

Your emotions don’t care whether you’re mourning the loss of a human or non-human person. All they know is that you miss someone you love terribly and that you’re in pain.

Many bereaved pet carers find that the milestones and rituals that help with human bereavement can help with pet loss too. So if you feel like you need a funeral or memorial for your pet, then it’s definitely worth organising something meaningful to you. If you want your pet to have an obituary, write it. If you want to share your pet’s story, then tell it.

There’s no shame in struggling with pet loss. If you’re finding it hard to talk to your friends or family, please know that there are communities like The Ralph Site’s private Facebook pet loss support group where you can share your feelings and grieve openly. You may also find it helpful to speak to a pet bereavement counsellor.

There’s no doubt that pet loss is a kind of unrehearsed grief within our society. Hopefully one day our society will catch up to how devastating losing a pet can be and how bereaved pet carers need support and compassion.

In the meantime, know that you’re not alone.

Shailen and The Ralph Site team
The Ralph Site, non-profit pet loss support

Grieving the loss of a guinea pig

If you’ve come to The Ralph Site and our blog because you’re grieving the loss of a guinea pig, let us first say how sorry we are for your loss.

As you will have no doubt experienced first-hand, guinea pigs are wonderful animals who are packed full of personality, especially with their delightful language of ‘wheeks’ and whistles and propensity for ‘popcorning’ when they’re happy.

Losing a guinea pig is never easy.

The sudden loss of a guinea pig

Like rabbits (which we talked about in our last blog), guinea pigs are so-called ‘prey’ animals, which means that they’re hard-wired to be wary of predators. Prey species are usually highly reliant on the protection of their herd when it comes to keeping safe.

Because of this, guinea pigs will hide illness for as long as physically possible. They just can’t risk being left behind by the herd or showing their vulnerability. Sadly, this means that, by the time a guinea pig shows signs that he/she is poorly, it is often too late to save them.

While guinea pigs can live for seven or eight years, many tragically die before this. Guinea pigs are particularly vulnerable to upper respiratory infections (URIs) and pneumonia, as well as dental problems, scurvy (caused by a vitamin C deficiency) and gastrointestinal bloat.

Guilt that you missed the signs

If your guinea pig’s health deteriorated suddenly, you may be struggling with feelings of guilt. Is there anything you could have done to save them? Could you have spotted the signs sooner? Did you do something wrong? These are all questions that may be playing on your mind.

But as we’ve seen above, guinea pigs instinctively hide their illnesses. You can do everything right in terms of care and husbandry and still find yourself unable to save a precious piggy. Please be kind to yourself. Guilt seems to be a natural part of pet loss – maybe because our pets can’t tell us how they feel so they are completely reliant on us – but it can prolong the intense feelings of grief. The fact that you are grieving shows how loved your guinea pig was and that you would have saved them if you could.

Even elderly guinea pigs can decline quickly, so the loss almost invariably comes as a huge shock. Their little lives are never long enough.

Feeling unseen in your grief

It’s estimated that there are currently 400,000 pet guinea pigs in UK. Sadly, many of these live in woefully inadequate conditions where there are potential welfare issues. People often see guinea pigs as a ‘starter pet’ for their children and quickly lose interest when they realise these quirky rodents can live for the best part of a decade. This sort of attitude lends itself to seeing guinea pigs as ‘throwaway’.

For those of us who love our guinea pigs with care and devotion, losing one can be devastating. And it can be hard to express our grief due to the wider, prevailing attitudes towards guinea pigs mentioned above. You may well have had people say to you, “Can’t you just get another one?” or ‘It was only a guinea pig”. This can be hurtful. You know only too well that every guinea pig has a unique, irreplaceable personality.

Pet loss is often described as a disenfranchised grief because it isn’t necessarily recognised across our society, other than by people who have experienced their own bereavement. The Ralph Site was created to give bereaved pet carers a safe space to talk freely about their grief, whatever the species of their animal companion. Within The Ralph Site community, you’ll find plenty of people who have experienced the loss of a guinea pig and felt it keenly.

Practice self-care

At this difficult time, it’s important that you look after yourself and find space to grieve, instead of feeling like you have to pretend everything is fine.

If you have a sympathetic friend or family member, reach out to them and let them know that you’re in pain. If you don’t feel you can talk to anyone in your circle, know that The Ralph Site is here for you. You can also call the Blue Cross Pet Bereavement Support Service if you want to talk to someone about your loss.

You might find other blog articles on The Ralph Site helpful. We have written about everything from pet loss memorials and grief analogies to feeling angry or depressed when a pet dies and much, much more. Many people find these resources helpful. Sometimes, it’s comforting just to know that you’re not alone.

Do you still have a surviving guinea pig?

Guinea pigs are hugely social creatures who get much of their enrichment in life from living in a bonded pair or as part of a larger group. As you will have experienced if you care for multiple guinea pigs, they have an expressive language of wheeks, squeaks, whistles and purrs and will often play with each other throughout the day.

There’s no doubt that when a guinea pig dies, their surviving companion will grieve deeply. Guinea pigs have even been known to die from grief, so it’s crucial that you keep an eye on your surviving pig(s), especially if they were half of a pair.

What can you do to help them?

  1. Give them a chance to say goodbye

If one of your guinea pigs has just passed away, you may want to leave their surviving companion with them for a little while so that they can understand their friend has gone. Some guinea pigs will move away from their deceased mate, while others will nudge, nibble and vocalise to try to encourage their companion to move. Both responses are completely normal. Just 30 minutes or so can help a guinea pig to process what has happened.

Please don’t worry though if you aren’t able to do this. In time, your surviving guinea pig should adjust to their loss.

  1. Keep an eye on your guinea pig

You may notice that your guinea pig is subdued for a while. They may seem more lethargic, lose their appetite or be less active than usual.

If your other guinea pig died of something infectious, you will need to speak to a vet about treating their cage mate. Upper respiratory infections, for example, can be easily spread between guinea pigs that share a living space.

If you’re confident that your surviving guinea pig is not unwell, the best thing you can do is give them plenty of attention. They will be used to sleeping next to their bonded friend and may feel lost without the comfort of their presence. You can help to fill this void.

Some guinea pigs benefit from being given a cuddly toy to sleep next to.

  1. Think about giving your guinea pig a new companion

If your surviving guinea pig still has years of life ahead of them or seems to be struggling alone, you may want to consider finding them a new friend. As much as we can love a guinea pig and give them attention, we can never quite live up to time spent with their own species.

There are lots of myths about keeping guinea pigs. One of the most prevalent is that boars (males) fight or can’t be bonded to someone new.

In reality, there is lots that you can do to help your surviving guinea pig find a friend. A good starting point is to find a local, reputable guinea pig rescue. They will often let potential pairs meet and help you assess the initial meeting.

If you do decide to bring a new guinea pig home, it is recommended that you quarantine them for two weeks before introducing them to your existing pig. This is to make sure that they don’t have a URI, mites or a fungal infection that might threaten your resident guinea pig’s health.

Ideally, guinea pigs should be introduced on neutral territory. If you have a guinea pig run outside of your usual cage, for example, this is perfect. Alternatively, you could shut off your kitchen or other room in your house and let your resident guinea pig meet their new friend while running around in there.

Put a huge pile of hay in the enclosure with the two guinea pigs and try to ensure that there are at least two hides, two food bowls and two water bottles – that way they won’t have to fight for resources while they get to know each other. Providing enough hay to eat, hide in and play with is often the perfect distraction.

You may notice the guinea pigs chasing, rumbling, teeth chattering or trying to mount one another; this is a typical display of dominance but doesn’t mean the friendship is doomed before it’s begun. The more space you can give the guinea pigs during their introduction, the better. Scuffles are normal, even between bonded guinea pigs, so try not to panic.

Many people find that introducing boars can be trickier than introducing sows. One of the most successful approaches is to choose a young, pre-pubescent male to join your older resident male guinea pig. The adult male will usually accept a young companion without much fuss and will have bonded with them by the time their hormones hit peak teenage attitude somewhere between six and twelve months old! 

Will your resident guinea pig be OK on their own?

One of the risks of pairing an older guinea pig with a young companion is that you can end up in a cycle where the younger pig is bereaved at a time when they still have years of life ahead of them.

For this reason, you may decide that adopting another guinea pig isn’t the right course of action. You can help your guinea pig to cope with this by giving them plenty of time and opportunities for enrichment (especially space to run about and plenty of interesting chances to forage).

If you do decide to go ahead and adopt another guinea pig, please don’t feel guilty. You are just prioritising the welfare of your resident guinea pig. The love you had for the pig you have lost remains the same, whatever the circumstances.

Whatever you decide and however you feel, know that you are not alone.

Shailen and The Ralph Site team
The Ralph Site, non-profit pet loss support