Can my pet grieve?

Here at The Ralph Site, we understand all too well the intense feelings of pain, guilt and loss that can accompany the passing of a furry friend. Many of our community members report that when a much-loved family member dies, perhaps not surprisingly, those pets left behind appear to grieve too.

Just like us humans, animals can mourn in different ways, and some may show no outward signs of distress – any and all reactions are therefore entirely ‘normal’.
Where it is felt, grief in pets left behind may manifest in a number of ways, including:

  • Actively looking for their departed companion
  •  Loss of appetite
  •  No interest in playing or interacting
  •  Unexplained vocalisation
  •  Changes in behaviour and temperament
  •  Change in toileting habits

Whilst these signs can be explained by grief, clearly it is important to be sure that there isn’t an underlying medical reason for any changes you notice in your pet – consulting your vet is therefore always recommended if you are at all worried, or if any of these symptoms persist.

When you are consumed by grief yourself, it can seem tempting to try to shut off for a time. In fact, there is much solace and comfort to be found in interactions with any other household pets, and you should try to give them as much additional attention as possible – for their benefit as much as yours. Grieve together, but try not to reward any unhealthy behaviour they may exhibit at this difficult time. Eventually their grief should pass and their behaviour should normalise, just as it will for you.

Maintaining a routine with respect to feeding, exercise and so on will help, although some changes may be inevitable. For example, it may be simply too painful to take the same route for walks as you used to enjoy with other dogs. It is also important to try and avoid or minimise any additional sources of distress or stress that your remaining pets may be exposed to. For example, try to avoid leaving them alone for extended periods or taking a holiday when feelings are still raw.

It is generally accepted that many pets benefit from being able to see and smell the body of their deceased friend in order to provide an explanation for his or her sudden disappearance. Death is a natural process, after all, and this exposure can help to minimise the severity and duration of their grief. Even if it doesn’t, it is highly unlikely to worsen the situation.

One practical point to be mindful of though – if you are burying your pet’s body in the garden, it is probably best not to let any family dogs see the location, as this may lead to an attempted dig. It’s also a good idea to make sure that you dig the hole deep for the same reason.

Ultimately, as with our own displays of grief, a pet’s response to loss can be unpredictable and varied. Be generous with your time and emotions, tolerant of any small changes in behaviour and your patience will undoubtedly be rewarded with a strengthened bond with your faithful four-legged friend(s).

Until next time, very best wishes from Shailen and The Ralph Site team
The Ralph Site, non-profit pet loss support

Please note: The Ralph Site is not affiliated with the third-party organisations in any of the links shared here, and the views, ideas and suggestions expressed in this and other blogs are simply shared with the intention of helping you, our friends, take care of the special animals in your lives.

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