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. Owners often 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 at all. Any and all reactions are therefore entirely ‘normal’.
Grief in pets left behind may manifest in a number of ways, such as:
- 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
And whilst these are entirely understandable, clearly it is important to be sure that there isn’t an underlying medical reason for any changes observed – consulting your vet is always recommended if you are at all worried, or if any of these symptoms persist.
When you are consumed by grief, it can seem tempting to shut yourself off for a time. In fact, there is much solace and comfort to be sought from your remaining 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. In time 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 here, 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 pets. It is also important to try and minimise any additional sources of distress or stress to your remaining pets; try to avoid leaving them alone for extended periods or taking a holiday at this difficult time.
It is generally accepted that many pets benefit from being able to see and smell the body of the deceased pet 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 departed friend’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 remaining pet(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.