Helping a grieving pet


Scientists have shown that animals feel the loss and sadness of death in ways similar to humans. In fact, Dr Barbara King – Emerita Professor of Anthropology and author of “How Animals Grieve” – argues that humans need to be mindful of and careful with animals that are grieving.

The situation is compounded by animals’ inability to express themselves verbally so if you have experienced the loss of a pet in your household, you should look for the following signs of grief:

  1. Loss of appetite
  2. Change in sleep patterns
  3. Crying or whimpering
  4. Generally sad or unhappy behaviour
  5. Randomly searching the house
  6. Extra attention-seeking or wanting less attention

Your surviving pet may exhibit some, all or even none of these signs. It is also worth noting that pets are acutely attuned to the emotions of their owners so changes in behaviour may reflect their confusion.

How can I help a grieving pet?

For dogs and cats, the simple thing is to be there for them. If they are experiencing grief, they want to know that their care-giver is there to look after them.

Most animals like routine so keeping things as normal as possible will certainly help however hard you might find the morning walk, for example, after the loss of a dog.

Some pets will wait by the door or window for their buddy to return home. If they do, let them be; time is a great healer. Dogs can be encouraged away from their waiting spot with the promise of play but cats may simply need time.

Some owners have been able to help their pets overcome grief by showing them the body of the dead animal. Clearly, this should only be done if there is no risk of infection and will only work if the pet has died at home. Do be aware, though, that not all animals react in the same way and the change in smell may upset your surviving pet.

Finally, a word on bringing a new pet into the house. Dogs in particular are social animals so are likely to adapt well to a new dog arriving home. But you should take time to go through the grieving process before you take the decision and ensure that you are making the right decision for everyone in the household including surviving pets.