We often get asked about how other pets will react to the loss of a furry family member. The truth is, all animals will grieve differently, just as people do, so it can be hard to spot grief in your pets. Let’s look at some of the common questions around pet grief and how we can help them to cope.
Just as our beloved pets are part of the family, they also tend to form close bonds with each other. While it’s impossible to understand our pet’s inner feelings and thoughts fully, after many years of experience with home euthanasia appointments, the answer is clear.
Though our pets may not experience grief in the same complex way humans do, they recognise and respond to environmental changes. This is clear by the way many pets react to loss. Even pets that didn’t seem particularly close may still show signs of grief after losing a companion.
Grief is a complex emotion, and each pet will respond in a unique way to the loss of a companion. Pets are also highly sensitive to our feelings and reactions and changes to their daily routine that may be affected by our grief.
Though every pet is different, in our experience, these are the signs of grieving we see most commonly in pets:
It’s important to remember that some pets may not show any signs of grieving. This is also completely normal and doesn’t necessarily mean your pet didn’t have a strong bond with their companion. Your pet is just responding to loss differently.
A recent study has shown that the most common signs of grief are very similar for both dogs and cats. These are more affectionate or ‘clingy’ behaviour towards their owners and spending time in their companion’s favourite places. However, there are differences too. Cats are likely to vocalise and cry out more than usual, whereas dogs are likely to spend more time sleeping. This aligns both with our observations and what families have shared with us over the years.
Yes. The signs of grief are very similar even if pets are not of the same species but have formed a close bond with each other.
Yes! Just as cats may grieve for a dog they have a close bond with, dogs may also grieve for a lost cat, especially if they spend a lot of time together.
Though all pets experience loss differently, we have found the following points to be most effective at helping you to guide and reassure your pet during this time:
Support changes in behaviour
Ensure you reward good behaviour and reassure your pet if they need more love and attention than usual. If you’re still worried about your pet, it’s best to reach out to a vet who can provide additional advice and ensure there isn’t a medical reason for your pet’s behaviour.
Bedding & Home Environment
It is important to wait a bit before you pack up, wash and remove the beds and blankets used by your pet who has recently passed away. I recommend waiting a few days to weeks and only wash and remove beds one at a time and give your other pets time to adjust to life without their companion. Many pets may want to lie in their companion’s bed, with the familiar smell to help as they are grieving.
Changes in routine can be highly stressful for our pets, so it’s helpful to keep routines as consistent as possible including feeding times, diet, toileting, and exercise. Make sure to include time for positive activities that your pet enjoys, for example spending time with other dogs or playing with their favourite toys.
The loss of a companion can also affect how our other pets interact with each other. Monitor them closely for relationship changes such as aggression or territorial behaviour.
Some pets may also develop signs of separation anxiety, such as pacing, panting, difficulty settling, whining or barking, drooling, urinating in unusual places, or destructive behaviour. If your pet is showing these signs, it’s best to speak to a vet or veterinary behaviour specialist.
Soothing pheromone products are available to help provide a calming effect and reduce anxiety during times of change. These are synthetic versions of our pets’ natural pheromones, and are produced to signal safety and comfort. Popular brands include Feliway for cats and Adaptil for dogs and these are available as diffusers, collars, and sprays.
The decision to bring a new pet into the family can be complicated and should never be rushed. Giving your pet time to grieve and adjust to loss is extremely important, just as it is for your family members. Remember, it’s also perfectly fine if you don’t want to adopt another pet or don’t feel ready or able to support them. As long as you and your pets are happy, that’s what’s most important.
If you feel you and your pet are ready to bring a new love into your lives, make sure to think carefully about which type of pet will be most suitable for your family. Consider your potential pet’s breed, age, activity requirements, and your family and pet’s current lifestyle. Talking to a vet that already knows you and your pet well can be extremely helpful.
We have supported pets and their families at hundreds of home euthanasia appointments over the years, including dog and cat euthanasia. After observing the reactions of many animals and listening to my client’s experiences, the answer is a resounding yes.
The bond between pets can be extremely strong, just like any other family member. Many owners tell us that when their pet wasn’t present for the euthanasia of their companion, they spent time afterwards looking confused, upset and would search or wait for them to come home. This can be heartbreaking for everyone involved. In comparison, if allowed to see their companion after death, our pets seem to have some natural understanding as to what has happened and can move on more easily.
Most pets are respectful during the home euthanasia process and may even respond by cuddling their companion or giving them space as needed. Though it is our professional opinion that other pets should be present during home euthanasia where possible, we also respect that families know their pets best and understand their needs uniquely. Sometimes, having another pet present simply isn’t a good idea. For example, pets that need to be separated due to aggression or young puppies and kittens that aren’t aware of the sensitive situation and just want to play.
Even if your pet wasn’t present during the euthanasia, we always recommend that they have a moment to see their companion after they have passed away. In our experience, this isn’t upsetting for them and actually helps them to move on. Sometimes, a pet will sniff the air and not approach any further. Others may sniff the body before walking away, and a few will take a moment to curl up next to their companion.
Losing a pet is always extremely difficult, and many of our pets will show signs of grieving for their companion. Though there is no set period for grief and every pet is unique, most pet owners see changes in behaviour for 2-6 months afterwards. Understanding your pet’s behaviour and how you can support them through this time is an integral part of processing loss and often helps us to heal too.