Bereavement in dogs
Has your dog lost their best doggy pal, or perhaps an owner has passed away leaving your dog listless and withdrawn? Do you think they are grieving?
It is heartrending to lose someone, whether a pet or human family member. Remembering that all of our pets are part of the family is an important factor to most of us, and it is increasingly understood how much they mean to us. Equally, dogs see other dogs and us humans as part of their own family group, and it is natural that they are used to these companions being around. It is also normal to expect that they will notice when their companions are no longer there.
If your dog loses a fellow pet
Dogs do form attachments, and it may not just be to another dog. Often, they form friendships with cats and other pets, too. If that friend then dies, it is entirely natural for your dog to miss the presence of the other animal. We cannot understand exactly what is in their minds, but certainly they will have been used to seeing them around, playing with them and snuggling close to them. Your dog may show signs that they are looking for their companion, or may simply take to their bed and be more quiet than usual.
If your dog loses a human friend
Again, dogs do understand the difference between familiar and unfamiliar people, and their routine of being around that person will change drastically when that person passes away. This is entirely natural and will take them time to adjust, and whilst they are doing so, they may withdraw and seem unhappy.
How can we help them?
Whilst we don’t know whether or not their experience of ‘sadness’ compares to our own grieving, we can assume that they are going to be unsettled at the very least. It’s fine to allow them to do self-comforting things such as sleeping a little, or staying in their beds, for a while. However, it would be a nice idea to provide extra enjoyment for them over these difficult days. Bear in mind that you, too, might be feeling sad and lost, so how about taking them for a new, interestingly sniffy walk where you can both focus on your surroundings rather than on sad memories. It will at least give you both a break.
You may be tempted to replace the missed pet, but act with caution. The added stress might be too much in the first few weeks, and the new pet will need to settle into a capable household. You will know when the time is right, but avoid acting on impulse.
Provide a new routine to go along with the changes, such as making sure your pet has a few extra playtimes rather than missing out on their old ones. You might make more playdates with other dogs that they already know, or treat them to a new chewy toy to get their brain busy.
If you yourself do not feel up to taking your dog for a walk, find an insured, recommended dog walker that can take your dog out for a few weeks, so that everyone has time to adjust and have some time for yourself too.
Above all, try to think about the times your lost friend gave your such happiness, and promise yourself, and your dog, that you will have extra happy times together from now on.
Karen Wild Dip App Psych, CCAB, MBPsS
ASAB Certificated Clinical Animal Behaviourist (CCAB)| Full Member of Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors (APBC) |Animal Behaviour and Training Council (ABTC) Registered Clinical Animal Behaviourist (ABTC-CAB) and Animal Training Instructor (ABTC-ATI)
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