How to Help Your Pet Cope with the Death of Another Pet

Humans often grieve the loss of a beloved pet, but surviving pets may grieve this loss as well. Understanding your pet's grief may help you, and your surviving pet, work through the process of grief together.

Our cat, Deedee, recently passed away at only twenty months old. We had originally brought her home as a companion for our older cat, Blueberry. Blueberry and Deedee were very close. The two cats slept together every night, and played for hours on end each day. The two of them were best friends.

When Deedee passed away, we were so upset by the loss of our beloved cat, that we didn't even consider how Blueberry might react. After overcoming our own initial feelings of grief, we realized that Blueberry was suffering too. Blueberry was moping around the house, his tail, head and ears low, close to the ground. He had barely touched his food dish in a few days, and he was laying in the same exact spot for days in a row, only getting up to use his litter box. Blueberry would wander the house, howling as if he was crying, in the middle of the night; a time he normally spent playing with Deedee. He wasn't as responsive to our attention, and not as quick to purr as he had been prior to Deedee's death. Suddenly, it became apparent that he was grieving too.

What is grief?

Some are unsure whether grief can be felt by animals, however, when the true reason behind grief is dissected, it becomes apparent that animals, especially social animals such as cats or dogs, are capable of experiencing grief. Grief is the reaction to an abrupt detachment from a close companion. Animals, even if they don't seem especially close, develop bonds with one another. The sudden loss of a companion who brought your pet happiness and joy, can be very difficult for your pet to cope with.

How does grief affect animals?

Animals react to grief in a very similar way as humans do. Animals may show signs of depression. The animal however, may not understand that death has occurred and may continue to search for their deceased companion. Many animals will exhibit a decreased appetite, and may seem lethargic, exhibiting less energy or playfulness than they did prior to their companions death. Some animals, may become anxious or seem frantic, searching their companion. Other animals may seem to cry, howling in a way that sounds mournful. Many pets may become especially clingy or demanding after the death of a companion.

Do animals understand the permanency of death?

It is unknown whether animals understand the permanency of death. There is strong evidence, however, that unless the pet sees the body of the deceased companion for themselves, that they may exhibit grief longer than if they had been shown the body. Many researchers compare a pets understanding of death to that of a young child; the pet may not understand death, but rather, they understand that their companion is no longer present. If the animal did not see their companions body, they may believe the companion is coming back, and may wait for them.

How can I help my pet grieve?

One of the most important things you can do to help your pet understand the loss of their companion, is to allow them to see their companion's body. Sometimes this is not possible, however, when it is, it is best to allow it. Your pet may lick, nudge, nuzzle and attempt to wake up their companion, however, they are more aware of temperature changes in their companion, as well as the lack of responsiveness. Your pet is likely to realize that their companion is gone.

You may find your pet is clingier and needing more attention than normal. Give your pet this extra attention. Your pet may be feeling anxious or afraid, and extra attention may help calm and reassure them. Let your pet know that you're sad too, and acknowledge their feelings ("You miss Deedee too, don't you, Blueberry?") Your pet may not understand the word's you're saying, but doing this may help your pet feel loved, and may help you to grieve as well. Just as humans do, your pet will benefit from extra love and care during this time of sadness.

Don't panic if your pet is displaying a decreased appetite and don't switch their food. Your pet is most likely just suffering from depression. It can be normal for pets not to eat normally following the loss of a companion, but you shouldn't fret unless the lack of appetite persists for an extended period of time. If this becomes the case, you should contact your animal's veterinarian.

Don't get a new pet until you and your surviving per are ready. Although it may seem like a quick fix to get a new pet to entertain your surviving pet, this is not a good idea. Grief is a natural process, for both humans and animals. If you get a new pet before you're ready, your pet may be too depressed to show interest in the new pet, and you, as the owner, may find yourself not caring about the new pet as much as the pet that was lost. It is important to give yourself, and your surviving pet time to grieve before adding a new pet to the family.