If Our Pets Could Talk
By Jackie Kellum
Yes, cats and dogs do grieve. We do know that they mourn the loss of their owner. But they also are saddened when a pet-mate has died. All house members are “family” and they see each other, and us, that way.
Even cats are affected by a family member’s death. While no-one will ever know if a pet understands death, they certainly do know that a fellow house-mate is missing and that something has changed in the house. Some pets may cry, calling for the lost pet or for your attention because they are upset. Some pets deal with it by becoming closer to you or possibly become more distant. You might find your pet checking spots in your home where your late pet liked to hang out.
She’s searching for her companion and doesn’t understand where he’s gone -She may even stare out the window looking for the deceased pet outside. The grieving process can last longer if your pet was particularly close to the pet-mate that died. The owner’s distress at the loss of a pet may also be communicated to the surviving pet adding confusion to how she is already feeling.
While we obviously can’t ask our pets how they feel, there are often visible signs of depression in bereft cats and dogs that are similar to the ones we see in a recently bereaved person. Some behaviors will be unique to your pet. Some signs are: lack of energy and interest, absence of play, listlessness, moping, whining, loss of appetite, weight loss, reduced social interactions, increased daytime sleeping , and nighttime restlessness. Some have behavior reversal, such as : previously demanding pets may become distant; or distant pets may become more needy.
There are things that you can do to help your pet and yourself work through the grieving process. Try to keep the previous daily routines as much as possible. Also try making as few changes to the environment as you can. Talk to them and try to be positive around your grieving pets. They may not understand the words but will pick up on your emotions. Simply being with them for extra one-on-one time can help. When there are more than two pets in the family, each member of the group has a specific relationship with every other member of the group. When one member dies, it creates temporary instability within the group. This can result in conflicts that are disturbing to human family members, but unless one of your pets is becoming a danger to the others, it’s best to let them re-establish group dynamics on their own.
Dealing with loss and grief is a process that is individual for each of us and each of our animal companions. Don’t automatically assume that acquiring a new pet to “replace” the lost pet is the answer to fill the “void.” While some family members may be ready immediately for a new pet, others may not be which may cause further stress for your grieving pet. Our grief is part of how we honor someone’s passing and is a testament to the depth of our love. While every person and pet will grieve in their own way, the most important thing is to not let it become all-consuming. Part of honoring someone in our life who has died, is finding joy in life’s simple things and remembering happy past memories of the one who has left us.