Grief for anyone can be difficult to experience. This only gets worse and more difficult when it comes to a pet, and pets can experience these emotions just as much as any human does. So, how do you help your dog while they are grieving for another pet?
Dogs in grieving need the same care as humans do. Lots of rest, love, and care as they process the loss of a companion. Spending time with the dog and giving them attention will help the dog not feel as lonely. Over time, the grief will lessen and the dog will be able to return to a happier life.
While this seems pretty straightforward, each dog is different, and taking the time to learn what the dog needs to fully process their grief will be most helpful. More information about what you can do to help your dog while it is grieving for another pet is below.
How Does a Dog Grieve?
Grieving takes many shapes and forms, and it is just the same with a dog. Dogs go through just as much emotional stress and trauma as humans do. It was once believed that dogs weren’t sentient enough to experience emotions, but it has since been proven otherwise. They feel these emotions strongly, especially when they’ve lost a companion.
A dog can do several different things that will act as warning signs of them grieving. Sometimes, it might even look like a stage in the dying process for a dog, which can be scary. However, follow through with what methods there are to help a dog be less depressed and overcome their grief before panicking.
A grieving dog will act depressed and not want to move, so they might not be interested in anything. They won’t want to play or eat as much as they usually do if they want to eat or play at all. They might even go looking for the pet that they’ve lost. A few owners have reported their dog will sleep a lot more and sleep in the old napping place of the other pet.
In direct opposition to that, some dogs won’t sleep and will even bark or howl while looking for their lost companion. It can be hard to experience, especially if the owner is still experiencing their own grief over losing another pet.
Some dogs might even act out, be more aggressive, and not listen to instructions or commands as they might have in the past. Every dog will cope differently, and working out how to help the dog will help to process the owner’s grief as well.
Introducing a New Pet
Most pet owners will want to introduce a new pet into the mix soon after one of their pets die. Oftentimes, when a dog is depressed and grieving the loss of another pet, they’ll do it because they were close with the other pet and not having their companion around anymore can be hard.
While getting a new companion for the dog is sometimes a good idea, this usually only works if they are introduced carefully and respectfully of the space of both dogs, even if one pet has passed on. It is more difficult to get a dog to bond with other types of pets, especially since cats, for example, have an intense dislike for most dogs unless they are carefully vetted and helped through the initial greeting process.
Getting a new pet comes with more challenges as well. The owner must be prepared to have a new pet with similar or the same habits as the pet that has passed on, or the new pet will suffer in return. All in all, this coping mechanism should be one of the later steps of recovery from grief, not the first initial thought. It’ll take time, but eventually, a new pet is a possibility so long as that is something both the owner and the dog can handle. (Source)
Letting the Dog say Goodbye
Dog owners have found that their dogs come to terms with the passing on of a friend easier and faster if they are comfortable and present during the time of death or right beforehand. Giving the dog time to say goodbye has a much bigger impact on them than we might realize. Letting the two pets give their goodbyes will help bring closure, and the surviving dog will often feel like they’ve managed to do everything they could for their former companion.
Letting the dog see the body afterward as well will help. They’ll usually give it a good sniff and realize that the pet has since passed on, giving them the emotional closure they need to not always be looking for their companion, but also to help them let go of that chapter in their lives.
They might still be depressed after this, but most owners report that this period of grief is shorter in dogs who’ve had a chance to say their goodbyes and realize through their senses what has happened.
If a pet has to be put down, that is a time that the dog could be made aware in their own way of the situation. However, this is just as stressful a situation for the dog as it is for the owner and the other pet. Letting the dog smell the body after the fact or after the passing of the pet is the best way to keep the dog calm and gives them the time to become aware and to say farewell to the pet. (Source)
Spend Time with the Dog
After a dog has lost their companion, it won’t want to be alone, especially if this pet was its close companion. If an owner is noticing that the dog is becoming depressed and saddened by things happening, they’ll want to nip this in the bud quickly by spending time with the dog.
Snuggling with the dog if that is something that the dog enjoys, staying in the same rooms as the dog, encouraging exercise by taking them out more frequently and playing with them. Giving all of their attention to the dog will help them remember and learn that there is more to life than just the companion that they lost.
Don’t get too caught up in this, as sometimes it doesn’t work for certain dogs, and pushing that kind of time with the dog will cause them to regress rather than progress through the processing of their emotions. Even if spending time with the dog helps the owner to process their own grief, a dog should also be given the space they need.
Never try to force any sort of time or play on a dog that is grieving. Giving the dog that sort of freedom and agency will promote a better relationship between the dog and the owner later in the day after the grief has run its course. Helping the dog lead a healthy and happy life is always going to be the focus and desire.
Be More Affectionate and Loving
Being more affectionate and loving to the dog will help them realize and know that things will be okay and that the love and affection weren’t only for when the other pet was still alive. It’s important to give them lots of love and affection so that the dog remembers that they are worth a lot and their love for their owner will be renewed as they are rewarded with this affection and love. (Source)
Be careful with this though. Giving so much love and affection will sometimes cause a dog to try and use it for attention. They might act all mopey and sad just to get attention and can give an owner quite the fright. There is a limit to everything and that is the limit here. Make sure that it’s a healthy amount of affection and love and not overdoing it or smothering the poor dog.
Keeping up with daily patterns will be one of the best things that an owner can do to help their dog retain normalcy after a traumatic and emotional experience such as losing a companion pet. Doing things out of the ordinary will only strengthen the idea that things won’t be normal and that it isn’t safe anymore. For a dog, the normalcy of the pattern of when they get to take a walk will help them better than just laying at home would.
It’s the same sort of concept that most mental health doctors take and apply to people with depression. Being in a constant state of inactivity will only make the depressive and negative thoughts stronger and more prevalent, right up until they’re so bad that nothing exists but them. A dog can and will struggle with a very similar type of emotional response.
Keeping the same sort of habits and responses to good behavior will help the dog associate positive things with those old habits more than they would be wallowing in their grief and feelings of loss. Make sure to take walks, play with the dog, and reward them for good behavior as much as possible.
If the dog starts to act out, keeping with the same sort of consequence training that the owner might’ve done before will keep those patterns.
Also, keep in mind and understand that the dog isn’t a bad dog for acting out after this sort of experience, but that they don’t know how else to process their emotions, not unlike a human. Giving them space, time, and making sure to keep with the habits and patterns previously established will help your dog adjust.
Asking a Vet for Advice
If all else fails and still the dog seems depressed and sad, the best thing to do is to take it to a vet and try and see if there is anything that the vet can do to help the dog have a happier and better life. Depression and this type of grieving in dogs can be extremely dangerous for them, and making sure to give them every chance of help and health is extremely important.
This might be somewhat costly, so it’s best to do this as more of a last resort when it’s not clear whether or not any of the other methods and such are helping. Vets might recommend different sorts of treatment to help with the attitudes associated with grieving. You can also do your own research and find out what you can do with the resources available, and work with what is available to you before going to the vet.
Vets will often have a better idea of what sort of emotional moment or reaction is causing certain behaviors and can help an owner to understand their pet and what sorts of trainers or reactions they should give to help the dog be at ease and cope with their grief to the point that they overcome it. Sometimes, it’s the owner getting the help that will help the dog the most, since dogs will often mirror their owners as a way to try and help them. (Source)
Wait it Out
Waiting out the dog’s behaviors and grief is one of the more risky routes to take especially if the dog’s health is poor or can decline quickly. Even after everything, there are still some things that can’t be helped, and just waiting for the dog to resolve and process on their own is the best thing you can do for your pet.
This will potentially be more emotionally draining on the owner of the dog as well, so making sure that even if the dog isn’t reacting to any other sort of help or response to their grieving that the owner is taking good care of themselves as well. Depressive spirals are very real and it is important to keep them from falling down into them, especially when in charge of a pet.
The waiting-it-out period can take longer or shorter than someone might expect. It could take only a few days after the pet has passed on and the dog will mope around, exhibiting those symptoms and it might take more than two months before the dog feels better.