It’s well known that dogs are highly emotional animals and this means that they may well feel the loss of another pet or family member just as much as anyone else. However, it’s important to note that all dogs will react to the passing of a loved one slightly differently and some may show no signs of grief at all.
Although there is no scientific evidence to support the claim that dogs experience grief, many long-term pet owners will testify that their pet’s behaviour makes it seem likely that they do. Dogs may experience a change in sleep patterns or a loss of appetite and display behaviours such as searching or crying. They may also require more affection and attention that usual. But it’s also possible that your dog may not show any outward signs of experiencing grief at all.
The best way to help a grieving dog is to try and keep things as normal as possible for them. Take them out for walks at the same time you usually would and keep meal times unchanged too. Any dramatic changes to their food or water consumption should be reported to your veterinarian.
If your dog requires more attention from you, work out what makes them happy and try to incorporate more of it into your daily routine. This may be in the form of walks, playing games or just simply having a cuddle. As heartbreaking as it may be to witness, comforting your pet while they are displaying unwanted behaviours, such as waiting by the door, or howling, will only encourage them to repeat these actions in the future. Save your cuddles and praise for a time when they are settled, calm and quiet.
If you have more than one surviving dog, you may notice that their attitudes and behaviours towards each other start to change as they work out the new hierarchy of their unit. You may notice that they steal each other’s food more or bark at passing strangers to reinforce their standing in the social order. This harks back to the days when wild dogs lived in packs and they followed the lead of the alpha male (or female).
Getting a new dog can help both humans and surviving pets get over the grief of their loss, however, it’s important not to make a knee-jerk decision and really think about whether getting a new dog is the right thing to do for your whole family.
If your dog is grieving so badly that there are major changes to their eating habits or behaviours then you should contact your veterinarian.