Helping your pet understand the loss of their companion can be overwhelming if you are grieving…are you prepared? Are you grieving so hard you don’t see the signs of grief with a surviving pet? Do you want to do the best you can for the surviving pet?
When you lose a pet, you are understandably devastated. But what you may not be prepared for is the heartbreaking signs of grief in your surviving pet.
Pet grief is a seldom talked about subject, but it is important. You have a lot going on to survive the pain. Coping with a despondent pet can be terrifying and stressful on top of everything else you are going through.
Helping your pet understand the loss of their companion is super important.
Pets grieve just as much as humans do. When one pet passes away, the surviving pet is likely to grieve. After all, the two pets lived together, spent a lot of time together, and undoubtedly forged a close bond. Called the “distress reaction,” here are some of the signs you may notice when helping your pet understand the loss of their companion:
- Not eating
- Lack of enthusiasm for his favorite activities
- Sudden and new separation anxiety
- Newly destructive behavior
- Changes in sleep
You know your pet well. If they start behaving differently with the loss of another pet, you will be able to tell something is wrong. Chances are, your surviving companion is grieving the loss of their best pal.
Fortunately, you are not powerless. Here are a few things you can do to help your pet through the grieving process.
Let Your Surviving Pet Be Present at the Euthanasia
You can understand your pet’s confusion if you take their buddy to the veterinarian and then return without him or her. The surviving pet may display heartbreaking behavior like searching the house for their lost friend or meowing loudly all night.
To ease this confusion, you may consider having your pet present at the euthanasia. You can also read this article on pet euthanasia in general to help you.
This accomplishes two things.
- The first: It can give your companion who is about to pass away a sense of “normality” because their loved ones near
- The second: It can give your surviving pet(s) closure, as they see what really happened.
Your surviving pet may not appear to understand what has happened. That is fine—a reaction is not necessary. However, you may notice they do not search the house or act distressed looking for their buddy. Having them at the euthanasia can create a sense of closure. It can be a beautiful and loving gesture.
Grieve Together When Helping Your Pet Understand the Loss of Their Companion
When you feel truly overcome with grief, it may be helpful to share the mourning time with your surviving pet.
- Hold and pet him or her. Cry gently (you don’t want to alarm your pet)
- Take the surviving animal for a walk if appropriate
- Visit the deceased pet’s grave with the surviving companion
- Have a funeral that includes your living pet
The idea here is—you are both grieving. Why do it alone? By grieving together, you spend time together and you comfort each other. This will strengthen your bond and help you both heal your hearts.
Remember to be patient with your pet. They had their heart-broken too. It may be easy to get frustrated if they start urinating in the house or no longer seems interested in playing fetch with you—their favorite pastime before.
But your behavior has also changed in ways you may not be aware of, and it is distressing and even frustrating to them too.
By grieving together, you can remember your pet having a tough time as well. It can help you vanquish any feelings of frustration.
Keep a Routine
Losing one of their steadfast companions is a huge disruption in your pet’s life. To keep them as calm as possible, you do not want to disrupt their routine in any other way. Try to maintain the routine by feeding, walking, playing, and bathing at the same times as usual.
I understand how difficult it can be to function as usual when your heart is hurting. Having your surviving pet’s well-being as a motivator can help you adjust to life without your best friend and start the healing process.
It may not be easy, but it is necessary. It is important to fortify yourself with much-needed strength in this difficult time.
Expect a New Normal When Helping Your Pet Understand the Loss of Their Companion
Many people wait for things to return to the same way they were before pet loss. Unfortunately, waiting for things to be the same will only disappoint you. Now that your pet is gone, things will not be the same.
Your family will eventually find a new normal. This new normal may not be exactly like before. That is okay—you will each be able to find peace in new ways.
Do not feel like a failure if your surviving pet is never exactly the same, or your interaction is never exactly the same either when Helping your pet understand the loss of their companion.
Instead, focus on making your surviving pet feel loved and safe. Remind the surviving pet this is still a family where they are very much loved.
Provide Healthy Distractions
Many of us inadvertently reward our pets’ negative behavior when Helping your pet understand the loss of their companion. For instance, be careful if your dog is depressed after the loss of his or her loved one.
It is easy to console the surviving animal by petting and telling them they are a good dog. Doing so can reinforce the depressed behavior of possibly rejecting food and dejectedly lying around the house.
In another example, your pet may have developed separation anxiety after the death of their companion. It would be all to easy to start petting and telling them you love them every time this behavior occurs.
While you understandably want to comfort by Helping your pet understand the loss of their companion, you are unfortunately telling them to act wild and crazy whenever you leave.
It is more constructive to distract your pet when acting depressed, anxious, or otherwise negatively. Here are some ideas:
- Take him or her for a walk or try to interest them in a rousing game of fetch when despondent
- Give your pet a special toy or a treat stuffed with peanut butter
- Turn on the television or radio before you leave the house to keep them company and maybe distracted enough to not become anxious
- Buy new toys if they are becoming destructive
- If your pet is soiling in the house, take them outside more and really reward them when they go outside
- If your cat is loudly meowing all night, wake him or her up throughout the day so they are too tired to be nocturnal
- Explore options like holistic remedies. Choose calming and emotional strength building remedies when helping your pet understand the loss of their companion.
Look at the new negatives your pet is exhibiting. Instead of punishing or accidentally rewarding them, try to find suitable and healthy alternatives. Every pet is different, so you may need to be creative or speak to a professional trainer or animal behaviorist.
It is not helpful to bottle up your feelings and bury them deep inside. It is far better to release them in your own unique way.
That being said, loud or strong displays of emotion in front of your pet may be upsetting. Pets are some of the most sensitive, astute creatures on Earth. They often know us better than we know ourselves. Therefore, your pet will feel what you feel, and your emotional outbursts will elevate his or her stress even more.
I do not encourage you to ignore or suppress your emotions. But if you feel a strong outburst coming on, it may be best to do it in a part of the house where your pet cannot go. You may also ask someone to take your pet for a walk as you mourn.
Let Pets Establish the Hierarchy
Each pet in the household has a unique relationship with each other pet. If you have more than one surviving pet, then the recent pet loss your home has experienced will upset the power dynamics these pets share. The surviving pets must reestablish the pecking order.
This may not be a pleasant time. The pets may fight and snap at each other. They may horde food or steal each other’s treats and toys. The change may alarm you. However, it is best to let your pets figure their new dynamics out on their own when Helping your pet understand the loss of their companion.
Obviously, if your pets are causing harm to each other, you want to intervene. But remember your pets have their own ways of doing things—their own culture.
If they are not causing each other serious harm, then trust they will figure their new hierarchy out themselves and things will settle down soon enough. By interfering when you don’t need to, you take away their ability to establish a new normal that they can live with.
If the changed behavior becomes dangerous or lasts for longer than a few months, it may be best to speak to either a veterinarian or an animal behaviorist. You may need some intervention to help your pets figure out their new normal.
Give It Time When Helping Your Pet Understand the Loss of Their Companion
Things will not be normal for a while. That is okay. Don’t rush into acquiring a new pet and don’t get frustrated if things don’t return to the way they were right away. This is an adjustment period for the entire family.
Your pet’s behavior may stay erratic for a few days, weeks, or months. No one knows how long your pet remembers their friend—or if they ever truly forget them. However, their behavior will eventually calm down and your family will achieve a new normal.
Don’t expect for there to be a timeline for grief. Everyone grieves at their own rate and follows their own process. That goes for you, and also for your pet.
The only guarantee I can give you is—the grieving process takes time. You may never stop missing the pet you have lost. Your surviving pet may never stop missing him or her, either.
This does not mean your family will not heal. In time, your angel pet will become a warm memory. A beautiful memory you can draw happiness from, and your family will be able to interact without distress.
Think Carefully Before Getting a New Pet
Some people buy or adopt a new furry friend hoping the new pet will fill the void in their hearts and their lives. But getting a new pet is not for everyone.
Keep in mind whatever our choice—the pet you have lost was unique. No new pet can replace him or her. Even as you acquire a new pet, you may find you still miss and grieve your old one. This is normal and it indicates a new pet is not going to magically remove the pain.
Furthermore, as you are grieving, you need time to heal. If your grief is raw and angry it can make it very difficult to give your new pet the love and care it needs.
When helping your pet understand the loss of their companion adding a new pet to the household can be a stressful event for the pets who already live with you. There is usually a lengthy adjustment period, as the new pets get used to each other and establish their new hierarchy. Doing this while your pet is still stressed over the loss of his former companion only raises stress to greater heights.
This does not mean you should never get a new pet! When your household has reached a state of relative calm and you feel ready to add a new family member to the mix, doing so can be extremely rewarding. However, it might be best to wait a few months and let your surviving pet restore his or former disposition before you do this.
Be sure you are acquiring a new pet for the right reasons. Do it because you want a new friend and family member. Do it because your surviving pet seems lonely and you feel ready.
Explore Herbal Remedies
There are several great natural remedies for grief that can help both you and your pet.
- Explore calming herbs, such as chamomile or Bach flowers
- Try essential oils that are safe for pets (remember, some cats cannot handle mint or citrus oils)
- Look into homeopathic remedies for anxiety, insomnia, grief, depression, and other distress reactions in your pet
When you lose a pet, your whole family is impacted. But you do not need to worry or feel like a bad pet parent. With these tips, you can help your pet heal as you heal yourself. You can also achieve a new normal in your family when helping your pet understand the loss of their companion.
Wendy Van de Poll, MS, CEOL is a certified pet loss grief coach, bestselling author, animal medium and communicator. Through her experience and working with others she teaches folks… grief needs attention so that it can teach the profound lessons of life. You can reach Wendy by clicking here. She also has many books on Amazon to help you on your journey. Her newest is Pet Loss Poems: To Heal Your Heart and Soul