As you know, we just lost Kirby this week to a very rapid onset of an invasive cancer. Our home has changed dramatically. Even though on many occasions Kirby was at the vet, sometimes for weeks at a time, Benny seemed to know he was coming back. This time he understands it is permanent and is displaying behaviors not seen before. He is depressed and sad and quiet and only wants to be in Kirby’s spots. When a dog loses a family member, they experience loss just as clearly as the humans do. And when it is another dog they have lived with and been companion to, the loss is even deeper.
Pets observe every change in a household, and certainly notice the absence of a companion. Pets often form strong attachments to one another, and the survivor may seem to grieve for its companion. Some signs that your dog is grieving include loss of appetite, quieter or more vocal than usual, change in sleeping patterns and location, loss of interest in walks or playing, appearing lethargic or disinterested.
Helping a dog adjust to the loss will not only help the dog but the humans as well. Realizing that without their canine sibling (or other species sibling), your dog’s position in the fabric of the family will change. Perhaps the dog who passed on was the leader and the others dogs will now miss their top dog. Or perhaps now you have a leader dog without their follower companions. It is up to the humans to help the dogs find their new place in the family structure, and create healthy new positions for everyone.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals conducted a Companion Animal Mourning Project in 1996. The study found that 36 percent of dogs ate less than usual after the death of another canine companion. About 11 percent actually stopped eating completely. About 63 percent of dogs vocalized more than normal or became more quiet. Study respondents indicated that surviving dogs changed the quantity and location of sleep. More than half the surviving pets became more affectionate and clingy with their caregivers. Overall, the study revealed that 66 percent of dogs exhibited four or more behavioral changes after losing a pet companion.
How can you help your dog through this period of grief?
- If your surviving dog has solid obedience training, now is the time to reinforce everything. Redirect your dog’s attention to moving forward with you and start teaching some new skills. This distraction will not only help with the mourning process but create a new bond between owner and dog. And it is never too late to begin training if your dog does not have the proper skills to cope and remain independent.
- Create rituals and routines your dog can depend on such as the same time for walks, breakfast and dinner, playtime, bedtime. Use touch to comfort your dog through grooming, massage or simple petting.
- Keep a blanket or other objects with the scent of the deceased dog – your surviving dog may find this comforting as he will remember his friend’s scent.
- Take more walks or car rides to break up the sad feelings
- Don’t move the surviving dog’s belongings or food and water bowl thinking you can now move them into the deceased dog’s place. Keep routines as secure as possible so your dog knows everything is ok and that life is predictable.
People question if they should get another dog right away. There is no one answer to this. For some families and dog, it is essential to have another dog right away. Just keep in mind age, sex, temperament when introducing a new dog into the family, particularly when having just experienced a loss. You can never replace a dog with another so don’t try to find one exactly the same but think about what will now be best for your remaining dog.
Different family members will deal with the loss in different ways and so will our dogs. They may need different lengths of time to come around and may be sad, depressed, and standoffish or super clingy. For most families helping the surviving dog is the priority before seeking out another. And helping each other will get them all through this difficult time