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Help For Your Grieving Pet

  • March 18, 2011
  • 4:01 pm
Help For Your Grieving Pet

Coping strategies for when your dog loses her best friend

By Justine Lee, D.V.M., Prevention

A Golden Retriever and a Maltese may seem like an odd couple, but Indy and Katie were as close as two dogs could be. After spending their days together, Katie would sleep on Indy’s back each night, her four-pound body rising and falling with his snores. “It was adorable,” says their owner, Karen Wolkenberg of Roslyn, NY. But at fourteen years old, Indy’s health deteriorated, and the family had to put him to sleep. Immediately after, the normally sweet-natured Katie, who at age ten had grown up with Indy, turned nasty, refusing to eat and urinating all over the house. “I’d look at her and think, What’s going on?” Wolkenberg says. “Then it finally hit me that she was grieving.”

Pet care mistakes even good owners make.

Losing a pet is always difficult for an owner, but it can be equally hard on the household’s canine companions. Dogs in particular feel the loss of a fellow pet, as they are pack animals who enjoy being surrounded by friends. In fact, a study from the ASPCA found that two-thirds of dogs show recognizable signs of grieving, such as a decrease in appetite, clinginess, and lethargy. I’ve also found that some dogs whine and bark more or sleep in unusual places–this type of attention-seeking behavior may happen because the dog has pent-up “play energy” that he’s not able to release with a friend. “The good news is that in most cases, these changes resolve in a couple of weeks,” says Stephen Zawistowski, PhD, an author on the ASPCA study.

Help your dog recover by spending time together: Take longer walks, cuddle more, or devote an extra twenty minutes to throw around a tennis ball.

If your pet won’t eat, don’t tempt her with human comfort food like pizza or ice cream. Instead, stoke her appetite by minimizing stress (no houseguests or changes to her territory) and offering doggy treats.

Get more healthy, happy pet advice here.

You can leave the former dog’s bed and toys for consistency during the transition, but remove the bowl so she doesn’t feel a sense of competition for food. Try taking your dog to a dog park. If she looks like she wants to play, schedule some doggy playdates. But if she stays away from other animals, then respect her need for alone time. And even if she’s mopey, encourage her to take short walks. I also tell my patients’ owners that it’s fine to invite an extraclingy dog to share their bed.

Animals are sensitive to human emotions, so try to minimize extravagant displays of grief in front of your dog. If you’re tempted to replace the pet that died, hold off. I advise waiting two or three months to make new additions, in order to give the dog (and you!) time to adjust. Your pooch is accustomed to his former companion, so introducing an attention-seeking, hyperactive puppy can be physically and emotionally stressful. Even an older, more mellow dog might be taxing, as your pet will feel the need to fight for turf and pecking order.

Train Yourself: The 3 Rules of healthy petiquette.

No one knows how long a dog’s memory is, but based on anecdotal evidence, I believe dogs do remember companions for some time. That said, while the process may take a few weeks or even months, almost all of my patients’ owners notice a return to normal activity. If grieving signs last longer, bring your pet to the vet to rule out underlying medical problems, the timing of which could be coincidental.

Justine Lee, D.V.M., is an emergency care specialist and author of It’s a Dog’s Life… But It’s Your Carpet.

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Rodale is a new original source for daily news, information, and advice on personal and environmental health. focuses on “Where Health Meets Green” topics, providing daily news stories and breaking news along with easy-to-follow, high-impact tips and advice.


+ add your own
2:48PM PDT on Aug 12, 2014

Thanks, me and my dog are grieving the lost of our 15 year old Zeak I had to have put down due to cancer, They grew up together and he is so loss without him, I have noticed he is grieving as much as I am.

9:16AM PDT on Jul 20, 2014


10:03AM PDT on Jul 14, 2014

I had 2 dogs that I got together as puppies. One died of cancer at 9. The other lived on to 17 and NEVER forgot his best friend. Whenever he saw a similar looking dog in the distance he would be desperate to get to the dog, only to then sniff it and be heartbroken it wasn't his pal. The emotions were so obvious!
He also NEVER went close to where his buddy was buried. Today he lies next to him in the flower garden.

4:44AM PDT on Jul 13, 2014

two parrots, I lost one of my horses that I raised from a baby. That was the worst year of my life. That was just over 20 years ago and it's as fresh as if it just happened when I try to talk about it. I doubt I will ever get over it.

4:41AM PDT on Jul 13, 2014

I had two parrots--one was a rescue--the other I hand-fed as a baby. The rescue absolutely adored the baby, even though he was probably four times her size. Her mama instincts kicked in and she would help me feed the baby. She would lick the excess food from his face and cuddle with him. Three and a half years later the rescue parrot died if a heart attack and the "baby" was beyond grief! He wouldn't talk--he wouldn't eat--he (and I) were devastated by our loss. He came down with a respiratory infection during this time, so I took him to the vet. He had a seizure and died during our visit. After the necropsy the vet told me she could find nothing wrong with him beyond a minor upper respiratory infection. She told me she truly believed he died of a broken heart and I agree. Less than a year previous to losing my

4:42PM PDT on Jul 12, 2014

Yes, please give us more tips about how cats grieve.

10:12AM PDT on Jul 12, 2014

I am still grieving the death of Sammy, my Jack Russell. It's been over 10 years now. She was my vary first "my individual" save. Her save was bigger than mine.

10:04AM PDT on Jul 12, 2014

My oldest rescue lost her best friend, Sam, over 5 years ago, and she still goes almost daily to visit where he is buried. I think she's just saying "Hi, there, old guy... I'm still thinking about you," even though she has had friends to play with for many years now.

12:30PM PDT on Jun 17, 2011

thanks for the info

6:03PM PDT on May 10, 2011

Helpful info, thanks!

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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Abby N. Abby N.
on Why Do Cats Purr?
14 minutes ago

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