Pet Mourning: How To Spot It & How You Can Help


Do our pets mourn? This is a common question of loving pet owners. Although our pets can’t verbalise their feelings as we do, they do form emotional attachments to humans and other pets, and in turn, are capable of mourning the loss of a family member. We may not be able to play Dr Dolittle, but pet owners can find comfort knowing they can understand their pet’s behaviour to interpret their feelings.

If our pets can mourn, how can we, as responsible pet owners, notice the signs and help them deal with their pain? As a team dedicated to providing dignified pet cremation services to grieving pet owners, we wish to help those who may have a struggling pet following the loss in the family. Today we will be discussing the signs you can look out for and the steps to take on how you can help support your pet through the stages of grief. 

Do Dogs Mourn? 

Some sceptics believe mourning in pets is more so the change in routine the pet is sad about (such as the absence of playtime with another canine). Others note our pets may react and mimic the grief they see in humans in their house. Since pets may not understand the death of another human or pet, especially if they weren’t present at the time, you might find them patiently waiting for them by the door. Despite all this, some pets are undeniably affected by the loss or disappearance of those they’re close to. As no one pet is the same, so is their response to the loss or death of a family member or fellow four-legged companion.

How do Dogs Mourn? 

Like humans experiencing grief, there are many symptoms or behaviours you might notice in your pet. As a responsible pet owner, you’re likely wondering what the common signs of grief to keep an eye out for are. These can include: 

1. Changes in pet behaviour 

After losing a human or pet companion, your dog may react to this change by altering its behaviour. It’s important to note, not all dogs will respond following the loss of a family member, and that is also completely normal. Some may show signs of depression that manifest in health or behavioural issues, and others may continue to act normally. 

Unfortunately, for those dogs who struggle with grief, you may notice changes in personality or behaviour. To best support your pet following the loss of a companion, it's important to be aware of the signs so that you can provide the best support during this emotional time. 

If the dog you lost was the pack leader, your surviving dog might feel compelled to take over their role and become more dominant. Research on common signs associated with mourning found that 63% of dogs exhibit changes in vocal behaviour, so you may expect an increase in barking behaviour. On the flip side, you may notice your pet is lost without its leader, becoming quiet and withdrawn from the family and daily social activities they once enjoyed. The remaining dog can also turn clingy and require greater attention than when its packmate was alive. 

2. Loss of appetite 

Following the loss of a companion, behavioural studies reported 36% of dogs also experienced a decreased appetite, and 11% refused to eat at all. When a pet loses their appetite, they are more likely to be tired, uninterested in activities or playtime, and can become ill from the lack of nutrients. 

Following the loss of a loved one, it's important to supervise mealtime to ensure each pet is eating if you have multiple dogs you feed at the same time. Otherwise, it's very easy to go unnoticed, especially if you have other dogs who will happily eat more than one meal.   

3. Silent symptoms 

Often in the wild, sick or injured pets will become more reclusive to protect themselves and hide signs of weakness. This is similar to when they experience the loss of a loved one. So while you think your pet is coping fine and adjusting to the loss of a family member, keep in mind that they may also be hiding the signs of grief to protect themselves. 

How Can I Help My Mourning Pet? 

Seeing your pet in pain or distress is something every pet owner struggles to see. If you’ve seen any of the signs and suspect your pet is mourning a recent loss, there are actions you can take to help support them. 

1. Stick to their routine 

Pets are creatures of habit, so help them adjust to their loss by sticking to their regular routine. With something familiar like their routine, you can help your pet feel supported and secure during the grieving process. We recommend you feed your pet around the same time and walk them on the paths they’d normally walk. Doing so will help regulate and minimise your pet’s stress, as well as your own. Let’s not forget you will also be grieving during this time. 

2. Get active 

While maintaining a familiar routine is essential to lowering your dog's stress levels, incorporating activities to occupy your pet can help them during the mourning process. This is especially important if you’ve lost one of your dogs, as it's likely they spent a lot of time playing together. With one pet passing away, the other may become bored and even anxious, so providing them with mental and physical exercises can help support them through grief and reduce behavioural problems like excessive barking or destructive behaviour. 

To get more active, you can Incorporate an extra walk each day, provide mentally challenging toys like Kongs, attend obedience school or spend more time cuddling together. Whichever activity you choose, incorporating more physical activities will help foster confidence and a stronger trust between the two of you in a newly changed environment. 

3. Seek professional help 

Sometimes the best thing we can do to help our pet is to seek the help of a veterinarian. If you’ve exhausted the following options and still see your pet struggling following the loss of a family member, your veterinarian can suggest medicine that will help modify their behaviour. Several medications exist and can act as another line of therapy that can complement your holistic efforts, like sticking to a routine and incorporating more playtime. However, before your pet can be prescribed medication, any underlying health conditions that can affect behaviours will be screened for in the form of blood and urine tests. 

Should I Get a Pet to Help My Grieving Dog? 

It can be tempting to adopt another pet following the loss of one; you may even believe it's the right thing to do. Pets are for life, and we want to echo the importance of making sure you, and importantly your mourning pet, are ready for a new addition to the family. 

Giving yourself and your pet enough time to grieve before adopting another pet is paramount to adjusting to your new normal. The last thing you want is to introduce a new dog that could add more stress to your situation. A new pet requires a lot of work, so always consider your household and pets’ feelings and the capability to introduce a new pet to the family. 

Once you are ready for another pet, you may want to consider letting your pet help select your new dog or cat. Whether you’re adopting from a shelter or a reputable registered breeder, you may be able to take your pet along for a visit. If you’ve ever watched dogs in a dog park, you’ll know some pets naturally click more than others, so this introduction may help you select the right pet to bring home. 


Patch and Purr Are Here to Help

Following the loss of a pet is undeniably one of life's most painful experiences for both pet owners and other pets. After learning the behavioural signs of pet grief, you can start helping your pet in the healing process. Remember, resources are available for both your pet and you. Time isn’t the healer of all wounds, so don’t sit in silence, hoping the pain will pass. 

If you’ve recently lost a pet, Patch and Purr are here to help. We are dedicated to providing dignified pet cremation services for pet owners across various NSW locations. Allow us to relieve some stress by contacting our friendly staff today on 1300 112 711 or filling out an online form. At Patch and Purr, we understand the pain of losing a pet and have created a blog that navigates how to cope following the loss of a beloved pet. 

The information contained in this article is general in nature and does not take into account your personal situation. You should consider whether the information is appropriate to your needs, and where appropriate, seek professional advice.


Grief factsheets

If you’re in need of some extra support in the days and weeks following your pet’s passing, take a look at these handy guides written by leading figure in grief and empathy education and author of "When Pets Die: It's Alright To Grieve,"  Doris Zagdanski. 


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