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When Pets Grieve

Updated on May 27, 2015

A heart-wrenching photo of Hawkeye, a brown Labrador retriever lying next to the coffin of his companion went viral just hours after it was released. Hawkeye refused to leave the side of Jon Tumilson, a Navy SEAL who was killed in action in Afghanistan. This display of canine grief is not a new thing – in busy downtown Tokyo in 1934, a statue of Hachiko is in Hatchiko Square, a memorial to the dog who, after his owner died at work and never returned to the train station where the dog was waiting, waited at the train station for next nine years, nine months and fifteen days -until his death-for his loved one to appear. These incidences of heart-broken and apparently depressed dogs raise the very real possibility that many pets do actually grieve.


Faithful to the end-or grieving the loss of a loved one?
Faithful to the end-or grieving the loss of a loved one? | Source
First anniversary at Hachiko's statue-Tokyo, Japan
First anniversary at Hachiko's statue-Tokyo, Japan | Source

There is evidence animals grieve-in her book How Animals Grieve, Barbara J King relates story after story of animals displaying sorrow over loss: of elephants surrounding their matriarch as she weakens and dies, and, in the following days, attending to her corpse as if holding a vigil. A house cat loses her sister, from whom she's never before been parted, and spends weeks pacing the apartment, wailing plaintively. A baboon loses her daughter to a predator and sinks into grief.

If our pets grieve, what can we do as pet lovers to help them through the process and heal after loss?

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What are the signs?

What are the signs of a pet who may be grieving? Look for these behaviors:

  • Eating less (a sign many pet owners reported in a 1996 study carried out by the American Society of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals)
  • Sleeping less or exhibiting restlessness
  • Lethargy
  • An increase in vocalizing ( howling, barking, meowing)
  • Being more affectionate or clingy

Pets may also appear to be confused or disoriented; they may not want to be touched or played with.

If your pet shows any of these signs after a loss, remember that these symptoms may also be a sign of illness, so it is always a good idea to have the pet examined by your vet to rule out medical causes


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What can I do?

Not surprisingly, helping a pet through this process is very similar to what is beneficial for helping humans deal with grief.

Spend more time with your pet. Taking them on walks, brushing them, or playing games are all ways to make them feel better. These positive forms of physical contact releases oxytocin, which is a hormone that boosts feelings of bonding and well-being in mammals.

Provide a distraction for your pet to keep the mind busy and boost mood. Buy new toys and put them in a typical hiding place; most pets are happy to find surprises. Stuffed kongs and other toys are also good ideas, especially when you have to be away from home.

Cats may enjoy a new perch or cat tree with a different view of the outdoors- and catnip can always provide a mood boost, even for a brief period.

If your pet shows a decrease in appetite, try to add a little something special like small pieces of cooked bacon or chicken with their normal food. New treats or snacks (within moderation) can also pique their interest and cheer them up..

Think about teaching your pet a new trick or skill such as agility classes; this will often help your furry companion feel happier.

Providing physical and emotional comfort to your pet is the best way to help strengthen your bond and help them heal- and it will probably make you feel better, too.

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Give it time.

Like people, pets usually start to recover after time goes by. However, using some of these tips will help your pet adjust more quickly and ease the transition of both you and your pet to adjust to the loss of a member of the family.


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