a family pet dies, naturally the humans in the household
grieve the death of their beloved companion. However,
surviving animals in multi-pet households may also react
to the loss in a variety of ways.
grief is measured by changes in behavior, then grieving
is common throughout the animal world.
her book "How Animals Grieve," Barbara J.
King, a professor of anthropology at the College of
William & Mary, defines grief like this: "When
a survivor animal acts in ways that are visibly
distressed or altered from the usual routine in the
aftermath of the death of a companion animal who had
mattered emotionally to him or her." King cites
studies and observations that show that animals in the
wild, from elephants to birds, exhibit grieving
behaviors, as do household pets.
Companion Animal Mourning Project, a study conducted by
the ASCPA, found that more than 60 percent of both dogs
and cats exhibited four or more behavioral changes after
the death of a fellow pet in the household. Changes
include eating less or possibly not at all, craving more
attention from their owners, changes in vocalization
(barking or meowing more or less than usual) and changes
in sleeping places or other habits.
seen this happen in my own household over many years.
Each time weíve lost a cat, the surviving cats have
responded to the loss in different ways, but theyíve
always reacted. In one case, the cat wandered around the
house, seeming to look for his lost brother, and picked
at his food. Another time, I was surprised to see the
surviving cat notice the loss at all because the two
hadnít gotten along well, but she moped and found no
joy in her usual toys.
MOURN DOGS, DOGS MOURN CATS
say that thereís no question that grief behaviors can
of the behaviors fall under the category of distress
reactions," says Katherine Pankratz, clinical
behavioral medicine resident and American College of
Veterinary Behaviorists resident at the N.C. State
University College of Veterinary Medicine. "It can
be because of the loss of their companion or the change
in routine or the ownersí reactions."
animals are attuned to ownersí moods, so they can pick
up on the sadness the humans are experiencing. The death
can also cause a break in the social structure among the
says dogs often have relationships with each other that
can be disrupted by a death. "If the lead animal, a
pet that initiated meals or activities, is lost, the
surviving pet may show signs of distress such as
decreased appetite, because they have lost the leader to
those activities and are now adjusting to a new routine
without the leader pet," she says.
reactions can occur even if the pets are from different
species, says Molly Stone, pet behavior specialist with
the SPCA of Wake County.
social experience is small compared to ours, and their
time is spent with the other pets in the home while weíre
at work," Stone says. "Should that companion
suddenly be gone, it should have an effect on the whole
household. Cats mourn when itís the loss of a dog,
dogs when itís a cat. Iím not sure it makes a
difference what species."
with people, every petís grief reactions can be
different (or there may not be any, which can be normal,
too). The keys for owners are in understanding their
pets and giving them time to adjust to the new
situation. Pankratz says that it may take from a month
to six months for grieving pets to adjust. She advises
that owners monitor behaviors and consult a veterinarian
if they become prolonged or extreme, particularly if the
pet stops eating for a length of time. If the pet
develops vomiting, diarrhea or, in the case of cats,
poor litter box habits, see a veterinarian to rule out
any underlying disease. Illnesses can have symptoms
similar to grief reactions.
extra treats or attention: Pankratz says owners should
resist the temptation to console their pets by giving
extra treats or other special food because the pet will
continue to expect those extra calories later. She
similarly cautions against offering too much extra
attention, again establishing a pattern that pets might
expect owners to continue.
activities: For pets that seem anxious, exercise can
often help. Also, according to the Ohio State University
Veterinary Medical Center, calming pheromones are
available in collars or sprays for dogs and cats.
a new routine: Particularly for anxious pets,
establishing a routine is a good idea.
to develop that new routine," Pankratz says.
"For pets, consistency and predictability is really
important. The previous routine can no longer continue,
so developing a new routine can help them be less
distractions: Depending on the pet, offering some
distractions may help, Stone says.
could provide some species-specific distractions, such
as extra trips to the dog park, new chew toys, maybe
walking in a different area can distract them, give them
something else to think about and cause their brains to
start making happy hormones. New toys for cats. Or get a
kitty harness and go outside," she says. "Some
animals may be anxious about the loss. You just have to
pay attention and adjust accordingly. No one knows your
pets as well as you do."
get a pet for your pet: And donít get a new pet solely
out of a desire to help the surviving pet.
should only get another pet if you yourself want another
pet," Pankratz says. "To get pets for pets is
usually not the best route to go. You canít replace
the one you lost, and itís the same thought with the
agrees. "The humans may not be ready for a
long-term relationship with another pet," she says.
"People should wait until theyíre ready rather
than get another pet for the pet."