Pets and Grief

Pets can mourn losses just like humans and losing a member of their family can be devastating. Hospice of Washington County supports our patient’s wishes regarding their pet’s involvement in the hospice process. The loss of their friend can have negative effects on an animal both mentally and physically.
  • loss of appetite
  • lack of thirst or water consumption
  • lethargy, sleeping more than usual
  • howling, whining or meowing for no reason
  • hair loss
  • clinginess, wanting to be with you at all times
  • pacing back and forth, searching
  • social isolation
  • loss of interest in activity or playing
Like humans, no two pets respond to loss the same way, but there are several things you can do to help your pet adjust when they experience the loss of their human.
  • Give your pet time with their companion following the death. Letting them see and smell their departed friend can help provide a sense of closure. Without this opportunity a pet may be more inclined to search for its friend.
  • Remind yourself that you need to take care of them. During the first few days following the loss you may find it difficult to perform tasks and to take care of things. You may want to spend time alone or with close friends and family. It is important to remember to care for your pets and to ensure their needs are met. It’s okay to ask for help with this.
  • Maintain your pet’s routine. Animals are routine loving and maintaining their routine while they are grieving can help them relax. Disruptions in their routine can disrupt their biological clock and sometime lead to negative behaviors.
  • Keep them occupied. Keeping your pet busy may help keep its mind off the loss. Offer playtime and one on one interaction. Try new toys, treats or activities to keep them entertained. A walk, car ride or visit to a friend can also provide a nice escape.
  • Comfort them as needed. The loss of a companion is very stressful for animals and they may seek comfort and reassurance from you. Provide this with petting, calm conversation and reassuring them that everything will be alright.
  • Give your pet time to process the change. Just like us animals need time to process change.

Always consult with your veterinarian if things don’t seem right. Signs of depression and mourning can be similar to signs of illness. While grieving is normal in pets, but it doesn’t usually last more than 2 to 3 months. However, if your pet is exhibiting severe signs like hair loss, drastic weight loss excessive vomiting or diarrhea they should be seen by a veterinarian right away. There is prescription medication that can help with depression in pets, but this is a last resort option.

When it comes to helping your pet after the death of an owner, treat the situation as you would if you were trying to help a friend through a rough time. Show compassion, be patient, and be aware of signs of distress. The pet will grieve and be confused for a while, but your unconditional love will help them cope.
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