My heart is breaking for the family of Rocket, one of the sweetest dogs I’ve ever had the pleasure of caring for. Rocket has spent months fighting a battle with lymphoma. There have been highs and lows with the help of medication and loving care, but last night, surrounded by love and a great deal of tears, Rocket took his last breath.
The anxiety, confusion, and grief of his furry companions is obvious and heartbreaking. Wrigley, a cat who developed a deep bond with Rocket, and Joey, Rocket’s canine best friend, seem most affected. It’s in their honor that I write this post, to help pet parents help their pets mourn the loss of their friends.
What to Expect
Just like people, all dogs and cats react differently to loss. Some common reactions to the death of a companion include:
- Physical symptoms. The pet left behind may have physical symptoms in response to the loss, loss of appetite, lethargy, and sometimes even illness.
- Personality changes. If the pet that passed away was the leader of the pack, the dog left behind may feel it’s now his responsibility to take on the job. You many notice him barking more at passerby or acting more outgoing and confident.
- Social structure changes. If you have a multiple pet household there may be increased tension (possibly fighting or vocalization) in the remaining animals.
- No signs. Other pets may not show any signes when they lose a companion.
How to Support Them
Watch your pet. It is recommended not to leave them in an area where they could escape; as some pets literally ‘search’ for their friend. If you have an inside/outside cat keep them in for a couple of days. Keep a close eye on your dog when they are left outside; even if they are normally good about staying in the unfenced yard.
Talk to them. Try to be positive around your grieving pets. They may not understand the words but will pick up on your emotions. You’ll want to avoid babying, though, because this can reward the pet for acting depressed.
Play music. Particularly uplifting, faster tempos to lift depression or relaxing classical music to soothe anxiety.
Stick to your routine. No matter how your animals react to the loss of another pet, chances are they’re feeling stress over the changes in the household. One of the best ways you can help them adjust to the loss is to stick as carefully as possible to their normal routine. Continue to feed them and walk them at the same times. Sticking to their usual schedule can help a great deal in reducing their stress.
Provide more exercise and stimulation. Chances are the pet that passed away played a large role in the day-to-day life of your other pets. They may have played together or napped together. Losing this may leave the remaining pets feeling bored and anxious. You can help your pets deal with the boredom and anxiety by providing them with more exercise and mental stimulation. Some things you can do include going for an extra walk each day, providing plenty of interesting toys, starting an obedience program and playing with them.
Allow them to re-establish their social structure. This may mean allowing some fights to break out. Of course, it is up to you to protect them from harming one another but it is important that they re-establish their hierarchy within the group in an effort for them to adjust and reclaim order for themselves.