Owners of multiple pets know that these furry “siblings” share a special bond with one another. They romp around the backyard and snuggle up together on the couch, but do they grieve for another? It’s an important question when you are considering how the death of a beloved pet will impact your family and how best to support not only your human, but your animal family members.
We recently spoke with a client whose family had two dogs. Sadly, when one of their beloved dogs had to be euthanized in a clinic, the other dog seemed to experience a profound grief. In fact, this client reported that her dog was forever altered from the experience of losing her friend and simply was different from that point on. The two dogs had their toys in a basket and part of their “after work” routine was to go outside, have supper, and play with their toys together. “She didn’t play with her toys for two years after the death of (her friend),” her person reported. Now her friends’ ashes are buried in the yard, and when she is out there, she lays on his gravesite. When it came time to euthanize another one of her dogs, this client decided on in-home euthanasia because she felt that it was important for her dogs to know, firsthand, what had happened to their beloved friend.
Although animal emotions are challenging to study, some evidence shows that humans aren’t the only creatures to grieve the passing of a loved one. Mark Bekoff, former professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder and author of The Emotional Lives of Animals, cites examples of animals displaying grief in the wild while mourning lost companions. He explains that, “categorically denying emotions to animals because they cannot be studied directly does not constitute a reasonable argument against their existence…current interdisciplinary research provides compelling evidence that many animals experience such emotions as joy, fear, love, despair, and grief – we are not alone.”
Some animal behaviorists report working with pets in their practices whose animal companions have died and whom appear to be grieving that loss. Those pets sometimes manifest their grief in the following ways: decreased appetite, changes in activity (increase or decrease), increased soliciting of attention from their family, separation anxiety, increased vocalization, and increased sensitivity to noises.
One of the positive aspects about having a pet euthanized at home is that their animal friends can be with them. Sometimes, when a pet is euthanized in a clinic setting, it can be confusing for their animal family members, who may not understand what has happened to their loved one. Your pets have their own individual personalities and sensitivities, and you know them better than anyone else – it is up to you to determine how much to include your furry family members in a euthanasia appointment. Sometimes it is helpful to animal companions to have a moment to visit with their friends’ body – they have their own way of sensing what has happened to their friend and their own way of saying goodbye. The grieving process is very personal, and each pet may grieve the loss of their companion differently, just like each person grieves differently. It’s ok for your pet to act differently for a while after the loss of their companion. Keeping to normal routines, such as walks, playtime, and meal times, is a good way of supporting grieving pets. Some pets may also appreciate extra cuddles and one-on-one time after a loss…and you may appreciate that too as you support one another through the grieving process.
For further reading:
Mark Bekoff writes a blog for psychology today called “grief in animals”: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/animal-emotions/200910/grief-in-animals-its-arrogant-think-were-the-only-animals-who-mourn?page=2