September 07, 2022 Pets and Family

Do Pets Grieve the Loss of Another Pet? The Answer is Yes!

A man hugging a dog in nature

Do Pets Grieve the Loss of Another Pet? The Answer is Yes!

National Pet Memorial Day will fall on September 11th this year. This day is set aside to remember and honor the pets who have crossed the rainbow bridge in the previous year. Human grief following the loss of a beloved pet is well known. However, many of my clients with more than one family pet often ask about the surviving pet’s reaction to the loss of their furry companion. I did some hunting in scientific publications and summarize my findings in this blogpost.

Do Dogs Grieve?

A survey of several hundred pet owners in New Zealand and Australia reported on the behavior of the surviving dog after the loss of an animal companion. Dog families reported behavior changes in 74% of dogs. The most common behavior changes were demanding more owner attention and spending time in the favorite spot of the deceased companion. Dogs ate more slowly and smaller amounts of food than when their companion was alive, but only if the companion was another dog. About one third of owners reported their dog slept more after the death of their companion.

A second study of canine grief from Italy reported similar behavior changes as the study above, but it also reported an additional interesting finding. This study found a correlation between decreased appetite in the grieving dog and an increased level of grief in their owner. This suggests the grieving dog senses the owner’s distress and alters their behavior in response.

Do Cats Grieve?

Grief in cats seems to be similar to that in dogs. Like dogs, cat demanded more attention from their owners after their companion’s passing. Cats also spent more time in the favorite spot of the deceased pet. There was one finding specific to cats, however. Grieving cats increased the frequency and volume of their vocalization. This finding was true if the deceased companion was either another cat or a dog. All this suggests dog and cat grieve the loss of an animal companion.

A Veterinarian’s Opinion on Animal Grief

I have no doubt in my mind the findings of these researchers are true. Stories abound of dogs waiting for their owner at the same train every night, even though the owner never comes home again. A viral TikTok post shows a cat waiting to be let into his former home, despite the death of his owner. I have seen bereft dogs not eat for a week after the death of another pet in the household. Some pets have a complete personality change due to the altered pet hierarchy in the home. The good news is, the information on this topic supports my observation that, with time, pets recover from grief. On average, these studies indicate the grieving pet returns to normal in about 6 months.

@jgb.dolzer21 Even before the owner’s passing, he always wait for his owner to open the window everyday so he can come in. Its their daily routine 😢💔 #cat #catsoftiktok #fyp #memories ♬ the winner takes it all – november ultra

Pet Loss Support for the Whole Family

When we perform euthanasia at the Schwarzman Animal Medical Center, many pet owners will ask if their surviving pet can attend the procedure as a way for the whole family to say goodbye. However, this does not seem to affect the grieving process for either dogs or cats. If you are looking for ways to assist your surviving pet through the loss of a companion animal, we have a helpful brochure on our website. And if others in your family need support after the loss of an animal companion, visit the Pet Loss Support Resources section on our website.

AMC’s 5th Annual Celebration of Life Pet Memorial Event

AMC’s Usdan Institute for Animal Health Education is hosting their annual pet memorial event on Thursday, September 15th, 2022. The event features words of comfort from Dog Cognition Expert/Author Alexandra Horowitz, Schwarzman AMC’s Veterinary Social Worker Judith Harbour, and Licensed Veterinary Technician Maria McKenna. For more information and to register for this online event click here.

Tags: animal grief, euthanasia, pet loss, pet memorial day,

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