What is Grief?
As painful and confusing as grief and bereavement can be for humans, it is similar for pets. Animals form strong bonds and deep attachments with their fellow furry friends and owners, and as a result, the impact of the loss can be quite traumatic. Grieving pets may also become more clingy and not want to be separated from owners or they may search or pine for their dead companions.
What Causes Grief?
When a pet experiences the loss of another animal companion, or human family member, the animal may actually become depressed because he has lost a loved one.
Because animals are perceptive, they often also sense the owner’s sorrow and pain.
You may notice that your dog or cat expresses grief in a physical or psychological manner – they may have stopped eating, distanced themselves from you or other members of the family and lost complete interest in their favorite activities.
Symptoms and signs
The common symptoms and signs of grief in animals include:
- Low energy
- Lack of interest in activities such as exercise and play
- Poor appetite or loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Increase in daytime sleeping
Help for Grief
Help the animal get over his grief by giving him extra attention and being compassionate. Do not allow the animal to fall into a slump because you may think that he can deal with this grief on his own.
Stay involved by coaxing him to eat, play and exercise and avoid reinforcing or rewarding unwanted behaviors such as picky eating or depression. The length of time spent grieving differs for each pet – like with humans, for some the grief period may last longer than others.
While some dogs or cats adjust and gradually come to terms with their loss, others tend to struggle and find it harder to cope. For pets that are clearly not coping, you need to consult your vet or an animal behaviorist.
When dealing with a grieving animal, the best medicine that is needed is lots of TLC. It is very important that you do not allow the dog or cat to become too dependent on you, as this can often lead to severe separation anxiety or depression. Monitor any physical and behavioral changes carefully. During the mourning period, the animal may not have an appetite and a good idea would be to provide his favorite foods to help him to eat.
Keep routines as normal as possible and continue to encourage exercise and playtimes to keep the pet active and revitalized. Distract the pet with toys, special food treats, other animals or people and take him with you when you go out. Massage, stroke, hold or cuddle your pet, as any form of touch is very soothing and calming.
Very often, grief in pets can lead to severe depression, and your vet may prescribe antidepressants or refer you to an animal behavior psychologist. Keep in mind that while these antidepressants may alleviate the symptoms, they have some negative side effects that may affect your pet’s health.
Natural and holistic remedies have also been known to have a positive effect on the emotional health and well-being of both humans and pets. Herbal and homeopathic remedies are safe and gentle to use on the body’s system without any harmful side effects.
Carefully selected herbs such as Hypericum perforatum (St. John’s Wort) and Matricaria recutita (Chamomilla) promote a balanced mood and supports feelings of well-being. Homeopathic ingredients such as Ignatia, Capsicum and Kalium phosphate maintain vitality and emotional health, and support the nervous system.
More Information on Grief
Tips to Help Your Pet Deal with Grief
There are several things that you can do to help a mourning pet and these include:
- If the pet is mourning the loss of a companion animal or human member of the family, shower him with lots of love and attention but try not to overdo to it as it can lead to separation anxiety.
- Keep routines as normal as possible – feed, exercise and play with the animal at the same times
- Do not reinforce or reward behavioral changes such as picky eating or give too much attention to the pet
- Talk to the pet, play music or leave the television on during the day may also be very comforting
- Exercise your pet by encouraging any form of activity to increase energy levels and lift his spirit
- If your pet experiences loss of appetite, give him palatable food or a special concentrated diet that contains all the essential nutrients. Warm the food until just below body temperature and feed him small meals two to four times a day.
- Try and coax the pet to play his favorite game
- Leave toys and food treats out for the pet to find during the course of the day
- Encourage your pet to interact with other animals and people – very often the grieving animal may not respond to you but will interact with a visitor to your home or another animal
- If you have more than one pet, especially in the case of dogs, allow the surviving animals to work out the new pecking order
- Do not rush to get a new pet as a companion for the grieving animal until you or the owner are ready to take on this new responsibility
- Massage and stroke your pet – touch therapy can be very soothing for animals
- Be patient and compassionate, and remember that time does heal all wounds