In This Guide
Do Dogs Really Grieve?
Grief is typically thought of as a human emotion, but dogs do suffer when there’s loss of a pet in the home—and each dog’s grieving process is different.
“Grief is most typically expressed by sudden behavior changes,” says Dee Hoult, MBA, CDBC, CPDT, CTDI, and CEO of Applause Your Paws dog training company in Miami, Florida. “So although dogs can certainly act or feel depressed, that's not always how grief is going to manifest in a pet dog.”
Whether your dog has lost their canine friend, their kitty bestie or another companion animal to whom they were bonded, it’s totally normal for them to miss that relationship—and for their behavior to change because of that.
For some dogs, that grief is compounded by a sense of insecurity because of the sudden shift in their home environment. “ In the same way that bringing a new baby into their home [changes things], I think dogs are just completely thrown off by the death of a pet because it's such a big life change,” Hoult confirms. “So, for them to lose their bonded pair like their buddy that they've been with the entire time, that's a big life change.”
Signs of Grief in Dogs
While every dog is different, there are some common signals that your pup is feeling grief after a loss. A recent study published in the journal "Scientific Reports" looked at data collected from 426 adults with multiple pet dogs, and found that those surviving dogs who lost their canine companion showed signs of grief including:
- Distressed behaviors like pacing, panting and howling/increased vocalization: 30% of dogs showed one or more of these behaviors
- Lack of appetite: 32% of dogs ate less
- Lethargy or insomnia: 46% showed a decline in activity, while 35% slept more
- Increased affection towards their pet parents: 67% were more attention-seeking
Dogs show “[these same behaviors when] they have to be away from their owners for significant periods of time or if they're in a new place,” Hoult says. “So, there's not, in my experience, a certain set of behaviors that's exclusive to the dog losing their companion. It's just another scenario where you are potentially going to see those stress indicators suddenly appear when they weren't there before.”
5 Ways to Help a Grieving Dog
Before you start helping your grieving dog, understand that it will take time for your dog to process the change—and that it’s only natural for this to cause changes in behavior. Remember to be patient with your dog. On average, a grieving dog can show some (or all) of these symptoms for up to six months, sometimes longer.
1 Let your dog say goodbye, if possible.
“A lot of professionals recommend letting your pet see the body of the pet that has passed,” says Beth Brown, CCBC, CDBC, CPDT-KSA, CCUI, FFCP, owner of Ear to Tail pet behavior consultancy company in Houston, Texas. “Of course, this isn't always possible or advisable in every situation, but if it's an option, it can help the dog get some information.”
2 Keep them distracted with activities.
Commit to keeping your dog distracted every day. “The remedy for any dog who is stressed is any activity that allows for a serotonin and dopamine release,” Hoult says. Whether it’s more walks, increased playtime, dog park playdates or something else your pup loves, now’s a great time to give them more opportunities to do the things they love most.
3Reintroduce daily training.
Your remaining dog may already be trained. Maybe they have been for years. So, you’re probably asking yourself, “Why would I re-bring out the clicker?” But Hoult says the memory of earlier days can help. “Those kinds of activities allow your dog to feel happier because they enjoy doing those activities. I think a lot of people overlook just reintroducing daily training, even if it's just 10 or 15 minutes as a remedy to counter stress in dogs.”
4 Stick to a daily routine.
Make sure you’re feeding your dog, walking them and giving them attention at the same time every day. Sticking to a schedule will help your dog maintain a normal routine—something that’s needed for them after a big life change.
5Talk to your veterinarian.
Your vet knows your dog, and can suggest remedies or even prescription medications to help them deal with their grief. “If your dog is having a really hard time coping, some pharmaceutical help (either short- or long-term) can really help your dog,” says Brown. “But you want to do this only at the recommendation of and under the supervision of your dog’s vet.” Your vet can also rule out any underlying health issues that may be causing their behavior.
Should I Get a New Pet to Help My Grieving Dog?
Experts are divided when it comes to getting a new pet to help your grieving dog. Some dogs can benefit from the addition of a new family member, Hoult says: “I think it's a great opportunity to adopt a new dog who needs a home because oftentimes the dog who lost their companion is quite happy to just have somebody.”
But if you don’t feel ready to accept a new pet into your life, that’s completely normal, too. “A lot of pet parents feel guilt when deciding whether or not to acquire another pet,” says Dr. Marianne Cerda, a veterinarian in Miami, Florida. It might feel like moving on too fast, she says, or forgetting or replacing the pet you’re still grieving.
“The best advice I can give is to take the time to grieve and, when the time is right, understand that this new pet is not a ‘replacement’—it’s another chance for a family to give a pet a loving home,” she says.
Don’t forget to consider your dog’s feelings, too. Brown says, “Look at how they interact with other pets. Is it generally pretty good interactions? Was the dog who passed the only animal that yours could successfully interact with? Does change stress your dog out?” If your dog generally doesn’t love spending time around other animals, a new pet in the home might just compound their stress.
If you aren’t sure, you might want to try fostering another pet first. Maybe your dog will love the company, and even if they don’t, you still gave a pet in need a home for as long as you could (and provided some valuable intel to their shelter or rescue in the meantime).
Finally, don’t forget to consider the many responsibilities you’re signing up for when you take in a pet. Ask yourself these questions before making it official.
Help for Grieving Pet Parents
Losing a pet is hard for pet parents too—but you don’t have to go through it alone. These resources can support you as you process your own grief:
Visit: Lap of Love, a veterinary hospice and in-home euthanasia service, has a website with information on support groups, counseling, articles on how to deal with grief in children and more.
Call: Pet Compassion Careline: a 24/7 grief support hotline at 1-855-245-8214
More Resources for Pet Grief