A-Z of dog wellbeing: Grief

Our animals form strong emotional bonds with members of their family – the humans, cats and other dogs – and often suffer grief when a loved one dies or moves away.  They feel the loss as much as we do and the sudden change in house can be as traumatic to your pets as it is to us humans.

Although we don’t yet know how much dogs understand about death, it’s clear that dogs can become extremely depressed after a companion dies, so how you spot the signs of grief and how can you support your pet through this difficult time?

What does grief look like in dogs?

When a person or pet with whom a dog has spent a lot of time passes away, they feel the loss of the presence, friendship, and companionship of their loved one; that loss causes their stress and grief-like behaviours:

  • Wandering – One of the most common behaviours observed in pets suffering with grief is to continually search the places where their lost housemate normally napped or rested, trying to find them.
  • Needy – the surviving pets often demand more affection or became clingy, not wanting to be alone.
  • Vocalising – pets can vocalise more by crying, whining and whimpering.
  • Loss of appetite – Many pets reduce the amount of food they eat and the speed in which they ate it.
  • Loss of interest – lack of enjoyment or participation in their favourite activities.
  • Sleeping – Dogs were more likely to increase the amount of time that they spent sleeping.

Dogs may also react if they become aware that you are grieving. Humans’ behaviour changes when they are visibly upset, and your pet may pick up on this too.

How can I help my grieving dog?

The best thing you can do is be there for your dog at this difficult time. Try to keep their routine as close to normal as possible to minimise the stress of disruption. Keep meal times the same and don’t change their diet. Make sure they are eating, drinking and toileting properly. Give them time and space to heal.

Dogs may experience anxiety when a person or pet they spent a lot of time with no longer comes through the door at the same time each evening, or isn’t there to share in the excitement of going out for a walk. It’s ok to comfort your dog if they ask for a cuddle.

Think about what makes them happy and do more of that. For some dogs this might be getting lots of fuss, and for others it might be training, play or longer walks. Human or animal, loss affects us all, but we cope best when we care for each other.

When a pet passes away it can be tempting to get another quickly, not only for your own benefit, but so your surviving pet will have another companion, but don’t rush into this decision. Only get a new pet if you feel it is the right thing for you, your family, and your other pets.

When there are more than two pets in the family, each animal has a specific relationship with every other member of the group. When an animal dies, it creates temporary instability within the group which can result in conflicts that are disturbing see, but unless one of your pets is becoming a danger to the others, it’s best to let them re-establish the new group dynamics on their own. If there’s a lot of growling, barking, hissing, or attacking that doesn’t quickly fade as they work out the ’new normal’ then its best to speak to a behaviourist for guidance on how to resolve these difficulties between pets.

Herbal support for grief and loss

If your pet is not coping well with the loss, or you would like to help ease them through the changes in their world with less stress, then the use of natural herbs and botanicals can support them through this difficult time.  Our animals have the ability to self-medicate from the healing properties of plants, guided by how they taste and smell and essential oils can provide a great sense of support and relief when we are grieving.

Despite what you may read on the internet, there is not a single oil that works for all grief and for every pet.  The oils they may benefit from will be unique to them and to your situation, and this is where a herbal self-medication session comes into its own.

During a session we will work together to offer your pet a selection of essential oils, floral waters, powders and herbs that can support the grieving process and help them get back into balance.  Your dog leads the session showing us what they want, and we create a quiet, loving space for them to process the grief they feel.  This can often help to support the humans with their loss too.

pets selecting essential oils

Some of the products we offer can produce profound and sometimes very strong reactions from our pets as they work through their emotions, so please don’t attempt to use essential oils to help support your pet’s grief unless you are trained to do so.  The sequence of how products are offered is critical to making your pet feel safe and secure, rather than overwhelmed, and it’s easy to get it wrong!

If you’d like to book a herbal self-medication session to help your pet process grief, no matter how recent the loss, then please take a look the details on my website and get in touch.


Reference: 
Jessica K. Walker, Natalie K. Waran and Clive J. C. Phillips (2016). Owners’ perceptions of their animal’s behavioural response to the loss of an animal companion. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5126770/