The loss of a family member or a beloved pet is hard on everyone involved—to include any other animals in the family. If you’ve recently lost someone in your household, it might be a good idea to pay attention to any warning signs your cat or dog could be giving you that he’s grieving, as well. We spoke with Dr. Jules Benson, VP of Veterinary Services at Petplan pet insurance for some tips on how to tell our pets are upset, and what to do when they are.
How to Tell Your Pet is Grieving
Dr. Benson suggests looking out for the following five signs that your pet is in grieving mode.
Loss of appetite: You may notice your pet is leaving more food in his bowl, or not visiting the water bowl as often.
Lethargy: If your fun-loving, fetch-playing pet has suddenly lost interest in her favorite activities, she might be feeling depressed at the loss of a two-or four-legged playmate.
Wakefulness: Your dog or cat may also experience changes in her sleep patterns, leading to restlessness at nighttime.
Accidents in the house: Skipping the litterbox or leaving a puddle on the floor is a common sign of grief in furry friends.
Acting up: Just like humans, pets who are mourning may channel their grief into destructive habits like chewing, digging, vocalizing more than usual or disobeying commands.
Something else to keep in mind: “Many of these signs can also be early indicators of illness,” says Dr. Benson. “A trip to the veterinarian might help to rule out any physical problems, while giving you a chance to talk to your vet about the best ways to help your pet out of his grief.”
How to Support Your Pet
Once you’ve determined that your cat or dog is in fact grieving, there are ways you can help. Dr. Benson suggests the following:
Look after your pet’s physical and emotional needs. You may be annoyed by changes in your pet’s behavior—especially if accidents in the house are among them—but try to be patient and compassionate. If you’ve noticed changes that could be detrimental to your pet’s health, including lack of appetite or lethargy, take your pet to the vet for advice on how to help … and to rule out any possible physical trouble.
Lead by example. Believe it or not, structure, scheduling and rules are helpful to pets who find themselves in a sad slump. Feed and exercise him as you normally would, and engage him with daily obedience training. Knowing his “role” will help him feel more secure
Keep up the bonding. In addition to training, set aside quality time with your pet. Take an extra walk with your dog or snuggle on the sofa with your cat. Putting your pet at the center of your attention will be comforting to both of you and will help strengthen your bond.
Hold off on making a replacement. If your pet has lost an animal companion, resist the urge to introduce a new furry family member, at least for the near future. Your pet may be too distressed to be ready to accept a new housemate, so strive for stability before searching for a new pet. If you’re worried about him being lonely, consider hiring a pet sitter to stop by, or enroll your pet in doggy day care to break up his day.
Discourage bad behavior. You may think you’re helping by not disciplining bad behavior like chewing or digging, but be careful. Habits form easily, and abnormal can become the new normal, so keep up on obedience and establish boundaries for behavior.
Image: Erik Lam / via Shutterstock