The Guide to Pet Bereavement: What to Expect After the Loss of a Loved One

This guide helps you console your pet through the loss of its loved one, be it a human or another animal. You will learn some of the warning signs that your pet is having a hard time dealing with their grief, as well as some of the ways you can both be there for each other as you mourn.

Remember, your furry pal is dealing with a traumatic experience, too. Although they may not be able to tell you exactly how they are feeling, there are plenty of things you can do to help them return to their usual, happy self.

Pets that display separation anxiety in their owner's absence are more likely to be affected by a permanent loss. However, many animals that aren't typically prone to stress may also be deeply affected by losing a loved one.

You may notice that your pet initially seems to be panicked over the change and continues to act, unlike their usual self in the days and even weeks following the passing of a loved one.

As with people, how your four-legged friend displays and communicates their despair will be unique. And since we can't ask our pets about their feelings, it's essential to keep an eye out for some of the typical visible signs of depression in our furry friends.

Often, these are similar to the same symptoms a human loved one might be suffering. The following resources provide helpful information on some behaviors to watch for in a grieving pet.

Did your little loved one used to beg you for a morning walk but now seems to be more interested in sleeping in every morning? Like with humans, symptoms like lethargy increased daytime sleeping, and a consistently mopey demeanor could indicate that they are hurting deeply and do not know how to cope.

It's not normal for an animal to suddenly lose interest in playtime unless there is an underlying physical or emotional issue. Just like we tend to have "off" days, so may your pet. But a new, regular pattern of disinterest in a game of chase or fetch is a warning sign that something more troubling is going on.

Pet parents typically know exactly how much their creature eats regularly. However, if your pet is affected by the chemical imbalances characteristic of depression or anxiety, this could directly affect how much they are willing to eat.

If your pet suddenly seems disenchanted by other people and animals – especially those with whom they already share a bond – they may be silently suffering.

Your pet may have been used to sleeping with their human or animal companion and now has to switch to a new routine of sleeping solitarily. Additionally, increased sleeping during the day and the need to constantly search for the lost loved one may make evening rest a problematic task.

Often, affectionate, demanding pets will become distant while independent pets will become increasingly needier following a permanent loss. Like humans, your pet may be looking for a way to cope and doesn't know the best way to interact with others during the transition.

In people, depression after a loved one's death usually decreases over time. The depression can be as brief as two months, but it may last much longer.

Whatever the case, sometimes medical or psychological help can be beneficial, and the same is true for our pets. While some animals will eventually recover on their own with our support, others will seem to be in a perpetual kind of funk.

While it may sometimes feel like there is nothing you can do to help your pet overcome their obstacles, there are many ways to assist in the healing process of pets.

The following resources provide helpful information on supporting your pet in their time of distress.

As people, we have funeral services for our loved ones, where we can say goodbye and come to terms with our loss. This same concept may also benefit our pets. Whenever possible, try letting your pet see or be near the deceased. It may help them understand what's happened. If you are euthanizing a pet in a multiple-pet home, consider letting your healthy pet be present during euthanasia or let them see the deceased animal's body.

Talk to your pet using positive words and phrases. You can communicate empathy by saying something like, "I feel so sad. It's not your fault, and I know you are hurting too. You are such a good girl, and I love you." They may not understand the words you are saying, but they will pick up on your emotions and feel comforted. Make sure your pet has company during the day and at night. Just as we seek support when coping with loss, so will your pet. If you don't already, consider letting them cuddle with you on the couch or allowing them to sleep in your room at night, so that they do not feel lonely.

Offer distractions like toys, treats, games, and excursions.

Some other ways that your can help your pet process their grief include:

Daily Exercise is essential for all dogs and cats, whether grieving or not. Regular activity will help increase the number of feel-good endorphins in your pet's brain, which will be a quick and natural mood booster.

It will be soothing to your animal and strengthen your bond with them. Cats who are depressed may also groom themselves less frequently, and your extra care and attention will keep them healthy as well as make them feel pampered and comforted. Allow time to help heal your pet's wounds.

We don't move on immediately when someone we care about passes away, and the same will be true of your pet – it may take longer than you wish it would. Trying to keep a consistent routine as much as possible will help make the transition as smooth as possible, although your pet may be a little reluctant to participate.

For example, if they are having appetite troubles, try supervising their feedings and then limiting them to 10-minute periods of dining time.

This may invoke a sense of urgency and help them regain their appetite. (However, if your pet has gone a day without drinking and more than a day or two without eating, visit your vet right away.)

If your dog seems uninterested in taking a walk, put on their leash and then coax them out of the house, or take them on a car ride to a nearby park. If they are small, you can start the walk by carrying them. Odds are, being outside in the sunshine will encourage your dog to take a stroll.

If your pet seems to be struggling, speak with your veterinarian about anti-depressant medication.

This should not be the first option you consider. Still, it may provide a temporary or even long-term solution for your pet's depression or anxiety in extreme cases. However, keep in mind that medication doses for humans and animals are very different, and you should never give your pet medicine without consent and instructions from your vet.

Take care of yourself. Our pets often mirror our emotional state and behaviors, so when we're feeling down, we may unwittingly affect our pet's mood. Allow yourself the time and patience to grieve however you need to, and seek extra help from a medical professional if you feel you can't fight the battle on your own.

Grief is a painful process for you as well as your surviving pet. Yet, our grief is part of how we honor someone's passing and is a testament to the depth of our love. While every person and pet will grieve in their way, the most important thing is not to let it become all-consuming.

Part of honoring someone's memory is finding joy in the simple things – a theory both you and your beloved pet can put into practice together.

The Neptune Society is the nation's oldest and largest provider of affordable direct cremation services. Whether you have an immediate need or want to plan your cremation services, we're always available to assist you and your family. Call us at 1 800 NEPTUNE (800-637-8863) or contact us online for more information.


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