As human caregivers to our fur babies, it’s natural for us to be devastated when we have to say goodbye. What about the dogs left behind? Do they grieve or do they not even notice?
My heart dog Red died in April 2018, and I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt, Jack couldn’t care less. Okay he may have looked for her a couple of times, but I think it was to confirm she was really gone! Even though Red was here before him, he never liked her. He didn’t bother her, but it was obvious he wasn’t happy she existed because she got too much attention for his liking.
The picture at the top of this article pretty much sums up Jack’s apathy towards Red. Jack is on the right, and my sweet girl Red on the left. He is extremely photogenic, but in this picture he looks grumpy.
I have had a few dogs who died before this and left others behind, but perhaps because they were all quite old with issues they didn’t seem to be affected.
The only time I recall any impact was with my group of 5 cats. Calypso, my oldest and my heart cat was very bossy. She would think nothing of walking by one of the others and jumping on them if she felt like it. She was definitely in charge. When she died I was beyond devastated, my first experience with pet loss, and I noticed that for quite some time (sorry don’t remember how long it went on), the other cats seemed out of sorts. It’s as though she was the leader and now none of them were sure of their place. I’m not sure if it was them grieving and needing comfort, or the hierarchy as they knew it had shifted. Perhaps it was a bit of both!
Do dogs grieve when another pet dies?
Studies seem to suggest the answer is yes. As a matter of fact, the most common behaviour witnessed was the constant checking of the places where the other animal used to rest, and 60% of dogs did that! If you would like to read the full study – “Owners’ Perceptions of Their Animal’s Behavioural Response to the Loss of an Animal Companion.”
This article “Do Dogs Grieve Over the Loss of an Animal Companion?” is a very interesting read.
How do dogs express their grief or sadness?
There is no “one” way, but here are some behaviours you may notice –
- Increased barking
- Changes in sleeping habits
- Looking for the dog that passed
- Loss of appetite
- Confusion due to a change in routine
- Anxious when left alone
- More confident and friendly
- No obvious signs
Here’s how to help a grieving dog
We can’t be sure what is going to help our dogs through the mourning process. Like with many things it’s likely to be a case of trial and error, but here are some tips that may help.
Bring your dog to say goodbye – I find this such an interesting point, and not one I had ever thought of before I started writing this article. Let me backtrack for a moment. I know someone who always has a vet come to their house when it’s time, and all the other animals are present, but I never gave it much thought, assuming that was obvious since they all lived there. When I started asking people if they had any tips for how to help the remaining dog, a few of them said they bring their dog with them when it’s time to say goodbye.
I decided to do some research into how common this practice was, and if I could find an “expert’s perspective.” I came across a website called Home Pet Euthanasia and an interesting article worth reading called “Should Other Pets Be Present.”
Stick to the same routine – Dogs like the familiar, they like to know what’s happening when. There’s no reason his meal times and walk times should change now.
Be vigilant – Be sure your dog is eating, drinking, peeing and pooping as normal. We can’t know how long the remaining dog(s) will grieve, but if you feel things aren’t improving and you’re worried about his health, particularly if he’s depressed and not eating, I recommend you speak to your vet. If that hasn’t helped, find an animal behaviourist or professional experienced with pet grief.
Pay him more attention/keep him busy – An extra walk, a nice brushing session, play a game, teach him a new trick, take him on an outing to a pet supply store, a day trip with the family? Exercise and mental stimulation will help with boredom and anxiety.
Be careful not to reward depression – When you were training your dog, remember the advice about ignoring behaviours you don’t want to see and rewarding those you do? Instead of always going over to pet him while he’s lying on his bed depressed, distract him with a walk, a playdate or an organised indoor doggie fun class for example.
Changes in group dynamics – Each animal in a multi-pet household has a different relationship with each other. When one dies it’s normal to see some instability in the group until they’re able to work out a new dynamic, which is what happened when my cat Calypso died.
While they’re figuring things out there can be conflict, so keep an eye on their behaviour. If it’s troubling, especially if it doesn’t seem to be subsiding, a visit to your vet or animal behaviourist is recommended.
Natural help – If you’re concerned about how well, or should I say not well, your dog is coping, here are a few things you may want to try. I recommend trying one thing at a time.
Adaptil plug in pheromone diffuser
Valerian or Valerian with Skullcap
Diffuse Lavender Essential Oil
Through a Dog’s Ear (calming music)
Getting another dog
Getting a dog on impulse is never good no matter the situation, and adopting one because you see your dog so depressed is no different. Of course it’s tempting, and there are many instances where it was the right thing to do, but sadly many where it wasn’t. A rash decision about such a big decision will often end in heartbreak, and a dog surrendered.
It’s important to realise not every dog, and certainly not every old dog will find it easy to cope with the loss of a friend. Expecting him to adjust to an interloper in the house may be too much for him to handle.
It’s also entirely possible your dog may relish the solitude. After all, caring for a sick older dog takes up so much of our time, and as a result our resident dog may not be getting as much attention as they should.
Is your dog ready to accept a new dog?
Just because your dogs were inseparable does not mean that will be the case with a new one. Before you jump in to another lifelong commitment, take your dog to the dog park more often and see how he is with other dogs? How about play dates? That may be all the doggie companionship he needs…at least for the time being.
Are you ready?
You’re convinced your dog is ready, but are you? It takes time to recover from such a loss, and you may not be ready. Perhaps you’re enjoying the quieter household, or your own circumstances have changed and aren’t able to deal with a new furry member right now.
Let your dog choose his new companion
If you’re sure welcoming a new dog into the family is the right thing for everyone, make sure your dog is involved in the selection process. Many shelters and rescue groups will expect to do a “meet and greet” with you and your dog to ensure they’ll get along. They want to do what they can to ensure it will be a good fit.
What some people I know did to help a grieving dog
Let their other dog(s) smell the ashes
One woman brought her dog home in a blanket and let the other animals sniff and gently paw the dog. She did this because a few years earlier she put an animal down but didn’t bring him back home. Her dog cried and wouldn’t eat for days because he didn’t understand what was going on
The resident dog was taken to the vet so she could sniff her friend after he was gone. She felt it would help him understand what was happening
Lots of attention and cuddles
One woman’s dog was so depressed she had to get another one for company
Put the dog’s collar around the remaining dog
Invited dogs over for play dates
Kept the remaining dog busy
What has your experience been?
Did your dog get depressed after the loss, or did he seem unaffected? If your dog did mourn, what behaviours did he exhibit, and what did you do to help? Sharing helps others so please leave your comment in the section below.
This post really resonated with me because I went through this when my first cat Precious died suddenly and Dusty was left alone. She was around her the same day she passed so she was aware of her death, but Dusty did get depressed. Even though Precious was her big sister and a little bully at times, Dusty was sad. She displayed more lethargic behavior and not her usual bubbly self. What did I do? I thought adopting another cat would be the answer to keep her company (since she missed her companion) or so I thought, but it was a horrible mistake. That didn’t work out so I was so fortunate her owner took the new cat back. What I discovered was that Dusty didn’t need a new companion, she needed healing and extra cuddles and comfort. That worked. It took a little time but she came back to her old ways and bubbly self. We kept the same routine, as you pointed out, but also spoiled her with extra cuddles, kissed and bonding time. My heart goes out to any pet parent whose pets are also experiencing grief.
It makes sense for us to think the one left behind is lonely and would benefit from a companion. With all the best intentions, it’s tough to know what they really want. You must have been so relieved when the owner took her back, and that all Dusty needed was extra attention from you.
Yes I was!! I was very relieved.
What a wonderful post. I wonder if many people think about the impact of the other pets that are left behind? I know when my dog passed away, it was my cat that mourned for her. She looked for my dog and would sleep on her bed – it was heartbreaking to see.
I also wonder the same thing. As I said in the article, I never thought about it and no one ever seemed too bothered except in the case of my group of cats who were quite out of sorts.
Fantastic post as always – what great ideas as to how to help them – thanks so much
Glad you liked it!
Michelle & The Paw Pack
I’ve been lucky, so far, to not have lost a dog in my adult life. I have two dogs now, and if you had asked me a few years ago when we first got our second dog I would have said that I doubt either of them would have cared too much if the other suddenly disappeared. But they’ve bonded quite a bit over the past couple of years and I do worry a bit now how my younger dog will react when the time comes to say goodbye to my senior boy (hopefully not for a long time yet!). I actually learned a lot about pet grief when I used to keep house rabbits as pets. Rabbits bond really strongly to each other and I have no doubts that they experience intense grief when one passes.
It’s an interesting topic, because I never really thought about whether or not the other animals were affected. Other than with my cats, they never seemed bothered. Hopefully when the time comes, in many many years from now, you’ll know the signs to look for and have tips to help your other pup through it. I would love to have a rabbit, I wasn’t aware they bond so strongly.
Thank you for this post. So much great information. We had always planned on having an ‘at home euthanasia.’ Unfortunately, in some situations, these things can’t be planned. Henry and Jack didn’t get to say goodbye to Reese. Jack seems his usual self, Henry has shown signs of sadness and grief. We have been spending even more quality time/ one-on-one time with both boys. We will all make it through this loss.
You’re so right, it isn’t always possible to plan or it’s not an option in some places. Losing a much loved pet is so difficult, it really does take a toll on everyone in the household, probably more than many of us realise. Prayers to you and your family.
I haven’t had the experience of losing one pay it and have another left behind it yet. Now that I have both of my cats, I wonder how one will react when the other is gone.
Hopefully you won’t find that out for many years.
Our experience was life changing for us all.. we not only had to make the decision to put our Tyeson down due to numerous seizures daily that we couldn’t get under control etc but his best friend Cali lost her will to thrive after he was gone .. we did allow her to see him just before we buried him because yrs ago we had one dog try to dig the other up.. I planned ahead for assistance medically with our vet knowing they were inseparable & this was going to take its toll but I NEVER in my wildest dreams thought I could lose her as well.. we had to fight daily to keep her going .. we did everything from even getting one of those stuffed animals for puppies with the heart beat to lay beside her at all times .. that did help .. eventually the vet said we may never get the dog we once new back because Cali doesn’t know how to live without Tyeson who had to be the Alpha .. Cali’s loyalty to Tyeson was such that she refused all toys & any games that WE all played together … to this day almost a year later she refuses to touch his toys & we finally have managed to get her to engaged with us but her normal way of play has never come back completely … through the hardest times I did daily mind games with her playing puzzles.. I HAD to change the way I use to play with both of them and play in a whole new way with her trying to pull her out of that deep place she was.. we thought about another pup to help but there was no way she could have withstood the attention a new puppy needs & deserves! .. I felt she would have gave up completely seeing has how she was right by my side 24/7.. eventually we went with a little rescue kitten named “Lovey” who did manage to reach Cali in ways we couldn’t .. was an odd match that we made work .. as Cali worked on mind engaging puzzles .. Lovey helped her engage by sniffing the treats first .. Cali’s little Lovey along with a completely different way of engaging play has eventually brought back the old Cali more than I would have expected.. she does suffer from separation anxiety still but that is even better than what it once was.. so in our case or maybe it was our breed of dog .. Boxers.. YES they grieve .. the vet said it’s life changing for them as well as life changing for us to say goodbye to a best friend .. we’re are still a work in progress with one day at a time & we still keep looking for the day when Cali will get sassy and start talking to us again as Boxers usually do .. I have high hopes that the day will come when she’ll play with us the way she use to when Tyeson was around.. the hardest part through it all as I was grieving the loss of my Tye was trying to keep Cali going at the same time & my fear of losing her too.. . a dogs intuitiveness on how their humans are feeling is spot on.. so Cali and I also shared the recliner many days side by side with a box of Kleenex & cozy blanket as well.. the trick the vet has shared with me is I needed to become the Alpha .. today as we sit in the recliner all together just shy of a year .. Cali me & Lovey .. I’m very grateful to be surrounded by my fur babies who are has healthy and happy as they can be TODAY!
I had three dogs in April 2018. A cockapoo, Gracie (aged 9), a Bichon, Pierre (aged 13), and a Lhasapoo, Champ (aged 17). Champ passed away on 4/16/18 from age and kidney disease. It was hard but Champ’s passing was expected. But what happened next was devastating. Pierre, seemingly in good health by his blood work and vet visits, passed away suddenly and completely unexpected. Gracie, who remained, had been extremely bonded for 10 years to Pierre. They were inseparable. Pierre died right in front of me and beside Gracie in their shared recliner chair. No warning, he just suddenly struggled to breathe and he was gone within 60 seconds. Of course Gracie and I were distraught as we drove his body to the same Vet ER that Champ had died at 11 days before. Gracie had one last sniff of Pierre’s body on the steel table before we left. In the days and weeks following Gracie was so depressed she became like a rag doll, unresponsive, barely breathing, not eating or drinking. I nearly lost her to the grief. I received some really helpful advise which I immediately used. I began to cradle her like a baby and sing to her. I told her how much I needed her and how grateful I was that she would not leave me. I spoke in a loving way to her about Pierre and Champ, that we would see them someday again and how much fun we that would be. I told her “I know you love Pierre and I do too and we miss him but we will go see him someday but not too soon.” It took about two months before Gracie was out-of-the woods herself and I knew she would make it past the grief. That is when we together began a search for a new fur brother which we eventually found. In fact, six months later we found a second fur brother and that has put the light back into Gracie. As for me, had I not had her to focus on I might have been far worse in my own grief. The house was so quiet when she and I would get home. She and I have a tremendous bond together now.