After the death of a pet, it’s not just the humans in the family who notice the pet’s absence. As you take care of yourself and navigate through your own grief journey, it’s also important to support our remaining pets through their own grief journeys.
How Pets May Express Their Grief
It’s not uncommon for remaining pets to act differently when a pet dies. In fact, the Companion Animal Mourning Project, a study conducted by the ASPCA, found that more than 60% of both dogs and cats exhibited at least four behavioral changes after the death of a fellow pet, although some pets may also exhibit no behavioral changes at all. The most noticed behavioral changes included:
- Amount of time sleeping
- Affectionate behaviors
- Territorial behaviors
What’s important to remember is that just like people, all pets react differently to a loss. Give your pet time and space to adjust to the “new normal” in your home, which may take 1-6 months. If any behaviors are severe or dangerous, such as not eating at all or active aggression, ask your family veterinarian for help. There may be an underlying medical condition which requires attention. Overall, though, one of the best things you can do is to spend time with your grieving pet, which will likely help both of you.
Adopting Another Pet
Some pet owners may be tempted to get a new pet solely to “cheer up” their remaining pet. Remember that a new animal won’t replace the deceased pet, in your eyes or your pet’s eyes.
But there may come a time when you think about getting a new companion animal. During this time, many people ask themselves:
- When is the right time to get a new animal?
- How will I know?
The answers to these questions are different for everyone and can range from never getting another pet to getting a new pet right away. As you consider what is best for you and your family, the following may help you reach a decision:
- Talk with your family and explore everyone’s feelings about a new pet in your home.
- Think about what qualities you would like in a new companion and how they fit with your current lifestyle and activities.
- Consider the pets currently in your home and what their needs are with respect to a new companion.
- If you have friends or family with pets, offer to pet sit for a few days to try out having another animal in your home.
- Visit an animal shelter or adoption center. You may feel the urge to adopt, or the visit may confirm that you’re not quite ready for a new companion.
If you’re still not sure, try volunteering with an animal organization such as a shelter, rescue, or wildlife center. You can spend time with animals and support their needs while you further assess your desire and ability to be a full-time pet parent. Remember, there is no right or wrong answer, just what is best for you and your family.
Animal Emergency & Referral Center of Minnesota offers a Pet Loss Support Group that currently meets virtually via Zoom on every fourth Tuesday of the month at 7pm. Learn more about our group here.
We also offer a private Facebook group to promote connection and sharing among those experiencing companion animal loss. Click to request to join.