How pets cope with loss

Have you ever wondered what happens to a pet when they lose their human or animal companion?

We humans have the Pet Bereavement Support Service to turn to, but how do animals cope?

Do pets grieve?

Like humans, pets too show signs that could be interpreted as grief.

When an owner or fellow housemate passes away, pets may experience:

  • loss of appetite
  • change in sleep patterns
  • crying or searching
  • a need for extra attention
  • a generally sad demeanour

But you should also note you may not witness any of these changes.

Many anecdotes suggest that animals do feel what humans call ‘grief’, including an understanding that the deceased is not coming back, but there is little scientific evidence to back this up. What we do know is that many species are affected by loss and experience feelings of sadness and loneliness.

Should I get another pet to keep them company?

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.

You should wait a while before introducing another pet to your cat.

Remember, each pet is an individual and different species bond with each other in different ways.

Dogs are sociable animals who live in family groups, so your surviving dog is likely to adapt well to a new canine if the pair are a good match.

Cats have a very different social structure to dogs and by their nature don’t always bond with other cats, even if they have lived alongside them peacefully for many years. Give your surviving cat time to adapt to life without their companion and avoid getting a new cat or kitten straight away.

If, after a few months, you think your cat would be happy with a new friend, get in touch with your local rehoming centre.

Rabbits are extremely sociable animals and may react badly to the death of a companion. The best thing to do is find your bunny a new partner quickly.

Introductions should be carried out slowly.

Only get a new pet if you feel it is the right thing for you, your family, and your pets.

How to help your pet

Keep your surviving pet’s routine as similar as you can. Pets thrive on routine, so any event that disrupts this can be upsetting. Make sure they are eating, drinking and toileting properly.

Pheromones may help to calm dogs and cats that are stressed. Ask your vet about these.

Give your pet lots of love and attention, and take the time to focus on your bond with your pet.

Human or animal, loss affects us all, but we cope best when we care for each other.

Our Pet Bereavement Support Service is there to provide a free and confidential emotional support for all types of pet loss, including theft, illness, accident, death and rehoming, and also prior to loss. If you need somebody to talk to, please call us on 0800 096 6606 or email [email protected] bluecross.org.uk.

— Page last updated 2/03/2017