The loss of a dog can be quite traumatic not only for the family but also specifically on the other dogs left behind. Many of these signs are based on the dog’s natural personality. For example, a subordinate dog may become introverted, hiding and not wanting to interact with the family with the loss of a more dominant companion. Conversely, some dominant dogs may become very clingy or appear abnormally nervous (panting, pacing, searching for their friend, etc.) if their “pack” seems to have been lost. These behaviors are general, however, and may be seen in any dog. Based on these outward signs that dogs cannot voice to us, it certainly appears that they can experience grief when a companion dies.
Canine Grief Study
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals conducted a Companion Animal Mourning Project in 1996. The study found that 36% of dogs ate less than usual after the death of another canine companion. About 11% actually stopped eating completely. About 63% of dogs vocalized more than normal or became quieter. Study respondents indicated that surviving dogs changed the quantity and location of sleep. More than half the surviving pets became more affectionate and clingy with their caregivers.
It is normal for behavior changes to be seen in the first 10-14 days after the loss of a companion. You may try to take their mind off of it by providing them with more attention and affection. Long walks, playing, and engaging in favorite activities (especially those done with the companion that passed) can help build confidence and stimulate mental enjoyment. Use environmental enrichment techniques such as toys (especially those that allow you to hide a treat inside like Kongs) to help keep them busy during the day.
Canine Depression Verses Grief
If your dog is too depressed, they may not respond right away. Remember, time heals all wounds. You may also consider a DAP (dog appeasing pheromone) diffuser, available at most pet stores. Give it a few days then start encouraging the dog to do more using their favorite rewards that you do not use at any other time. If symptoms do not subside after two weeks, you may consider taking your grieving pet to a veterinarian. There are medical and even holistic approaches to canine grief that can be particularly helpful including antidepressants, acupuncture, and herbal remedies. Some more severe cases may also include stress colitis (diarrhea) and may necessitate a visit to your veterinarian sooner.
If your grieving dog is now an “only child,” some owners ask if they should get him or her a new companion to prevent loneliness. While this may work for the more sociable and extroverted breeds, it doesn’t work for all, especially highly dominant dogs. It is best to allow your dog time to heal. Most experts recommend waiting at least 2-4 weeks (sometimes longer) before introducing a new pet into the household. Additional resources to help your grieving canine friend can be found on the Lap of Love Veterinary Hospice website.