Do pets grieve?

There has been a lot of research into pets and whether the pet left behind grieves the loss of their companion/mate/sibling.

It has been shown that a lot of surviving small animal pets do show signs of grief.  This can depend on the age of the animal, the personality of the animal, and the relationship that the animal had with the deceased pet.  Pets that were closely bonded are more likely to show signs of grief.

Signs of grief in pets include:

  • Being depressed and listless
  • Have a decreased appetite
  • They may sleep more than usual and move more slowly, sulking around.
  • Have changes in behaviour e.g. become destructive or start eliminating in the house
  • Become vocal – whining, howling
  • Loss of confidence
  • ‘Copying’ deceased pets’ behaviours
  • Need for extra attention
  • Wandering and searching

Supporting small animals in their grief

There are many ways to try to support your pet through their grief.  If their behaviour does seem worrying, please get them checked by a vet to make sure there is not an underlying health cause, other than grief.

To help pets cope with the death of a companion it’s usually a good idea to let them see the deceased pet. This may stop them searching and waiting anxiously for the return that will never happen. If I go on a home visit to put a pet to sleep, and there are other pets in the household, I will often recommend the pet is either present for the procedure, or see the pet once it has passed away.

Other ways to help your pet includes:

  • Keeping the routine and structure the same, so the remaining pet can still feel safe and secure in its environment
  • Ensuring the pet eats by offering tasty treats/food it likes. The only problem with this is that the pet could then become fussy and refuse to eat any other food or its usual food.
  • The pet will need extra love and attention and walks to try to keep it stimulated as it will be missing out on play that it might have had with the deceased pet.
  • Remember that it takes time for animals to adjust to the loss of a companion.
  • If death is expected for one of a close pair it can be useful to feed them separately at different times, so that the surviving animal has become used to feeding alone.

Will getting another pet help with my dog or cats grief?

If there are already other animals left if the household, they may help with the grieving process. If there are none, and death is foreseen, it may be useful to introduce another younger animal into the household before the passing of the pet. The healthy animal will then have an opportunity to build up a new relationship, which may break, or reduce the complete dependence on the dying animal. When dogs are pining and grieving for a lost companion, getting another dog is sometimes helpful. Don’t expect it to be an immediate success (Note: The owner must also feel ready to embark on a new relationship. It shouldn’t be rushed.)

Bringing in a new young animal is more successful with dogs than cats. Cats are more solitary by nature, rather than social as in the case of dogs and often resent new strange cats. They may never accept a new cat as a close companion.  The cat may completely ignore the new cat, or even remain permanently hostile and aggressive.


(Thanks to Blue Cross Pet Bereavement service for some of this material)

The Blue Cross Pet Bereavement service is free for anyone who has lost a pet or are facing saying goodbye. Call 0800 0966606 from 8.30am-8.30pm 7 days a week or