Grieving…Losing a Pet

I am often consulted when a home has lost a beloved pet; either suddenly or passing away from lengthy illness or injury; and they have at least one other dog still at home. I have decided to post the following blog and perhaps it might assist others.

As always just my humble professional opinion FWIW.

As mentioned, at the end of the day, whatever decision(s) you make will be supported by your friends and family. I just caution people to not just rush……

Here is my professional positioning on the loss of a pet when I am consulted:

  • Provide the surviving dog with more attention and affection. Try to take her mind off it by engaging her in a favorite activity or activities. If she/he enjoys human company, invite friends that she likes to visit and spend time with her. OR have her go with any friends that you trust and she loves for play dates, day trips etc.
  • Use environmental enrichment techniques such as toys to help keep her busy. Hide toys or treats at her favorite spots for her to find during the day or in a KONG etc. – IF she is that type of dog
  •  If he/she is too depressed over their companion's loss, she may not respond to extra activity right away. The old saying, "Time heals all wounds, has meaning to our dogs.  – walks/hikes, car rides might be more her ‘thing’.
  • Based on the results of one ASPCA study, most dogs returned to normal after about two weeks but some dogs took up to six months to fully recover.
  • If your surviving dog is vocalizing more, whining or howling, barking, do not unconsciously ‘enable’ her by giving her too much attention, treats to distract her or you might unintentionally reinforce this behaviour in addition to creating SA types of behavour. This is ‘negative seeking attention’ getting and she would be encouraged to continue said behaviour(s). Giving attention during any behavior will help to reinforce it so be sure you are not reinforcing a behavior that you don't like. Passively ignore. Try a calming word/signal and passively ignore(do not make a big fuss or deal).
  • Give praise and additional attention at a time when your dog is engaging in behaviors that you do like, such as when she/he is resting quietly or watching the birds or out hiking or walking etc.. As the pain of the loss begins to subside, so should SA and other ‘dependent’, ‘confusing’ and other ‘depressive’  behavours, as long as it is related to the grieving process.
  • Rescue Remedy
  • We all grieve in different ways and staying busy is most important – the mind and her body. Keep her stimulated.


If you are thinking about adding another dog, wait until you and your surviving dog have adjusted to the loss. Introducing/integrating your dog to get to know a newcomer can often add stress to her already anxiety-ridden emotional state. And be patient. Your surviving dog clearly misses her canine companion as much as you do. Do not rush. If people ‘rush’ out to get another dog too soon, it can actually according to some studies increase some SA type of behaviours.
*There are two very different camps on this and I feel that losing a dog suddenly is much different than if one has a ‘dying’ dog and brings in a new addition to assist themselves plus their current dog.

There shall be one there for you; when the time is right; yet do not ‘settle’ on the quick fix solution. If your current dog is not ready for a new companion, there can be resentment, jealousy, acting out, indifference including lack of bonding. The same can apply to humans who act too soon.

Others embrace a new addition really well sooner than others. You know your home and your surviving dog best. Many people begin an adoption process for example within a couple or few weeks after losing a pet for they know that the process can take some time and if a home is very particular about colour, sex, the longer it can take for that right matched personality fit to come.

Your current dog has lived her life with her companion that has now passed and their scent is all around her environment and a dog's scent is so powerful. When that daily scent of their beloved companion is suddenly gone, and the daily routine is absent, your surviving dog will certainly become confused and actually disorientated. Once again there are two camps on the removal of items that have the scent of their lost companion. I advise not to remove dog beds or toys etc. that have belonged or were played with by the dog that has passed away. Others will say get rid of it all. The scent of your lost pet is going to long be there even if you do remove these items and by taking all of it away can possibly cause more confusion to your surviving pet and seems like there is something to ‘hide’. I believe we need to move from denial(natural part of grieving) to acceptance(natural part of grieving) and in order to do this, items that cause us memories and feelings evoking strong emotions should not be thrown out. Some feel they need to pack it all up and re-visit it later and I am in the camp of total avoidance not being a healthy thing.

So because she doesn't understand what happened, and because she can't play or smell her friend like she used to, and her normal daily routine is completely and abruptly turned upside down for her, she might just lay around all day. The familiar regular daily smells are gone. She might not eat or drink. She might just plain look miserable and depressed. Just as humans go through the stages of grieving, dogs must as well – from isolation to SA to depression to acceptance through the healing process and as you heal, she will ‘feed’ on your emotions.

Remember as a general rule of thumb for dogs – 7 days our time = 2.25 months their time.

But one way to comfort a pet whose friend has passed might be to introduce him to a wide variety of other people and other animals (thus lots of different smells!). It might happen that she will take to another human or animal. This can help perk her up and even get her to start eating and drinking regularly again. Perhaps even to play!

Realize that you do not need anyone else's approval to mourn the loss of your pet, nor must you justify your feelings to anyone. AND when you feel it is ‘right’ for you and your surviving pet; then you add another beloved addition. I have always said that animals need their own ‘social network’ and give to each other in ways that as humans we cannot – companionship, communication, social networking etc. Therefore, I am in completely support of multi-dog homes.

Other Information:

Many professionals believe there are seven stages a person passes through as he or she deals with grief. These stages may occur in any order, and some stages may occur simultaneously. They are:

1.    Shock and Denial:
Many people react to learning of a loss with numbed disbelief. They may deny the reality of the loss at some level in order to avoid the pain. Shock provides emotional protection from being overwhelmed all at once. This may be short-lived or may last for weeks. Symptoms of denial may include a lack of tears, or a failure to accept or even acknowledge the loss.
After suffering the loss of their pet, some pet owners find it difficult to accept a new pet into their home because they believe a new pet would violate the memory of their deceased pet. This feeling should not be confused with the feeling of many pet owners who wish to have a brief “pet-free” period in their life to allow them to grieve the loss of their deceased pet.

2.    Pain and Guilt:
As the shock of the loss wears off, it is often replaced by a feeling of unbelievable pain. Although the pain may be excruciating, it is important that the person experiencing the loss experience the pain fully, and not hide it, avoid it or escape from it through the excessive use of alcohol or drugs. The pet owner may feel responsible for their pet's death, or may feel that he or she should have taken action earlier and only prolonged their pet's life because they couldn't bring themselves to say “good-bye”. During this stage of grief, life may feel chaotic and scary.

3.    Anger:
Frustration over not being able to prevent the loss may give way to anger, and the pet owner may lash out and lay unwarranted blame for the death on someone else. Although this is a time for the release of bottled up emotions, angry outbursts may permanently damage relationships with those who are trying to help. If such anger becomes prolonged or vicious in nature, professional help may be warranted.

4.    Depression, Reflection and Loneliness:
Depression is a natural consequence of grief and if not addressed properly can leave the sufferer powerless to cope with his or her feelings. The pet owner should not allow himself or herself to be “talked out of it” by well-meaning outsiders. It is at this time that the individual will finally realize the true magnitude of the loss, and it is this realization that may bring on depression. Purposeful isolation, and intense feelings of hopelessness, frustration, bitterness, and/or self-pity may bring on feelings of emptiness and despair. If this occurs, professional intervention may be appropriate.

5.    The Upward Turn:
As the person experiencing the loss starts to adjust to life without his or her pet, life becomes a little calmer, more organized, and some sense of normalcy begins to return. Any physical symptoms that may have been experienced following the loss will have lessened, and any “depression” that may have occurred will have begun to lift slightly.

6.    Reconstruction of Life Without the Beloved Pet:
As the pet owner becomes more functional following the loss, he or she will find that their mind starts working again, and they will find themselves seeking realistic solutions to problems posed by life without their beloved pet. They will start to work on practical problems and reconstructing themselves to face life without their departed pet.

7.    Acceptance and Hope:
There is a difference between resignation and acceptance. The pet owner must accept the loss, not just try to bear it quietly. During this last stage of the grief process, the person experiencing the loss will learn to accept and deal with the reality of his or her situation. Acceptance does not necessarily mean instant happiness. Given the pain and turmoil the pet owner has experienced, he or she can never return to exactly the same life that existed before tragedy struck. However, they will find a way forward. It is at this point that the grieving person will be able to reminisce about the deceased pet with sadness, but without the intense emotional pain experienced earlier.

Hope some of this has helped.


Gwendilin Boers, BA. Hon. Crim., BA. Hon. Psy. & MA. Psy. Animal & Child Development/Behaviour
PHd Animal Behavoural Student

**Originally Published February 1st, 2011 @ 0:37 AM**