When my mother was dying, her 14-year old Himalayan Cat, JuJu, didn’t leave her bedside except to nibble on his dinner and use the litter box. We think he knew what was happening. He was tender and patient and quiet. What’s more, he was uncharacteristically tender and receptive to the rest of us, whom he usually turned his nose up at. It was as though he was feeling the pain right along with us. He seemed smart enough to know that it’s a little easier if you don’t have to go through the loss of a loved one all by yourself. After five days at her bedside, she passed away. JuJu stayed in her room for about a week, until we had to bring him to his new home. Since my mother lived alone and he had to go somewhere, my sister and I thought the best place for him would be our Aunt Deb’s house. He knew Deb well, he liked her, and her home offered plenty of space and affection for him.
Whether it’s the loss of a companion animal or the loss of a person within the home, animals may experience feelings of grief and depression just as people do. And just like people, no two pets grieve the same. Signs that a pet may be grief-stricken include a loss of appetite, an increase in sleep, depression, restlessness, aimless wandering, confusion and/or excessive barking or meowing. Chances are, as long as there are no underlying health problems, it is safe to assume that these behavioral changes are a natural part of the animal’s mourning process.
While animals typically grieve for 2-6 weeks sometimes mourning can take place for up to six months. A pet’s reaction to the loss of a human caregiver will often be different than his reaction to losing another pet companion. When a family member dies or moves out of the house, a pet may pace, whine, or engage in destructive behavior. When a companion pet dies, they exhibit more depression and more inactivity. In either case, a pet will often be seen searching to house for their missing companion. If you see this happening, feel free to give your grieving pet something that still holds the scent of his lost companion and let him be comforted by it.
It is quite common for a grieving pet to demand more affection and attention from others. Extra love and affection can be a healing comfort to both you and your pet. Your pet needs extra love and affection just as a person would during a time of mourning but be careful not to mistakenly reward certain behaviors that you don’t want your pet to adopt permanently. There is always a balance to everything. It is understandable to hand out extra dog treats or bring out the cat-nip more frequently if you see that your pet is sad but keep it balanced so your pet won’t develop bad habits, such as becoming more dependent on treats, being finicky, or demanding too much extra attention. If you worry that this may be happening, you may, instead, try to distract your pet during sad times by playing with him, taking her for a walk, or talking to him. Keep the animal’s routines as normal as possible. Maintain consistency in exercise, feeding schedules and the amount of attention being given. Eventually your pets will return to their normal behavior. Don't underestimate your pet’s ability to adapt. Time is the great healer for grieving animals just as it is for grieving people.