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Helping Remaining Pets Deal with the Loss of Their Companion

Pet loss is often much more devastating and painful than we anticipate. After all, pets see are our loyal companions, loving us unconditionally no matter what. We mourn the loss of dear furry friends and do all we can to work through our grief.

However, what of the remaining pets who are also sensing the loss and reacting because of it? Many people never stop to consider that their existing animals are probably going through a grief process all their own. Animals form bonds just as humans do and when one member of the family passes away, the other pets feel the loss as well. We once created a pet headstone for a cat owner. Her remaining cat was the son of her cat that had passed, and she sent us a photo of him lying next to the pet grave marker in her yard, just gazing at it. She said that he seemed to just know what the marker was and that for a couple of weeks he would go lie next to it and just gaze at it as if he knew that it represented his mother. Perhaps her spirit was there. Our animal companions are very intuitive.

Many pet owners are at a loss for how to deal with these situations. After all, it is not as if you can explain pet loss to another animal. Therefore, similar to how pet loss works with children, it is important to provide existing animals with extra love and support during this difficult time. It is important to provide them with comfort and extra attention as they process through their own sense of loss.

Existing pets may react in several different ways, depending on the type of animal that was lost, if there was an illness beforehand, and the relationship between the pets in the home. For example, though many people are not aware of it, cats will feel the loss of a dog and vice versa. However, a cat is not likely to react as dramatically over the loss of a dog as it would over the loss of another cat. Pets can react by changing eat patterns (eating more or much, much less for a period of time); walking around the home making unusual sounds or noises (many experts think this is a call of some sort to the missing animal); acting out with poor behavior not characteristic of your pet, bringing the toys of the lost pet to you (as if to say “where are they?”) as well as a host of other odd behaviors.

It is important not to berate them during this time; recognize that they are in trauma just as you are. You must be extra patient and work with them to get both of you through this terrible ordeal. Remember that the pet loss is affecting them as well as you; the difference is, they can’t tell you how they feel about it and they can’t participate in a pet memorial service to help to assuage the grief. They react on instinct and some of their behaviors in reaction to the loss will reflect this.

Shower them with extra attention. Put in extra time playing with your pet and reassuring them of their place in your life. Put away toys, dishes and other items that belonged to the lost pet in order to avoid confusion over the whereabouts of the other pet.