Just a few days ago I read a post about an elephant in a Polish zoo being given CBD to help her deal with the loss of her partner. And it got me thinking about a common question people have: do animals grieve? And when they’re grieving, is there anything we can do to help them through it.
Grief can be incredibly difficult, for anyone, 2 or 4 legged. So, do our animals feel the loss as keenly as we do, and how can we tell?
Do Animals Grieve?
Do animals grieve? When a companion pet passes, do they recognize the loss and mourn? Some people remain skeptical about this, but research proves they do.
In 1996, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals did a study on grief, called the Companion Animal Mourning Project. The goal was to evaluate the canine grieving process. It was based primarily on dog behavior after a loss, and the results speak volumes:
- 36% of dogs experienced a decreased appetite.
- Approximately 11% refused to eat at all.
- Many dogs slept more than usual, while some suffered insomnia.
- About 63% exhibited changes in vocal patterns. Some began vocalizing more, while others were quieter than they were prior to their loss.
- Many also became more affectionate with their owners and became clingy.
Researchers concluded that 66% of dogs experienced four or more behavioral changes after the loss of companion pet.
In 2016, another study done in Australia and New Zealand found similar patterns of behavioral change after the loss of a companion pet. Pet parents were asked to comment on noticeable behavior changes in their animals after the loss of another family pet. Again, the results are very telling:
- 74% of dogs and 78% of cats become more affectionate.
- 60% of dogs and 63% of cats began showing more territorial behavior.
- Many began seeking out and spending time in the deceased pet’s favorite spots.
- In dogs specifically, eating patterns changed. 35% had a decreased appetite, and 31% slowed down consumption.
- 34% of dogs slept more.
- Cats become more vocal as a whole.
Overall, on average, these behavioral changes lasted less than 6 months.
These research studies, coupled with the countless cases of anecdotal evidence, make it very clear that our companion animals experience grief. So what can we do to help them?
Helping Your Animal Cope
We all know that the loss of a pet can be devastating to an owner, but there are many things we can do to cope. Can we offer the same support to our animals? Definitely.
- First and foremost, don’t neglect your animal. Even in your grief, be sure you allow your pet the safe space to grieve as well.
- Spend extra time with your animal. Go on special outings, snuggle, go for extra walks. Do things to take their mind off their loss.
- Try not to encourage the grieving behavior. For example, if your dog stops eating, don’t be tempted to sit by the bowl and inadvertently feed into the behavior.
- That said, offer support and console a grieving animal. Be affectionate, and offer all the love you have to give.
- Stick to a routine. Keeping up a normal routine will help your pet feel safe in her surroundings, and perhaps help her get back to her old self more quickly.
- Think carefully before bringing a new pet home. Sometimes, in our grief, we’re quick to try and replace a lost pet. And sometimes we believe that it will also help our animal with the grieving process. Just don’t be hasty. Remember, a new animal is a big commitment. Make sure both you and your animal are ready for it. Give yourself, and your animal, the time you need to fully mourn the loss and adjust.
If you’ve recently lost a pet, we offer our most sincere condolences. Spend a lot of time with your remaining animal, showing her how much you love her. Help her deal as you deal.
The Veterinarious team is made up of pet owners, pet lovers, and pet experts from around the globe! We’ve banded together to create a community of like-minded pet people to give you the latest research and health advice for your beloved beast!