Q: A few months ago, I lost one of my schnauzers. The remaining little guy seems sad, lethargic and all around depressed since the death of his buddy. Do dogs grieve the loss of another family pet like we do?
— L.G., New Franklin
A: Dogs do grieve the loss of another dog within the family structure. Having just dealt with this issue myself, I know without a shadow of a doubt that dogs do grieve.
First of all, dogs are pack animals and highly social. They develop bonds that can last the lifetime of the animal. Since we have become their “pack,” they bond with us, and if we have another pet, especially a dog, they will bond with their own species.
Dogs also can grieve the loss of an owner, as well.
The grieving period often lasts from weeks up to around 90 days, much the same as with human grief. Sometimes, it can last for up to a year, depending on the animal. Some have actually died from the loss of a companion or owner. The symptoms of grief are the same as with humans.
Depression is a common symptom of grief. This can include the lack of desire to play, eat, go for walks, many of the normal activities they used to do and share. This can actually lead to weight gain in some cases. Another symptom can be slight to severe separation anxiety. This can occur even if there had not been a problem with separation anxiety in the past. Isolation and becoming withdrawn are other symptoms that can occur in grieving dogs. Others can include change in sleeping habits or loss of appetite.
Help your dog overcome grief by spending time with it. Do not allow dogs to become picky eaters, but keep them on their normal daily routine. This will help a lot. Look into a new activity to share.
I noticed a few things going on with my black Labrador, Micah, when I suddenly lost my 10-year-old Lab, Caleb. Micah did not want to play with any of the toys that were Caleb’s favorites.
When I was trying to get Micah to play, I always made sure to use one of his favorite toys. It has been almost seven months, and Micah is just starting to go through the toy box again and pulling out other toys that he and Caleb shared. Until just the past few weeks, Micah had lost interest in playing with other dogs. With both of these, I did not force the issue of play.
After Caleb left us, I made sure Micah and I did special things. I entered Micah in an agility class so we would have something special between the two of us. We had been doing obedience since he was a puppy, but the agility was something that Caleb and I never did together so it was something special for Micah and me. I have also started doing some field training with him. This has helped us to heal and is unique only to us and our relationship.
Another thing that I noticed was that Micah gained about 10 pounds within a few weeks of Caleb’s passing. This was a cause of concern. We went to our veterinarian for a complete checkup, including blood work and a thyroid panel that came back normal. Grief and not having his buddy to run and play with caused the weight gain.
The most difficult thing for all of us is to not make the remaining dog into the dog we lost. They are unique and need to be loved and appreciated for who they are.
The timing of getting another companion is not set in stone. Some people will immediately go out and get a new dog or puppy. Whether you wait or not, it will depend on you. A new puppy or dog can help the healing process, as long as we are not trying to make the new dog into the dog we lost. That is hard because our hearts are so broken.
Having to say goodbye to a loved pet is one of the most difficult things we will ever do as pet owners. People who have never experienced the loss won’t understand. Share your memories of the love lost, and develop new and fun memories with your remaining friend. Time really does heal the heart. Why not try to heal together?
— Susan Jenkins,
Owner of Papp’s Dog Services in Akron; member of National Association of Dog Obedience Instructors and International Association of Canine Professionals
Please send questions about your pet to Kathy Antoniotti at the Beacon Journal, P.O. Box 640, Akron, OH 44309-0640; or send me an email to email@example.com. Please include your full name and address and a daytime phone number where you can be reached. I will forward your questions to the expert I think is best suited to answer your particular problem. Phoned-in messages will not be taken.