Your survivor pet may exhibit signs of intense stress after the loss of a housemate. It can be two pets that have been together their whole lives, yet it can also be pets who have only been together a short period of time. This can also occur to a dog after the passing of a cat or a cat can grieve the loss of a dog housemate. It can also occur to pets which owners assumed did not enjoy living together and the survivor pet is left experiencing a stress reaction in the absence of the housemate. Grief or a stress reaction from the loss of a housemate in pets may present itself as restlessness, anxiety, depression, sleep or eating disturbances, attention seeking behavior, and/or increased vocalization. Grieving pets have similar symptoms to a bereaved pet owner.
How to help
To help your survivor pet try your best to keep routines as normal as possible. Set time aside in your day for enrichment with play time, walks, and affection. If their appetite is picky, try not to make too many changes as that can unintentionally reinforce the behavior change as well as cause an upset stomach from sudden food changes. To help with the pet’s anxiety or stress, consider the addition of Feliway diffusers for cats or Adaptil diffusers/collar for dogs, these products are pheromones that help to relax and calm your pet. Some pets may benefit from supplements that help with anxiety such as Anxitane or Zylkene. Prior to starting one of these oral supplements, be sure to ask your family veterinarian if this is appropriate for your pet. Do reach out to your family veterinarian if your pet is having a hard time, as they may have additional recommendations specifically for your pet.
Is it time for a new pet?
Pet owners commonly will consider the addition of a new dog or cat to help the grieving pet. This is not always recommended and can backfire such as in cases where the two do not get along and fight. Getting a new pet also means a change in the home’s routine and a lot of attention directed towards welcoming and training the new pet. Young animals, especially puppies and kittens, may overwhelm the older grieving pet with their abundance of energy. At times, a new pet and companion may be helpful for social pets, who enjoy the company of other dogs or cats. A grieving owner may also benefit from the addition of a new family member but it is important to take your time in making this decision.
Grief can be intense and complicated, not every pet or person experiences it the same way. Do not hesitate to reach out to your family veterinarian for additional resources.
Dr. Mariana Fonseca attended the University of Florida for her undergraduate and graduate studies, receiving her B.S. in Animal Biology and Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine. She completed a small animal medicine and surgical internship at Red Bank Veterinary Hospital in New Jersey before joining the Primary Care team Friendship team. Dr. Fonseca’s special interests include preventive health, oncology, internal medicine and soft tissue surgery.