How to Help a Grieving Dog

October 13, 2015

dog grieving katjaBy Laurie Darroch

Dogs do have emotions as deep as grief. As loyal and loving as dogs are, there is plenty to show in their behavior that our dogs do indeed grieve the loss of a companion, whether human or other. Grieving can be about change too, such as a major move. No matter the reason for their grief, there are signs you can learn to recognize and methods you can use to help your grieving dog.

Recognize and Acknowledge

Since our dogs cannot speak to us in words, it’s important to learn to understand the language they do use – that of behavior and body language. As responsible pet owners and loving companions, over time we can learn how to recognize changes out of the norm. In the case of a lost companion, the source is obvious, but grief can be caused by other things as well. What signs does your dog show when they are depressed or grieving?

Be aware of changes in eating habits, such as loss of appetite or refusal to eat or drink. Withdrawal, clinginess, whining and lethargy can all be signs that your dog is not feeling their normal zest for life. When a dog who normally loves to play shows little or no interest in the activities after they lose a loved companion, they may be showing you they are sad, or even frightened by the loss or change.

Misbehaving may be an extreme way your dog shows that they are upset. If your dog is suddenly tearing things apart, running around almost manically, barking too much, howling or whining excessively, that may be how they are expressing their feelings about the loss or change. Grief is emotionally painful.

Refocus and Distract

If you can get your dog to be involved, encourage them to play, go for walks and interact with them. The distractions and attention can help your dog refocus. It may take some motivation to get them up and going, but don’t give up. Offer them some CANIDAE PURE Chewy dog treats, along with lots of praise and encouragement. Get them a new toy. Take your dog somewhere to socialize, such as the dog park or a walk in a new neighborhood. Keep them connected and involved.

dog grieving angelaGive Attention

Be loving and gentle when your dog is grieving. Let them grieve. Grief may be for a loved one who has temporarily left, not just for someone who has died. Think about how you feel when someone passes or moves away, or when a loved one leaves on an extended stay such as a member of the military who is deployed. That lost or missing companion is important to your dog as well. Give the dog special attention and spend time with them, even if it is only to sit quietly together.

Companionship is healing and reassuring. They need to know that even though they are grieving, things will be okay and will proceed as usual. Routine is important to dogs. It is the changes that can upset them. If a companion is gravely ill, allow your dog to be there through the process. It helps them.

Keep in mind that like every human, every dog is different. Some may show grief from loss or change in varied ways. Some show actual sadness. Others may show it by misbehaving or with strange behavior not normally exhibited by them. How they act or react is an individual thing. Don’t ignore any changes.

Without verbal language, your dog is telling you something is amiss. Dogs are social creatures. When they bond deeply and lose the person or companion they are bonded to, they may grieve. Patience and understanding is vital in dealing with what your dog is feeling and how they are reacting.

Top photo by Katja Shulz/Flickr
Bottom photo by angela n./Flickr

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  1. Laurie Darroch says:

    Dogs are so fiercely loyal it is no wonder they grieve at a loss. They center every feeling around their companion(s). My dog may not use words, but she most definitely has deep feelings. Change is hard for humans and we can understand the whys. So of course it is difficult for our canine companions who don’t understand why. They feel lost and need comforting too.

  2. Penelope Steward says:

    I foster/re-home pets in my area through the shelters and private placement. I’ve had several who had varying degrees of grief reaction when they first came. Most come out of it within a few days, with lots of TLC, distractions and other settled residents to reassure them. However, I have gotten two older pets–a poodle who had never known another home for 11+ years and a 13 yo terrier who was sent to me after 10 years in the same home. These two were obviously depressed, did not want to be consoled by humans, hid out from the other dogs, ate little and were obviously confused and miserable. I gave them their space, but also made it a point to hold & cuddle them several times a day, gave them extra treats and made sure that their special beds and other possessions that came with them didn’t get shared with the others. They eventually came around, but the adjustment was so hard on them that I won’t even try to re-home them again as I doubt that they would survive at their ages. I always caution adopters to be considerate of the dogs that are grieving. It is sad when a pet has to make a move after spending so many years in the same home because of death or some major life crisis, but I get really angry when it just due to the family no longer wanting the pet and not giving any thought to how it will be for them. I had one person ask me why I thought their dog was reacting so strongly, and I explained that the dog had spent the equivalent of 60 years of his life in the same home and then suddenly, without any warning, had his whole life uprooted. The dog is older, arthritic and going blind, so he feels vulnerable in a new environment. It always makes me wonder what these same families did with Grandma & Grandpa when they became “inconvenient”…