Do Dogs Grieve?
By Jimmy Maxwell KPA-CTP
As a facility that offers almost any service you may need for your dog, we get to know a lot of people with a lot of dogs. As with any industry in which you are taking care of other living things, we get to know these dogs, and their people. Unfortunately, life is finite and sometimes those dogs pass on and cross the rainbow bridge. We understand that when this happens it’s not like losing a member of the family, it is losing a member of the family. It’s not only common, but healthy, for us to grieve the loss of our pets when we have built such strong bonds to them. Sometimes our friends and family that don’t have pets don’t understand the severity of that grief, but it takes time. Never feel bad, weird, or strange if you need to have a professional help you through the grief of losing your pet.
But what about the dog’s that are left behind?
It’s common for dogs to be just as connected to the four-legged members of the family as they are to you. When you lose one of your dogs, the change in your other dogs does not often go unnoticed. While there is no way of knowing whether or not a dog goes through the known stages of grief, the evidence that we observe is quite clear. And our observations provide evidence that our dogs do share in that grief.
When this happens, people will notice changes in their dogs. Sometimes they will notice anxiety, fear, or behaviors that just weren’t present before. Sometimes they notice physical changes like lethargy or weight loss. In either case, it’s important to consult the advice of your veterinarian. A common question is whether to get another dog to be a companion to replace the previous one. This is not necessarily the worst idea, but should not be counted on as the cure for your dog. Maybe it will help you grieve the loss of the one that had passed but it may not have the same effect on your dog. Afterall, your current dog may not have had the closure that you got.
Whenever I am driving on the road, and notice a deceased dog that maybe had gotten hit by a car, I will always stop and see if the dog has tags. It’s a very heart wrenching thing to do. But the reason I do it is to prevent the owner from having to find their dog in that state. I also don’t know what will become of that dog and whether or not the owners will be notified by whoever picks them up. And if it were me, I would rather know that my dog had died, then for him to die and never know what happened to him.
I often feel the same thing about missing person cases. I cannot imagine the anguish and torment that families have to go through when they never know what happened to their loved ones. Often, after long periods of time, they concede that their family member has likely passed, but then again, they will never know for sure. Not having that closure, can leave a gaping hole in people’s hearts and makes the grieving process very difficult. If you have experienced this grief in your life, my heart and prayers are with you every day.
But I do believe that dogs experience this, and the stress of having their loved one disappear without any closure could be stressful. When having to put a dog down, many people do not take their other dogs to the vet as well. Sometimes things happen suddenly and unexpected. But I do believe it is important for the other dogs to spend time with the dog after it has passed in order to understand what has happened and know that they aren’t coming back. This provides them closure that can help them grieve in a way that is helpful. It will help them find closure, and grieve in whatever way is appropriate for a dog.
And while getting another dog may help alleviate some of the symptoms they experience during their grief, it’s equally important to be there for them, offer them love and support, and do what you would do with any person who has experienced loss; Let them grieve in their own way, and at their own pace.