Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, former veterinarian assistant, and author of Brain Training for Dogs.
You can't explain to Fido that Fluffy is gone forever, nor can you bring her back. There are, however, several things that you can do to help your dog better cope with the loss of another dog they were close to.
How You Can Help a Dog Who Is Mourning a Companion Pet
- Avoid acting overly emotional.
- Remind yourself to take care of them.
- Maintain their routine.
- Keep them occupied.
- Spend more time outdoors.
- Spoil them.
- Comfort them as needed.
- Minimize their alone time.
- Invest in calming aids.
- Give them time to grieve.
1. Avoid Acting Overly Emotional in Front of Your Dog
Dogs are very sensitive to our emotions and pick up on them easily. Crying hysterically in front of a dog may cause stress and could make the grieving process harder on them. Try to stay as composed as possible in front of your dog.
2. Remind Yourself That You Need to Take Care of Them
During the stages of grief when losing a dog, you may feel very tired and sluggish, especially for the first few days. You may find it hard to perform tasks and take care of things. You may want to spend time alone or with close friends. Despite your difficulties, it's important to remember to take good care of your surviving dog during this time. Ensure your dog is walked, fed, given water, and played with. If you have trouble, ask family or friends to help you out.
3. Maintain Your Dog's Routine
If you used to walk your dog at a set time each day, make sure you keep walking your dog at that time. Perhaps pick a new route that won't remind him of his lost companion. Dogs are routine-loving animals, and maintaining their routine while they are grieving can help them relax. Disruptions to a dog's routine can disrupt their biological clock which is what causes them to expect walks or food at certain times during the day.
4. Keep Them Occupied
Keeping your dog busy may help keep his mind off the loss. Provide your dog with brain games, fun training sessions, and playtime. Consider inviting some friends over to help keep him entertained.
5. Spend More Time Outdoors
Your dog will be more likely to think about his lost friend indoors. A walk, a car ride to a favorite pet store, or a visit to a friend can provide a nice escape, albeit temporary.
6. Spoil Your Dog
Pet him more, feed him food he loves, and buy him new toys. Do anything you can to make your dog feel extra special. Dogs, like humans, can benefit from indulgences and distractions when they are feeling down.
7. Comfort Them as Needed
The loss of a companion animal is very stressful to a dog, and many will seek comfort and reassurance from their owners. Don't hesitate to help your dog by calmly reassuring him. Some dog owners may be afraid or tentative to make eye contact/touch/talk to their dogs because they are afraid they will reinforce negative emotions. This is based on the outdated notion that emotions can be reinforced. You cannot reinforce grief in your dog because grief, just like fear, is an emotion and not a behavior. Don't let your dog feel like he is on his own when coping with such a stressful situation. Let him know he can count on you.
8. Minimize Your Dog's Alone Time
Take your dog out with you as much as possible. If he must stay alone most of the day, hire a dog-walker or have a pet-sitter keep him company. Doggy daycare may also be a good idea. If these are not viable options, make sure your dog has access to interactive toys when you are away. Using a Furbo dog camera may also be helpful.
9. Invest in Calming Aids
A DAP (dog appeasing pheromone) diffuser or DAP collar may help ease your dog's anxiety. Bach flowers may also prove helpful. There are several prescription and over-the-counter calming aids for dogs that can be of help during the grieving process.
10. Give Your Dog Time to Process the Change
Just like us, dogs need time to adjust to big changes. Rushing to get another dog to fill the gap and ease Rover's pain may just add more stress and confusion to the grieving process. Be wary of adopting another dog right away, especially if you own an older dog. If you do eventually get another dog, take the time to select a good match that will suit your current dog's personality. Some dogs actually thrive as an "only dog," while others really perk up with the addition of a new companion.
Signs That a Dog Is Grieving
Just like humans, different dogs respond to loss in different ways. It's important to recognize that these behaviors may also be signs of illness. If your dog behaves abnormally for a prolonged period of time, it's best to play it safe and visit your veterinarian to rule out potential medical conditions.
Common Behaviors of Grieving Dogs
- Clinginess: A grieving dog may want to be close to its owner. It might follow you around the house or lie down by your side more than normal. When left home alone, your dog may become stressed.
- Pacing Back and Forth: Your dog might walk around the home as if looking for his departed friend. Oftentimes, grieving dogs will repeatedly check places where their lost companion used to nap.
- Reduced Appetite: Your dog may refuse to eat, eat at a slower pace, or have a reduced appetite.
- Increased Vocalizations: Grieving dogs often whine when looking for their lost pals. Your dog may vocalize when sniffing areas where the other dog used to sleep.
- Sleeping More Than Normal: Affected dogs may curl up and sleep more frequently or for longer intervals than before. They may also choose different sleeping areas than they used to.
- Signs of Depression: On top of sleeping more, an affected dog may show other signs of depression. They might seem socially detached or less willing to play than normal.
Does Seeing the Body Provide Closure?
Letting your dog see and smell his departed friend can help provide a sense of closure. A dog that does not see its lost companion's body may be more inclined to search relentlessly for its friend. If the death of your dog's companion is planned (i.e. it needs to be put down), at-home euthanasia may be a good option. You may also bring the deceased dog's body home after it is put down and allow your surviving dog to observe it for a short interval.
Different dogs react to their departed companions in different ways. Some may approach and sniff, others may try to interact, and some may practice avoidance. Don't force your dog to approach the body if he doesn't feel like it.
When our beloved dog died, our other dog practiced avoidance at first, but then when we closed him in a room right before the company arrived to pick up the body of our deceased dog, he began to whine. We opened the door and he went straight to our deceased dog and approached her more closely than before. We gave him a bit of time, and he went back and forth between her and us. Afterward, when we closed him in a room again, he stopped whining. I guess he wanted to give his beloved littermate a final farewell.
Seeing his sister's body must have helped, because he never really went searching for her after her body was removed. Once in a while, he would whine when resting near the areas she used to sleep on. We cleaned the carpet area with an enzyme-based solution, and this seemed to help reduce the whining. Reducing his departed companion's smell helped to keep him under threshold. He still whines occasionally when he catches her scent, but the behavior has lessened considerably.
Do Dogs Experience Grief?
Dogs tend to develop strong bonds with other dogs in the household, especially when the dogs were litter-mates, grew up together, or lived together for a long time.
When a dog in the household dies, it is quite normal for the surviving dog to experience emotions that appear quite similar to those humans tend to experience when mourning the loss of a dog. But do dogs really feel grief?
In order to experience grief, dogs would need to understand the concept of death. This likely requires superior cognitive capabilities that dogs likely lack. Chances are dogs may understand death at a more primal level than humans, but this is something that is not easy to prove.
Some researchers point out that assuming a dog is capable of grieving is a form of anthropomorphism (ascribing human traits to animals). Such researchers suggest that the emotions experienced by "grieving" dogs may be more closely related to changes in routine than actual grief.
What looks to us like grief may simply be the surviving dog responding to the absence of its companion's presence. Dogs may also mirror their owner's grief as a result of the loss. Regardless of whether dogs truly grieve as humans do, they definitely respond behaviorally and emotionally to the loss of their canine friends.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2018 Adrienne Farricelli
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on May 12, 2020:
Hi Kooper, I m glad you enjoyed this article on grieving dogs. You can bookmark it if you wish. If you see where the URL is, just at the right side there is star. If you click on the star it allowed you to save it as a bookmark that you can get to later. There is no way to download.
Kooper G Knebel on May 11, 2020:
This is a very helpful article. I am closing in on achieving certification as a pet loss bereavement counselor. I would love to have this article available for future reference. Is there a way I can download it, or save/access it in another way? All I've been able to do thus far is save it to my facebook page, but that's not really ideal.
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on August 23, 2018:
We have had dogs that absolutely grieved when they lost their companion. Our current cat also grieved when she lost her buddy. She was visibly listless and did not eat as much for quite some time. Many animals grieve. Just look at the information regarding elephants.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on August 22, 2018:
Heidi, thank you. Things are getting a bit better each day, although it still hurts at times to see her food bowls and toys around. My dog will also avoid as best as he can her bed. He stopped using the water bowl they shared since pups a couple of weeks before she died (I guess he must have sensed something) so he has been using a new water bowl that doesn't remind him of her. He whines at times and I guess he is thinking of her, although like you state, sometimes it is hard to tell if he's acting this way due to her abscence or other things going on.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on August 22, 2018:
Linda, thanks for sharing your experience with your loss. It sounds like Bess has been enjoying all the attention! Our dogs were littermates and therefore they sort of each grew up to have their own little distinct personalities. We always felt that if our male passed away first our female would have loved being the only dog because she was always competing for our attention and is very people oriented. However, she passed away first, which leaves us with our male who was very emotionally attached to her and tends to be more dog oriented than her. He has moments of whining and I am sure he is missing her, but we are not ready for another dog and we are trying to see if we can get him to adjust as the only albeit super spoiled dog.
Heidi Thorne from Chicago Area on August 22, 2018:
Even though it's been a year since we lost one of our dogs to cancer, the remaining dog is a lot more mopey than he ever was in the past. He still refuses to use the one side of the water bowl holder since that's the one she used. And he will often avoid sleeping where she used to.
In terms of the mopey behavior, it's difficult to tell if it is related to his loss, or if he's just slowing down as he's aging (he's between 9 and 10 we think). He likes the neighborhood dogs, but seems to be more interested in their humans.
The two dogs were together for about 7 years. Even when our girl was alive, they would mainly be couch potatoes together. So it's very difficult to figure out what's going on with him.
We're struggling with whether to get him a new companion (not a puppy, please!). Maybe one that's closer to his age.
Hope you're getting over your recent loss. I know it takes time. Thinking of you!
Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on August 21, 2018:
This is an interesting and moving article with lots of helpful suggestions. It's so hard to think about a dog's loss. I can certainly appreciate why it would be upsetting for the dog's canine companion. That being said, I had to smile when you said that some dogs may actually thrive while being the only dog in the family after a companion dies. That happened in my family. Bess loved being our only dog and getting all of our attention after our other dog died.