For those of us who share our homes with pets, we often intuitively know when they want our attention, need some cuddles, or aren’t feeling their best. Through their behaviors, we understand a great deal about them, despite not sharing a common language.

From happiness and joy to sadness and anxiety, many astute pet owners will also attest to a range of emotions in their pets. Still, the emotional lives of animals is a subject of debate among animal behaviorists and other researchers.

That’s why The Pet Experts at Naperville Animal Hospital have set out to understand how pets grieve and experience loss.

Emotions in Animals

Although we don’t understand if animals perceive emotions, it’s accepted that some animals do feel emotions that we recognize. This is particularly true for species that reside in complex social groupings or are considered some of the more intelligent animals, such as dogs, elephants, and primates.

Numerous studies have confirmed that animals are not just creatures of habit, but rather many species experience complex emotions stemming from one of the oldest parts of the brain, the limbic system.

When it comes to cats and dogs, they’ve adapted to exist within a social grouping that includes their families and other pets of different species. The bonds that are formed not only ensure survival but also create a sense of familiarity that promotes security, safety, and comfort.

How Pets Grieve

Whether you’ve witnessed it personally or have seen one of the thousands of photos of pets who refuse to leave their owner’s gravesite, most of us agree that pets feel loss.

In fact, how a pet expresses loss often resembles separation anxiety. Many of us agree that pets most certainly notice our absence and express a range of behaviors when we’re not present and when we return home.

There are also certain clinical behaviors associated with how pets grieve, which can include:

  • Whining and vocalization
  • Despondence
  • Sleeping more
  • Lack of interest in play
  • Decreased appetite
  • Wandering around the home (as if looking for the missing person or pet)
  • Restlessness
  • Behavioral changes (e.g., suddenly more clingy)

Pets can also appear or seem depressed, which can be exacerbated when other family members are experiencing grief.

Supporting a Grieving Pet

Knowing a pet is mourning can be heartbreaking. However, there are some ways you can help your pet through this difficult time:

  • Do your best to maintain your pet’s regular routine, but do not force him or her to eat or walk if there’s some resistance.
  • Try to reassure your pet by offering more affection and staying as positive as possible when spending time together.
  • Do not leave your pet alone during this time. If needed, enlist the help of a friend, family member, or professional pet sitter to stay with your fur friend while you’re away.
  • Offer fun or challenging distractions, such as new toys, food puzzles, or activities.
  • Grieving is a process that takes time, but if you’re concerned about your pet’s health or if he or she isn’t eating, your veterinarian can offer additional recommendations.

While grief is a part of life, helping our four-legged friends cope with loss can also help us through our own sadness. For more information on how pets grieve or for pet loss resources, please contact us. We’re always here for you and your pet.