Skip to main content

While pets may not fully grasp the significance of death, they can deeply feel the loss of a human or animal companion. The depth of feeling will vary from pet to pet, but it’s not unusual for a pet to feel out of sorts for several months following the death of a loved one. But there are ways you can support your pet through a loss and help them recover more quickly.

Person sitting on floor, hugging a dog and cat close

Signs of Grief in a Pet

Before we discuss how you can support your pet through the loss of a companion, it’s important to know how to identify grief in an animal. Here are several physical and behavioral changes that may indicate your pet is grieving:

  • Changes in appetite (eating less)
  • Acting withdrawn or sad
  • Whining, howling, yowling, or crying
  • Changes in personality (your standoffish cat becomes a cuddler)
  • Pacing or searching the house for the missing family member
  • Hiding from or avoiding other family members
  • Changes in grooming or bathroom habits (especially in cats)
  • Showing signs of separation anxiety
  • Changes in sleeping patterns (sleeping more or less than usual)

Man in dark-colored sweater hugs gray cat

In a research project called the Companion Animal Mourning Project, the ASPCA found that over 60% of pets experience four or more behavioral changes after losing a family member. So, if you think your pet may be grieving, it’s very likely they are.

But once you know your pet is grieving, how can you support them? Let’s talk about 8 things you can do!

8 Ways You Can Support a Grieving Pet

Every pet will react to a death differently, so some of these suggestions may work better for your pet than others. Try each suggestion and see which ones work best for your pet and their personality. These methods could help your pet cope with the loss of either an animal companion or a human companion.

1. Let them say goodbye

While animals have a limited understanding, they do comprehend that death occurs. Consider giving your pet a chance to say goodbye by providing an opportunity for them to smell or even nudge the deceased human or animal companion. Just as it can be valuable for humans to see a loved one before burial or cremation, the same practice can be beneficial for pets. However, if this suggestion makes you uncomfortable, feel free to skip it. Instead, you can focus on other methods for supporting your pet through loss.

Two cats and a black dog all eating with faces in food bowl

2. Provide for their physical needs

During times of grief, both people and animals may struggle to look after their physical needs. For pets, this means making sure that they eat, sleep, play, stay clean and brushed, and aren’t acting emotionally depressed. To help, you can take your pet for walks. Play with them to increase their activity levels. Make sure they are washed and clean. Monitor their sleeping and eating habits. If you see a concerning change in any of these areas, contact your veterinarian for help.

3. Keep a few reminders around the house

For animals, scent is a very powerful sense. To help them grieve, consider leaving out a few blankets, pillows, pet beds, an old shirt, or other items that carry the scent of the companion who has died. When your pet feels sad, they can take comfort in the smell and familiar presence of the companion they miss so much. It may also bring comfort to your grieving heart when you see your pet resting on a special pillow or snuggling into a blanket.

Close-up of white wiry dog placing paw in young woman's hand

4. Spend quality time with your pet

When your pet is feeling down, they may seek you out for attention. Spend positive quality time with your pet and give them the attention they need. Go to the park with your dog. Brush your cat. Give a few extra treats here and there. These extra moments together will help your pet feel secure and strengthen their bond with you. However, try not to reinforce bad behavior. For example, if your cat begins to meow obnoxiously, don’t give them treats. That will only encourage them to meow more often. Instead, ignore the bad behavior and reinforce the good.

5. Stick to a consistent routine

Pets thrive on routine, and the loss of a companion can really disrupt their daily life. If you have lost a person in your family, and they typically took your dog for a walk every night, try to step into that role and begin taking the dog for a walk each night. Keep up with meals, play time, exercise, and even bedtimes. Grief has a way of throwing everything in chaos, but re-establishing routine brings a sense of safety and security to everyone involved.

Older man in red flannel playing with white dog outside

6. Add new activities to your pet’s life

While you definitely want to establish routine, you can sprinkle in new activities to your pet’s everyday life. Sometimes, fresh and exciting activities can provide a happy distraction and cheer your pet up. Consider introducing a new toy. Walk a new trail at the park. Give your cat different boxes to try to sit in. Add a new perch by the window. These different forms of stimulation can help your pet move past their feelings of grief and find happiness in new things.

7. Give your pet time to grieve

With the loss of a family member, everyone needs time to adjust to the new normal in your home. However, when a pet companion dies, you may be tempted to fill the void by bringing a new pet home quickly. Try not to be hasty. If your pet is grieving deeply, they may not be ready to accept a “stranger” into their home, and it could cause more disruption to your pet’s routine. Give it time. One day soon, your pet will be ready to welcome a new furry member to the family.

Woman at home working on computer with cat sitting in her lap

8. Consult your vet if your pet doesn’t improve

While grief will look different from pet to pet, pay close attention to how they are doing. If your pet isn’t eating well, they aren’t taking care of themselves (like your cat isn’t grooming), or they seem depressed, contact your veterinarian for help. Your vet can offer additional guidance as you support your pet through grief. Because your pet can’t communicate what they are feeling, it’s up to you to pay attention to their unconscious cues and get them the care they need.

With time and love, most pets heal from loss within a few weeks or months. May these 8 methods of support help you look after your pet and help them through this time of loss.

Skip to content