Losing a pet is hard on the whole family. We lost Guinniss in June and saw the effects it had on the remaining pets immediately. Deja and Duke were both lethargic and stayed in bed for hours. For a few days after his passing, neither of them got up to greet us when we came home. Deja stopped eating and they were quiet and withdrawn. It was a big adjustment for everyone and we are still seeing the impact today. In this post, I will share some of the lessons I have learned through this, ways you can help your pet while they are grieving and steps you can take to minimize the impact on them.
Let them be a part of it This is one that is a personal preference, but I highly recommend considering having your remaining pets there when another pet is put to sleep. Or at least allow them to see and investigate the body after they pass. We had one of our wonderful vets, Dr. Rienske from Dekens Vet come to our home. This was a much less stressful option for all of us to do it in the comfort of our home and one that I encourage you to consider when the time comes.
Deja was with us for the whole event and we kept Duke, Mya and Domi separate until it was finished. We knew Duke and Mya would become too excited and that Domi would just interfere because there was food. Deja is a quiet and gentle girl who quietly observed the whole thing and was provided with lots of cookies throughout. We allowed her to sniff and explore Guinniss afterwards, and then brought out Duke, Mya and Domi to do the same. They all moved slowly around and sniffed Guinniss quietly and we made sure to stay calm and reward them. I will never know if they fully comprehended what had happened, but it was important that they were allowed to be part of it in an attempt to help them process the fact that Guinniss was no longer with us.
Let them rest As I mentioned, Duke and Deja were quiet and slept a lot after we said goodbye to Guinniss. We allowed them to sleep as much as they needed, and only woke them to feed them, potty them and get them outside. We made sure to keep the house quiet and activities calm. Some dogs may seem more restless after the loss of a pet. It is still important that you avoid highly stimulating activities. Provide them appropriate outlets for their stress through interactive toys and brain games.
Spend time with them We gave them their space as they needed it. If Duke withdrew himself to the bedroom to rest, we let him do that. However we always made sure to offer regular affection and calm petting. We stayed home more and were around to ensure they were not isolated. We participated in quiet activities and stayed with them while reading, watching tv or working. We kept things quiet and ensured their time alone in the house was minimal for the first few days.
Give them time Be patient and let them work through this at their own pace. Duke is back to normal, but Deja is still struggling. We have seen many of her sensitivities magnify and new ones appear since the loss of Guinniss. She has become more noise sensitive, unsure in new situations and jumpy in more stimulating environments. She has only ever known life with Guinniss at her side and they spent almost 13 years together. He was her big brother and was obviously a source of confidence for her. We have recognized her struggles and know we just need to give her time and do our best to keep her happy. We are still taking her out and working her through her fears, but are doing things at her pace.
Monitor your own emotions It is an incredibly emotional time and you are going to be grieving and upset. Your dog will know this and feel your emotional state. It is ok to show this and be upset around your dog, but be aware of how you may be affecting them and the impact on them. Do not overuse them as a source of comfort and ensure you are also spending time with them participating in activities you both enjoy. There will be stress in the household and you cannot avoid that, but monitor how you may be affecting your surviving pets.
Ways to minimize the impact of losing a pet I felt like I had done work for this as we also had over a year to prepare for the loss of Guinniss. However, I did not expect it to have such an impact on Deja and witnessed more of it when we took her with us to the west coast this month. I’ve outlined some key points to help minimize that impact on your surviving pets:
- Alone Training. We advocate for this for a variety of reasons, but the value of this training became more apparent after we lost Guinniss. I spent a good portion of Deja’s life teaching her that it was ok to be alone. I would separate them at home while I was there, take them out on different outings and varied leaving one at home. If I had always kept them together, it would have been a very hard adjustment for Deja. Start this right away if you have multiple pets. You never know when they may need to be alone.
- Follow the above points before the loss as well. If you have a pet that is dying in the household, things are changing and emotions and stress are increasing. Ensure you go through the above suggestions throughout this process and not just after the pet passes. It is easy to focus on the pet that is sick, but do not forget about the needs of your other pets.
Take care of yourself If you are struggling with the loss of a pet, seek out pet loss support groups. There are often some some excellent local and a quick google search outlines options. Many vets also provide access to pet loss support groups. Do not forget to take care of yourself. You cannot help your pets if you do not take care of you. It is an incredibly hard time for everyone and my heart goes out to everyone who has been affected by the loss of a pet. May they all be running free and enjoying time on the rainbow bridge.
Do you have any other ideas on ways you helped your other pets through the loss of a companion? If so, please share below!