My Jhett. Gone but always in my heart.
Regardless if the loss is their furry housemate, a member of their human family, the loss of treasured playmate, or a change in their living situation, dogs do notice these changes and this loss is reflected in their behaviour as sadness and grief. In today’s article I share with you the signs that your dog may be grieving and I give you tips on how you can help your dog during this time.
Do Dogs Grieve Their Losses?
Yes, many dog experts agree that dogs do indeed grieve their losses in a very noticeable way. Dr. Sophia Yin, a well known and respected veterinarian and applied animal specialist, feels that dogs are capable of having the “same basic emotions as humans”. These emotions include “grief, fear, anger, happiness, and sadness”. So when a dog sustains a loss in his environment, Dr. Yin states that the “signs of depression in dogs mimic those in people”.
She reminds us that grief in animals, just as with people, is a process. And just as with people, this means that there is no set time for this process to run its course. Do not expect for there to be a “quick fix” for this situation. It can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months for your dog’s behaviour to return to normal. In the meantime you could expect to see your dog sleep more, be generally lethargic, have no real appetite for food, and not show any interest in doing the things that he normally enjoys doing.
Is My Dog Going To Be Okay?
Birth and death are both naturally occurring cycles found in nature. For the most part when dogs have gone through their grief process, they do tend to get back to being their old familiar selves. While you should allow your dog to take as much time as he needs to grieve, make sure that you monitor him while he grieves.
If your dog does not seem to be coping very well with this process, if you feel that even after a substantial amount of time your dog’s emotions and behaviours are still not quite right, or if you feel that his physical health is in danger, then do make sure your dog is examined by a vet. This is especially necessary if your dog is aged or was not in good health before the loss occurred.
Why Do Some Dogs Have Such A Difficult Time With Loss?
In the wild, predictability and stability are equated to issues of safety and survival of the pack. Dogs feel comforted by knowing what to expect from their environment. When a dog encounters a loss, along with the loss comes changes and upheavals in his environment. Not only did he lose a pack mate (human or animal) but there is also the possible loss of his routine, or even the loss of his familiar home.
If your dog was in a multi-dog home then chances are there was a natural social order to his group. When one of the dogs in the group dies, the social dynamics and the social structure will have to shift to accommodate the missing member of the dog community. This alone can be a disorienting and fearful time for the dog. Then add to this all the other changes reflected in the dog’s environment and often the dog(s) are overwhelmed by too many sudden changes. They respond to the changes by shutting down emotionally (depression) or at very least they begin to display some of symptoms of grief and loss.
Common Symptoms Associated With Grief And Loss
A Change in Appetite
Usually dogs will have a change in appetite during this time. They usually show very little interest in food and eating. While Huskies do have an insanely efficient metabolism that allows them to regulate their calorie requirement, if they do not eat for a prolonged period of time they run the risk of becoming weak and sick. Make sure that you monitor any long term decrease in appetite. If your dog’s appetite does not return to normal in a reasonable amount of time, then a medical intervention is in order.
Lethargy or Depression
Your dog may not want to engage in familiar activities like playing with his toys or engaging with you. He may sleep more than usual. He may suddenly seem aloof or indifferent to you. Don’t take the rebuff personally. It is just a reaction to his grief.
A dog’s reaction to change may be fear. He can become fearful and anxious because his environment has become unpredictable or even unrecognizable. This may trigger events of clinginess and Separation Anxiety. You may see him run from room to room searching for what was once familiar. He may not want to let you out of sight in case you leave him too.
Vocalizations or Being Unusually Quiet
You may notice your dog whining , whimpering, barking, or howling for no apparent reason or you might notice that he unusually quiet and withdrawn. Both of these states are common during times of grief.
Other common personality changes or displacement behaviours attributed to the grieving process:
- Self destructive behaviours like obsessive licking or chewing on themselves or on an object.
- Out of character aggressiveness, grumpiness, or wanting to be left alone.
- A loss of focus or disorientation,
- Sudden phobias or fears.
Other Types of Losses That Might Trigger Your Dog To Grieve
A loss does not always have to come in the form of a death to cause your dog to perceive it as a loss. To your dog, any kind of a big change in its environment can trigger feelings of mourning the loss of “what was”. When owners can see these events through the eyes of their dog, they can better understand and recognize the uncharacteristic behaviours that can come along with it.
Dogs can also grieve a loss from:
- A move to a different location.
- The loss of a friendly neighbour or their dog.
- The loss of a family member(s) due to a break up.
- Children moving away from home.
- The loss of time spent with an owner due to a change in their work hours or circumstances.
- Dogs can also mourn the loss of the “familiar “with the addition of a new family member like an infant or a new spouse or a new roommate.
What You Can Do Help Your Dog With The Grief Process
Dogs need time to process their loss. While they are grieving there are things that you can do to make the process easier for them.
- If possible, allow them to spend time with the body of the person or dog. Let them investigate. Dogs can smell and recognize death. It may just help them understand that the person or pack mate has died.
- Don’t be in a big rush to throw out items that once belonged to the deceased person or dog. Keeping a blanket or some item that has the scent of the person or dog may bring comfort to the dog that was left behind.
- Begin to re-establish a new routine as soon as possible. Make it very rigid. Your dog needs the comfort and security that structure brings. Don’t forget to include activities that your dog previously enjoyed doing.
- Give lots of physical exercise. Long walks are especially good. They help channel and drain all that anxious energy and the exercise helps to produce serotonin, a natural hormone that creates a feeling of calmness and well being.
- Help your dog find new playmates by taking him to the dog park or through organized play dates.
- Make sure that you provide understanding and support during this process but do not go overboard and create more anxiety. Do not feed energy to or reward negative emotions or displacement behaviours.
- If the dog is newly adopted because he was displaced by the death of an owner or by the break up of his family, remember that this dog is not only transitioning to a new home but he is also grieving the loss of his former owner or family. So give this dog lots of support and be very patient and understanding of his situation.
Should You Get Another Dog?
People frequently ask me if after losing one dog, if they should get another dog as a replacement companion for their existing dog. They also want to know how soon should they add another dog to the family. Sadly, there is no “right” answer to this question. My advice is to always SEE THE DOG and do what best supports the needs of the existing dog. And before you commit to choosing a new dog make sure that you read my article, How to Successfully Integrate Another Husky Into Your Pack, to make sure that you choose a dog that is a good fit for your existing dog.
Remember, that when a pack member dies, the existing dog must be allowed to have time to process the loss before you consider bringing in an additional dog. Adding more stress for a dog who is already stressed is not in the best interest of either dog. Allow your existing dog to grieve his loss and then take your cues from your dog as to whether or not you should add a new dog to the family.
After the grieving process is done, some dogs come alive with renewed energy when a new (compatible) dog is added to the family while some dogs will acclimate and be okay with being an only dog. Take your cues from your dog.
When Is It Not Recommended To Bring In Another Dog?
Unquestionably, adding a new dog for the wrong reason will create unnecessary chaos and unpleasantness for everyone. There are cases where it is not recommended for you to bring in another dog.
- Don’t get a dog FOR your dog if you are not prepared or unable to put the time into integrating and training this new dog. You will be the one who is the primary caregiver to this dog so it is only fair that you have the deciding vote in this matter. Remember, bringing a new dog into your family is a permanent commitment to the dog. Choose wisely and for the right reasons.
- If your existing dog is very old or is not in good health then adding another dog may not be in the best interest of your dog. When another dog is added to the family, it brings with it additional stresses. Your dog is already stressed from the loss. Adding more stress for an elderly or sick dog is not recommended.
- If you have not gotten over the loss of your dog then do not bring in another dog just yet. When humans go through the grief process, their emotions fluctuate. New dogs required strong and stable leadership to be able to successfully acclimate to their new environment and into their new pack. If you are still grieving the loss of your beloved dog, then you cannot give the new dog the stable leadership that it needs. Before adding a new dog, please wait until your own emotions have stabilized so that you can best support the transition for all the dogs in question.
My Personal Story Of Loss
On April 18th of this year, my 4 year old Siberian Husky, Jhett, who suffered from idiopathic seizures, had a cluster of 13 seizures in 30 minutes and then died in my arms. There was nothing I could do to save him. I was stunned by the sudden loss of my beautiful special boy who had just enjoyed an all time record high of 89 days of being seizure free. I had actually allowed myself to believe that we had turned a corner in managing his disease. But the Universe had other plans for Jhett. I had no time to prepare for his passing. There was no time to say good bye. I was grateful for being there to hold him in my arms when he died.
Both Kaya and Angel were there and watched the whole ordeal. They were able to go and sniff Jhett’s body after he passed. When I was getting ready to move Jhett’s body, I saw Kaya come up to Jhett and gently lick his muzzle one last time. This appeared to be done as show of one final farewell to her pack mate.
Over the next few months, I watched my two remaining dogs exhibit many of the symptoms that I discussed in this article. To this day Angel’s behaviour is still not back to normal. Her appetite is still not great and she does not engage in play with the same zeal as she once had. Angel and Jhett had a very strong bond.[/column]
I did not intentionally go looking to find a replacement dog, not that one dog can ever truly replace another dog. The opportunity to adopt Skylar, our 14 week old Malamute, presented itself rather suddenly. After careful consideration and observation of Skylar’s temperament, I decided that he would be a good fit with my existing dogs. For my pack and for my dogs, adding another dog at this time was the correct choice. They have all happily bonded and formed a new pack.[/column]
As for Jhett, his sudden passing reminds us all at how fleeting and precious every moment of life really is. Jhett was such an inspirational teacher for me. He lived every moment of his life to the fullest regardless of the battles he had with epilepsy. Jhett was the embodiment of being present in every moment and living out loud with joy and passion. Jhett did EVERYTHING with great passion. When and if I ever grow up, I can only hope to be able to one day live my life with the same grace and courage as Jhett did. He was only here for a very short 4 years but he touched everyone he ever met.
Rest in peace, my beautiful boy. You are greatly missed.
Please, Snow Doggers, take a moment to hug and love your beloved dogs. Give them an extra belly rub and cookie today and appreciate what they bring to your lives.
As always we welcome your questions, comments and stories regarding this topic. When we share our stories and our wisdom, we may be helping someone who is currently struggling with their Snow Dog.
Helping ALL Snow Dogs … one owner at a time.