Sad dog

They say that a dog is man's best friend, but what happens when your dog loses a friend? Whether it's another pet in the house that died or one of a dog's owners, he will go through a grieving period just like humans.

What to do when
he loses a buddy

Dogs are one of the most expressive pets we bring into our lives. When your dog loses a companion, he will have stages of grieving the loss just as we experience. While we will never really know exactly how they process the loss of a special friend, there is no denying the sadness they express.

Signs of grief

All dogs are different, and their reactions to loss will vary. Here are some of the signs of grief your dog may display.

  • Loss of appetite
  • Quieter, with less vocalizing and barking
  • Sleeping more than usual
  • Acting very tired or lethargic
  • Loss of interest in taking a walk or playing

Losing a dog friend

The loss of another dog means the loss of a constant companion, one who was with your dog all day. The separation from this bond changes his regular daily routine and may make him feel disoriented. This causes distress for your dog, which may add to his sadness.

If you have more than one dog in your home, there is usually some sort of pecking order established. When one of the dogs dies, the other dogs may shift positions within the group. This adjustment adds to the difficulty of this transition. If the dominant dog dies, the grieving dog left behind has to adjust to being in charge. Sometimes the remaining dog begins to display a more outgoing personality that may have been stifled because of the other dog's dominance.

How to help

  • Don't rush to throw out items that belonged to the deceased dog.
  • Keep a blanket or other reminder that belonged to the dog who died. The scent might be comforting to your dog.
  • Pay extra attention to your dog, but don't go overboard and create a larger problem.
  • Try and stick to regular routines, if possible.
  • Give your dog some time to adjust before making a decision about bringing another dog into your family.

Loss of a human companion

We have all seen the sad images on the Internet of dogs who would not leave their owners, even in death. The dog-human bond is very strong, and the loss a dog feels when he loses his owner can be very profound. Especially in situations where the dog has only one owner, a dog feels lost and depressed when he is suddenly alone. Routines are disrupted and the dog may show signs of confusion as he looks for his owner.

Shelters see the effects of grief on dogs firsthand, since many dogs wind up in shelters when their owners die. Having a plan ensures that your dog will be well cared for in case something happens to you. It would be especially helpful to your dog if the person entrusted with his care was already familiar to him.

How to help

  • Help the dog transition to his new home and surroundings slowly. He is not only grieving the loss of his owner, but the loss of his home as well.
  • Be aware of routines and try to stick to them if possible.
  • Nighttime can be the hardest — consider letting the dog co-sleep with you to help him feel less abandoned.
  • Use lots of positive reinforcement, but don't go overboard and spoil the dog. This creates more problems than it fixes.
  • Set aside some time to just relax with the grieving dog each day. A 10-minute brushing session each day can create a new bond between the two of you.

Helping a dog work through grief can be a rewarding experience and is just as important for the dog as it is for humans.

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Comments on "Helping your dog grieve"

Kevin June 27, 2013 | 7:32 PM

Thank you for the articles. we just lost our dog and we think.our inside dog is grieving also.

Kylee May 23, 2013 | 6:48 PM

Thanks for this article I have 2 Bichon Frises and till last week a beautiful 2 and a half year old cat.My younger bichon is 4 from the moment the kitten came home with us they bonded cleaning each other,sleeping together and they played although they got older they were still the best of friends. Last week we woke up to find our cat Lex has passed away during the night it was so sudden he has no signs of illness the vet has said it was more than likely a heart condition. Our family has grieved terribly for him we miss our baby so much but time will heal we had him cremated as I couldn't bear the though of him ever not being with us.Our dog Billee doesn't seem to be coping I don't know what more to do for him he is normally such a playful happy little dog it's just so sad.

Emily February 04, 2013 | 4:35 AM

Thank you so much for this article, it is comforting to know we are doing something right. We have two dachshunds and this past weekend we had to go out of town for a ministry conference, my husband is a youth minister. We left a college student in charge, and gave her specifics on when to take them out and what to do. My old girls have a steady routine. On a whim a lot of the college kids thought it would be funny to roller blade into out house at 2am, one of them fell into the baby gate that separated the dogs from the rest of the house (as a type of kennel) knocking it over. They had left our front door open and my youngest dog ran out in panic. They looked for her, on roller blades. She is terrified of roller blades. She tried to come home and when she did instead of letting her come inside someone chased her into a sugar cane field where my father found her dead two days later. None of the students called us until a day later, and only because the pastor told them to call us or he would. We are grieving and our oldest dachshund is too, it is hard enough to deal with the loss of our dog, let alone the pain and anger that comes with knowing she didn't have to die and it was by a series of immature decisions that killed her. Had they called immediately everything could have been solved. Instead of looking for her or telling us the next day during daylight they went to class. At least now I have some ideas about how to help my remaining pup. Thanks so much.

Gloria January 06, 2013 | 4:22 PM

We lost a yellow lab to a tragic accident. She was chasing something and attempted to cross the road and did not make it. She was 8 yrs old and she had a litter of pups 4 yrs prior and we kept a pup. So mom and daughter have been together all their lives. The daughter is lost with out her mother and so are we.

GoodFriend December 04, 2012 | 2:56 PM

A dear friend of mine was diagnosed with cancer and she asked us to care for her dog. She placed her desire for us to have her dog should she die. At the onset of her diagnosis, we cared for her dog 2 nights a week. Our dog and her dog bonded and her dog became very comfortable at our home. It was his second home. My friend lasted a year and a half after her cancer diagnosis. We did not waiver about having her dog at least 2 nights a week. Toward the end of her life, we cared for him more and more. Her dog did not grieve for her and has been extremely happy with our family. From experience I believe we did it right. Transitioning a dog with as much time as possible is easiest on everyone. It was difficult for my friend to not see her beloved dog several days a week but we all knew it was needed for all involved.

Gryphon July 30, 2012 | 12:37 PM

Great article. Thanks. We have an 11 year old and a 3 month old and will certainly face this situation at some point. Your comments will be very useful someday.

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