By Dawn Murray CABC
Like humans, pets express their feelings in a many of different ways. If there is more than one pet in a home and one dies, the other pet/s may express their feelings by stopping eating, playing, and/or they may become withdrawn. They are experiencing a loss of their own, and they can sense their owner's sorrow as well. If pets are acting depressed or are not eating, be careful not to reinforce or reward their behaviour. Giving them extra attention or additional 'titbits' when they behave this way may actually cause them to continue with this behaviour as a means to receive more attention. However, many animals may not show any outwardly signs of feeling a loss, and may in fact enjoy their new found position with the family, this often tends to be the case with cats. It is a personal decision for the pet carer to make and much depends on the relationship that a surviving pet had with the deceased pet. Just because a surviving pet is allowed to see his deceased companion, does not mean to say that the surviving pet will not show signs of being depressed. They may still 'grieve' for their companion although from research, it would appear that surviving pets do cope better when they are allowed to see that their companion has died.
Here are 3 examples of how this situation was dealt with.
1. A young dog and an elderly cat had been companions for only 18 months, throughout this time they had formed a very close bond. When the cat died, the pet carer allowed the dog to see the cats body. The dog lay down by the cats side for over an hour until the pet carer took the cat away for cremation. The days following the death of the cat, the dog did show signs that he was 'grieving', however by the end of the week the dog had returned to his normal routine and appeared to be relatively happy again.
2. Four dogs lived together and when the elderly dog died, it was decided by the pet carer that as none of the other dogs were particularly close to the elderly dog that they didn't need to see the dog after euthanasia. The dog who had lived with the elderly dog the longest was herself not in good health and was easily stressed, therefore it was felt that seeing her deceased companion would only upset her. All 3 dogs continued life as normal and showed no obvious signs of 'grieving'.
3. Two dogs who had been soul companions for 11 years. One of the dogs became terminally ill and the pet carer took the dog to the vet to be euthanized, leaving the other dog at home. The surviving pet searched in vain for her companion and waited expectantly for days for her return. When the other pet did not return home, the surviving pet became so 'depressed', stop eating, and appeared to lose the will to live. The vet could find nothing medically wrong with the surviving dog, however six months later, due to the complete loss of the pets quality of life, the decision was made to euthanize the surviving dog. This is the extreme of what can happen when two pets were complete soul mates. What happened to the surviving pet may have ended differently had she been allowed to see her deceased companion. The surviving dog could not understand why her lifelong companion had, in her eyes, been taken out for a walk and had not returned.
As you can see by these examples a lot depends on the relationship that a surviving pet has had with deceased pet as how they will react afterwards.