The question is not, “Can they reason?” nor, “Can they talk?” but rather, “Can they suffer?”
If you think humans are the only ones that can feel the loss of a loved one, then you’re mistaken. But I suspect any cat-lover or dog-lover knows that pets grieve just as humans grieve.
It is sad that many humans think they are the only ones that are qualified to feel sad, happy or grieve when the loss a loved one.
If your pet can feel happy when there is the cause to, then why do you think it can’t feel sad and grieve when there is cause to?
The good news is, this view is changing. Of course, animal-lovers have always known that animals DO feel and DO grieve, and have just been waiting for the ‘professionals’ to catch up with this fact. In 1996, the ASPCA conducted the Companion Animal Mourning Project, a study to find out whether pets show signs of grief. The results are very interesting:
- 46% of pets ate less after the death of a companion.
- 70% vocalized a lot more or a lot less than normal.
- Over 50% became more affectionate and ‘clingy’ with their people.
- 65% showed four or more behavior changes after the death of a fellow pet.
People often argue that pets (animals) don’t ‘feel’ the way we humans do because they don’t have the capacity for thought and emotion that we humans do.
However, anthropologist Dr Barbara King says that ‘grief is linked not to some feat of thinking but instead to feeling’. In other words, that ‘grief is a symptom of the real evolutionary benefit at work: LOVE. Kind cites behaviourist Marc Bekoff (author of Animals Matter), saying that animals experience love as well as grief; that animal grief results from ‘lost love’, just like it does for human grief.
Grieving Pet Stories
My neutered male cat literally brought a kitten home in his mouth one day and henceforth became his ‘daddy’. When Pumby (the daddy) died, Poquey (his baby) went into mourning for a year! Howling, looking for him everywhere. They DO grieve! (Andrea)
A couple of years ago, my father in law had to go into hospital for 3 weeks. His Siamese cat stopped eating and became very sick, even with the appetite stimulants he still wouldn’t eat and the vet said he was letting his body shut down. When my father in law came home it was too late. Simon had died of a broken heart. (John)
My dog Henry was best friends with his mate, and my other furbaby, Cheeky. One day, Cheeky was hit by a car and killed. I was devastated. It was so sudden and I had no time to prepare myself for this. After the shock wore off, I noticed that Henry wasn’t himself. He seemed lethargic, wasn’t eating much, wasn’t ‘saying’ much, and wandered around the house, as if he was looking for Cheeky. He was definitely grieving, just like I was. (Karen)
Signs Your Pet May Be Grieving
Fact is this – as the above true stories testify, when one of your pet dies the other may start behaving in ways such as:
- eating less
- loss of interest in things that it used to feel interest in
- staying aloof from you and others
- not sleeping where it used to sleep
- staying silent most of the time, or perhaps being much more vocal than usual
- over-preening and cleaning
- wandering from place to place as if looking for something
All these are signs that your pet is silently grieving the loss of the other pet. If the pet isn’t really sure whether the other one died or not, it could be hoping that the other pet will return.
What should you do when this happens?
As with humans, time tends to ease the grief, at least a little. Time, they say, heals all wounds – in humans and even in pets.
Some pets heal within a few weeks, while some last for many weeks and even months before they overcome the loss of their fellow pals.
To help the process, here are some things you can do:
- Give your cat or dog extra love and attention
- Talk (yes, in English) to your furbaby about how you are feeling and let them know that you understand how they are feeling (they will pick up on the comforting ‘energy’ of your words)
- Perhaps provide extra stimulus, like a new toy, or take your dog, or even your cat for a walk (if you have one of those cats that likes going for walks) to keep their mind stimulated and off the subject of their grief, but don’t overdo it—you will exhaust yourself and your furbaby! It’s okay to spend time grieving, just try to strike a balance.
Signs to watch out for
However, in some cases, your cat may need extra help or medical intervention:
- If your cat or dog stops eating for two days or more, try experimenting with different ‘treat’ food, or perhaps warm the food a little to increase the smell, which may entice your cat to eat. If not, however, seek your vet’s advice.
- If your cat is preening excessively, or not drinking enough water, she may start losing her fur. Again, talk to your vet about this. Likewise, make sure your dog is drinking water and staying hydrated. It’s as important as eating.
- Finally, if you are just concerned generally about your furbaby’s mood—lethargy or depression—definitely seek your vet’s advice. There are treatments to help cats and dogs out of a dangerous depression.
Plus, I do invite you to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to be kept informed of when my book How To Help Them Heal: Everything You Need To Know To Help Your Pet Grieve And Heal After Pet Loss will be available, which also covers the questions and consideration around getting a new pet after your furbaby dies.
By the way, I love hearing from fellow furbaby-lovers so please do get in touch 🙂
About the Author: BJ Burman
BJ Burman is a writer, researcher, healer, advisor and teacher. All through her childhood and adult life, she has shared her life with animals, every one of them dearly loved. She is also a passionate supporter of animal rights and animal conservation.
In addition, BJ has always been interested in spirituality and religion, both academically and personally. When she became personally involved in Eastern philosophy and religion, she became specifically interested in death & dying (and what really happens to us).
Over the years, she has studied and researched the subject of death & dying, and the associated grief, particularly from a spiritual perspective, under the guidance of respected Buddhist, Hindu and Christian teachers from the USA, Britain and Australia. These great traditions, have so much to teach on the reality of life and death.
BJ has worked in the education sector for nearly 20 years, as a teacher (particularly in a pastoral care role) of adolescents and adults, helping them to not only navigate their path in education, but also navigate their way through personal life obstacles for the happiest outcomes.
Bj holds a Bachelor of Arts in Humanities, a Graduate Diploma of Teaching, Graduate qualifications in Linguistics/TESOL, Masters in Comparative World Religions and is a published author for national and international magazine print publications in the field of health and well-being.
It seems only natural to her to combine her love of animals with her interest in death & dying to create a genuinely compassionate and supportive forum for humans who must say good-bye to the animals they love so much.
It is BJ's deep desire to provide guidance and comfort for humans to help their beloved animals live and die in peace.