What happens to your pets when a companion animal dies?
The loss of a beloved family pet can overwhelm everyone in the household. Your remaining pets can also be deeply affected by theloss of a companion animal. They may show immediate signs of depression or other behavioral changes. Some pets become so despondent, they die soon after their companion of what seems like a broken heart. Although it is not intentional, their needs are often overlooked as you struggle through your own painful feelings of grief. With just a few simple steps you can help your remaining pets understand what happened to their best friend so you can all move through your grief and into healing. What are the signs of pet grief?
After a pet dies, the hierarchy within the home shifts as the remaining pets adjust to the loss. Some pets will react immediately to the loss of a companion animal while others carry on as if nothing happened. Some petswill suddenlylose interest in food or treats while others will hide or sulk around in a sorrowful way. Many grieving pets will whine, meow, or yowl as they search the house looking for their companion who suddenly disappeared. If the pet that died was more dominant or self-confident the remaining pet can become fearful of things that never bothered them before. If your pets were together for a long time their grief may be more pronounced lasting for days,months, or longer. There are many signs of grief but listed below are a few of the most common behavioral changes. Signs your pet may be grieving:
– Loss of appetite
– Lethargic or no interest in toys
– Vocalizations – yowling, crying or whining
– Changes in normal sleeping patterns
– Inappropriate elimination or marking
– Destructive behavior
– Sudden fearfulness/anxiety
How to help your pets understand the loss of a companion animal
Our remaining pets are often excluded from the final moments of another pet’s passing. Many become confused about what happened to their companion as they are not able to see the body after death. In the wild, animals inspect the body of their companion which provides closure and an understanding that the life force of the animal is gone. But what happens if you are not able to let them inspect the body? What else can you do?
The best way to help your pet understand what happened is to talk about it. When you communicate openly with your pet, images will flash across your mind as you speak. Those images play like a mini-movie in your head and your pets will be able to intercept those images. Hearing your voice and watching the images will give them a better sense of the changes that have taken place. Speak slowly and softly as you would to a child of about nine or ten years of age. Another option is to allow the remaining pet to inspect a towel or blanket with the deceased pet’s scent on it. Ideally, try to give your remaining pet the opportunity to sense their companion has died. The 8 steps to help your grieving pet heal faster
1. Spend more time with them and focus on their needs with extra love and TLC
2. Talk openly about the pet you lost and share all of your favorite memories
3. Buy a new toy, cat tree, or a new, cushy bed
4. Take more walks or engage in playful activities to help them release pent up emotions
5. Do not leave them alone for long periods of time after the loss of a companion pet
6. Tell them you will grieve together and you will move into healing together too
7. Picture the outcome you desire such as all of you being happy, healthy, and living life to the fullest
8. Keep their routine as normal as possible and avoid any trips, changes in diet, or other disruptions to their schedule
Would it help to get another pet?
Every situation is different so decide wisely before bringing a new pet into your home. Some pets are very excited about a new companion while others are not. If the resident pet is older, weaker, or not in the best of health then it may be best to leave well enough alone and not add any new pets to the household. However, a new pet can breathe new life and laughter into a depressing situation and draw some pets out of their grief. Be mindful that a new pet will change the energy within the household and care should be taken to make sure the new pet is a good match for your family. Trust your intuition and if it feels right then it will likely be okay. If it doesn’t feel right, then wait for a better time. Openly express your feelings
The best way to help your remaining pet is to openly share your feelings. If you are sad and missing your other pet, tell them exactly how you feel. They may not understand all the details about what happened but hearing your words will ease their mind and help them heal faster. Although it is a painful and difficult time, honor your grief and allow yourself to feel all of your emotions. As you move through your grief into healing your pets will likely do so too. They can absorb your emotions like a sponge and will naturally feel more balanced when you do. Watch your pet closely and consult with a trusted veterinarian if their condition continues or worsens. Embrace every precious moment
When you are ready, celebrate your memories of the pet you lost and remember to make their life more important than their death. Your remaining pet will feel the love in your heart and know that their beloved companion has left this life with dignity and peace.
If you enjoyed this article or have a story you’d like to share please comment below.
I read every post and appreciate the time you take to share your experience with me. Please SHARE this post with someone you know who is experiencing this with their pet. With love and light, Karen
Main photo credit: Photo by Hailey Moeller on Unsplash
Karen is an award-winning animal communicator and best-selling author who specializes in pet loss and the afterlife. She has documented her journey with her books, 'The Amazing Afterlife of Animals' and 'Hear All Creatures'.
She also offers animal communication coaching programs for all skill levels as well as loving support and guidance for those struggling with the loss of a beloved companion.
Karen is the CEO and founder of Painted Rain Ranch, a non-profit animal sanctuary that serves as a final refuge for elderly, special needs, and abandoned companion animals. Located on a 30-acre farm in the Inland Pacific Northwest, Karen devotes her life to helping animals in need.
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The friendship shared between pets is the purest form of love
This is a beautiful article
Karen, I just want to say I totally enjoyed this article.
My cat M&M died on July 5th, 2018. I had her for 15 years since she was born so it was very traumatic and sad for me
Do you think our pets can see us from their spiritual world?
Or at least do they feel or sense our pain and heartache?
One of my good friend’s mom died in May 2018.Her African grey parrot got sick from the sunflower seeds
Since her mom died the parrot does not want to eat.
My friend is trying all sorts of different food but to no avail.
Can it be that the parrot is missing his mom?
Thank you so much for all of your articles.
They help me understand my pet family a lot better
Many species of birds mate for life and some parrots view their human companion as a mate. They can become very distraught and despondent when their human passes away. I’ve worked with many parrots over the decades and there are many things you can do to help this bird through grief.
Extra attention, new toys, physical activity, don’t leave them alone for extended periods of time, place a mirror near the cage, or place a photo of the departed human nearby. Be sure to tell the parrot what happened to their beloved human so they can start the healing process.
When we talk out loud to our pets they pick up on the basic information and can understand the images that flash through your mind as you speak.
Be sure to let the parrot know that the spirit of the beloved human will always be near.
In my book, Hear All Creatures,I shared a sad story about a cockatiel named Sam who lost a companion bird named Roxi. Sam was devastated by Roxi’s passing. In a communication session, Sam told me he didn’t understand what happened to her and he was worried about her as well as heartbroken. I told Sam that Roxi was now in spirit form but all around him. He could still sense her near. I instructed Sam’s dad, Steve to place a photo of Roxi nearby. Sam perked up immediately and even though Sam knew it was just a photo he said it made him feel better to see her.
If your parrot’s condition persists or deteriorates please take him to a trusted avian veterinarian right away.
Thanks for sharing and I am sending all of you healing prayers.
Thanks for your article on losing a pet and helping other pets with their grief.
I wanted to share that when I have had to euthanize an animal I am always there holding them during and for some time after so that their death scent is on my clothes
I have found this to help the other pets realize the pet is truly gone.
Similar to what you mentioned about letting the other animals interact with the body.
Thank you for your wonderful insight!
When my Hailey passed my Chipper stopped eating Mac and cheese it was his favorite treat. I feel that he associated it with her passing as it was one of her last meals. Both Chipper and Nikita were clingy.
One thing is for sure our house became quiet.
Hailey was my talker but Chipper hasn’t barked once since she passed.
Nikita is now starting to talk more.
Thank you again for your wonderful article!
I read your article and boy does it hit home. We had to put down our 9-year-old Swissie suddenly a week ago.
We have another Swissie that is 3 years younger and looked up to her as a mom.
She did not eat for almost a week and slept a lot after our vet friend put her down in our home.
It’s so sad.
She now sleeps a lot and just started to eat.
I do not want another dog yet what do you think?
We are giving her a lot of love and attention.
When one of my dogs was ready to be euthanized my wonderful vet came to the house.
I had explained to my remaining dog about what was going to happen and we all sat together afterward to give him a chance to say goodbye. The two were inseparable in life.
He adjusted to only dog status easily with lots of walks and cuddling with me. Bj lived 4 more years.
My dog, Doobie grieved by not eating when my other dog, Captain passed back in 2008. I wish I knew this back then as it might have made a difference. But I would not have been much help because I was devastated by his loss.
I needed help.
I was a mess to be truthful and Doobs was feeling the pain that I was feeling.
Then Doobie passed. It was just as hard but I tried not to grieve so much so my other dog, Cash would not take it so hard.
But when Cash passed it was like a full circle back around to being a mess because I had no pet.
I was just so glad to have been with Doobie and Cash when their time was up would not have it any other way.
Concerning the African Grey parrot. Parrots and lovebirds become very attached to their owners as if the person/owner is their mate. Give this bird lots of love. Maybe there is a food treat the bird loves. Check with the vet to make sure there is nothing physically wrong. The bird needs lots and lots of attention, stroking, maybe a mirror, or a new toy etc. They are very smart and very emotionally linked animals.
My husband had two labradors when I met him a father and daughter. Holly was about 5 and Jet was about 11. He had been diabetic for a few years.
A couple of years ago we had to put him out of his misery. Holly quit retrieving and obeying commands. My husband didn’t think much of it since she wasn’t anything like her dad. Somebody mentioned separation anxiety.
Thanksgiving 2017 we got a 7-month-old lab puppy. Holly came out of her shell, obeys better than before and acts like a puppy again.
The day Sidney didn’t come home Shadow knew something was wrong. Maybe she sensed my grief, but she got very depressed and stopped eating as much. Then when I brought Sidney’s ashes home, I let all the dogs smell them. Shadow whimpered, withdrew even more and stopped eating completely. It was obvious her heart was broken. I think she thought Sidney was her mommy… after all, she knew her since she was 6 weeks old!
To help Shadow through her grief, I spent some quality time with her one on one and slowly, she started to come around. But that whimper over Sidney’s ashes that day completely shattered me.
Awesome article that helped me out today, on Monday the 21st we had to put our 5-year-old Mastiff boxer to rest as he had bone cancer.
Completely broke my heart but I was worried for his sister as they have been together their whole lives.
She seems to be doing ok but now I know what to watch for.
I was moving to a new house some years ago and took my cats to my daughter’s house the night before so they would be safe whilst moving. My dog came with me to drop them off and then we went home. The next morning I was up early moving boxes into the new house. Della was with me as she was stressed about the changes and I wanted her to know she would always be with me. There was a lot of smoke around and I thought the entire place was on fire. Then I got a call to tell me it was my daughters home and she had to jump from the second story to escape. I rushed down there with Della in the back seat to find the building ablaze and smoke everywhere.
I found my daughter. Made sure the ambulance was called and called a friend to come get Della. My cats didn’t make it out alive. I was so focused on my daughter that day. She only just got out herself. That night we stayed at the old house. I watched over my daughter and Della as they slept cuddled together.
For weeks afterward Della searched everywhere for her cats. She lost so much weight I took her to the vet. Whilst waiting she saw kittens in the vet office and sat there watching them. The vet suggested getting another cat for her. One wasn’t enough though so we now have two cats.
Della watches like a hawk if we take them to the vet. Sometimes stopping us from putting them in their carriers. We make sure she knows she is coming with us and they all get checked together.
My Della is a rescue dog and is extremely special to me. It broke my heart watching her grieve for her Kipper and Holly cats.
Thank you so much. I enjoyed the article. We just lost one of our dogs. This will help.
This is a beautiful article I agree with everything in here can’t just take another animal out of the house without the other one knowing what’s going on they’ll be scared… I was just the vet today with my cat… I know it’s getting closer to the end because both of them are 15 years old thank you for this article
Loved this article. I had to , one by one, lay my family of 3 Shihtzus to rest. Sons 16 yrs then their mom almost 17. Worst 5 months of my life. Ill never recover
I carried our older dog to the other dogs before we took her to the vet to be put to sleep. I feel they knew and they could have a moment with the other dog. I made sure with all our dogs the others had a chance to say their good bye. I felt they knew something was wrong and knew what happened when they did not come home. I got their ashes back and let let the dogs smell their container. Not sure if their scent was there but was like they knew .
I lost my Lab, Hannah Banana, in 2010, I had rescued my now oldest Pit Kleopatra in 2008. Hannah was like a mom to her being that Kleo was barely 6 weeks & the guy that had her was going to tie her to the dumpster at a gas station in a not so great neighborhood. I just happened to passing through getting gas and stopped him gave him 100$ and took her home. Hannah & Kleo were instant bff’s. My heart and Kleo’s broke the day she passed. We did alot of crying, yes Kleo openingly whimpered by my side as I was crying. We cuddled together for days not doing much. I have saved this article & wish I knew then what I know now. Kleopatra is 10, doing very well and has a new bff in Tango. They are a 6 year going strong as an extremely bonded pair.
My dog, Ziggi is missing his mate, Gaji, he sits in corners facing the wall with his head down, I also groom other dogs of the same breed so he cheers up when they come in. I am looking for a new puppy, but I am not rushing into it, I want to find the right one.
Love this! I have many stories to tell, but perhaps another time. I tend to go overboard in my writing, nothing is simple to document. I’ve been a pet parent since at least 1977, and it hurts me each and every time I lose one.
Hi Karen, I am going through such an emotional time at the disappearance of my cat. She disappeared nearly three weeks ago and her brother has shown a lot of the symptoms described by you. I have had him at the vet due to weight loss and a very bad eye infection due to his system being down. We show him a lot of love and give him all the attention possible. I have not washed his sisters sleep blanket as I feel that he needs that security during the day while we are at work.
Thank you for your encouragement.
Thank you for this article, going through this presently.
The puppy was subdued and not eating. She was only with our old guy for 2 months while our other guy was with him for 8 yrs and continued on without missing a beat.
Thank you for this article. My dog has been pining for his companion since October when they had to say goodbye. I had only had Sollie for 2 1/2 years, but he bonded with my Storm. I am now going to bring home another 11-year-old Collie to keep my Storm GSD (10) company. Storm has very bad arthritis and does not go for long walks, about as much as an 11 year old Collie.
Thank you, Karen. This is the best article I’ve read about pet loss in a multi-pet household and the first one that talks about fear. I lost my 9-year-old Boxer/Lab mix, Daisy, two months ago suddenly to illness. I’ve had a really hard time with it. My 5-year-old Rottie/Aussie mix, Murphy also has been grieving. His personality changed within a couple of days after her loss. He became fearful of normal things. Hesitant to cross over wooden bridges which we walk over almost daily on our outings. Fearful of being brushed. His groomer noticed a drastic difference. Among other traits, like being shy or “worried” that he’s not doing something right. Breaks my heart to see him as I’ve never seen him.
Your article mentioned dogs feeling responsible in some way for the other dog’s disappearance. I never thought of that. So sad! I talked with his vet and he and I both think he drew his confidence from Daisy. She was an energetic, goofy and fearless dog. I never saw that Murphy had any lack of confidence until she was gone. I thought taking a training class would be helpful. My vet and new trainer also supported that idea. He’s in Obedience 2 now and loves it and we train daily. I also bought new toys and new soft grooming brushes. Fortunately, our playtime and snuggles have remained fun and comforting for both of us. My vet and trainer think his fearfulness will subside. I hope they’re right.
As much as I’d like to get another dog, I think it’s best we work through this. That’s the hardest part but I believe the healthiest if we choose to welcome a new member into the family. I’m glad I came across your article. It brought some understanding and peace.
Thank you for that.
So maybe this is the reason why Patti whines once in a while with no specific time of the day. I am still grieving at the loss of her sister, Jule, its been 4 months already and the pain is still the same and oftentimes I just cried so hard and I can’t hide my sadness.
I’m talking to Patti telling her how I miss Jule so much and I hug Patti letting her feel the warmth of my body while I tell her to stay with me still .. I have 8 furbabies. Lost Bluto 15(2010), Tara 11(2016), Shampoo 12(2016), Tambelino 12(2017), Jule 7(2018), Tim 13(2018)
Same heartbreaking moments and it leaves deep emptiness in my soul… now I still continue to show my love to my 2 loving babies, Tanya 13 and Patti 8…but the sorrow I have deep within me is unbearable already..???
Thank you for the article about pet grief and answering one of my questions. My old girl Frankie (boxer) who is 13 years 11 1/2 months has a 4cm tumor on her spleen. We declined surgical removal due to her age. The vet recommended that we euthanize her. She was symptomatic but has seemed to stabilize out with change in medications. When we do decide to euthanize her our vet offered to come to our home to do this and I was torn about it but your article has changed my mind. I have two other dogs and a cat at our home and I think it will help them to realize she is gone and ease the grieving process when it happens.
We lost our first boxer to the same cancer 7 years ago and when we euthanized her it was an emergency and she did just disappear, I noticed that caused Frankie to age overnight and instantly became grey in the face. I wish I had this knowledge to help Frankie cope 7 years ago. She managed and as you can see we added 2 more to the mix and have Frankie, Boomer and Courage now. So I will know how to handle Boomer, Courage and Dixie (the cat- she’s not phased by anything and rules the house)
Thank you so much for the information
Thank you for sharing these insights. I experienced this years ago, fortunately, a good friend advised me at the time to talk to the remaining pets as you have mentioned. It really seemed to put them all at ease.
Regarding another perspective, you may be able to shed some light on for me and maybe others. A good friend recently died, instead of her pets going to a shelter, I have opened my home to her dog and cat. We have had them about 2-3 weeks now. The 9-year-old Gordon setter has had several accidents in the house. I have had her checked by the vet. We think it is mostly stress and new environment related. My two dogs have been relatively accepting (no blood was drawn) but one is very jealous and has shown some aggression.
Any advice to ease the transition for animals losing their owner (found on a welfare check) to adjusting to a new world?
I posted this on my page yesterday not knowing that today I would actually need to complete reading it and implementing your advice.
Handsome Herbie didn’t make it to the vet. He passed en route from heart failure.
Just got home and spending time with my other 2 beloved babies.
I always said, if one was to go before the other, this is the way it needed to be.
I feel raw right now but we will be ok!
Thank you! All animals are wonderful.
We lost 2 fur babies in 18 months. One at 15 yrs & the other at 7 yrs from a horrible dog attack. Yesterday was a birthday for the one killed. It will be 3 yrs since I lost him. My remaining fur baby that watched the attack & to this day suffers. My remaining fur baby now has PSTD from the attack. We both have good days but we both still have sad days. I have had 5 dogs as an adult & lost 3. The 1st I did as you said. Went to the vet & left the one dog at home.
I learned then that if I had to make the choice it would be at home, as a family. My 2nd loss was on our love seat as myself & my 2 fur babies said good bye. The 3rd was horrible. He took his last breath we myself and the pup at his side in the back if my truck. But there is a difference when the family is together. GOD willing the heart breaking end will always be at home with myself & the fur babies at their side as we are left to grieve together.
Marley (my dog buddy) and I lost Luke (our dog buddy) in October 2018. Luke was with me for 15 years and with Marley for 12 years. I wished I had read this back then. I think I did everything wrong. Is there anything I can do now to help Marley recover?
Thank you for this advice.
I miss my baby. Cat. Palermo died last week and I’m.so broken up
Her sister is left behind
She was only 3 years old and got so sick and died at the vet hospital.
Thank you so much, Karen for your very enlightening articles. I’ve had rabbits, cats, parakeets, and dogs. These days we have a Pit~Lab and 2-parakeets (what’s left of 7). It’s so very sad to see other pets grieve as well when their pet companions pass away.
You’re so welcome! Glad they are helpful. Losing a pet can cause grief in the entire household…including our pets
Thank you for the article. We are going through a hard time. I have always had many fur babies, cats, dogs, horses, and even a pig. 4 1/2 years ago I found a tiny kitten when I took her to the vet, she told me the kitten was no more than 3 days old. I brought her home and my big pit bull (a lover) Hayley took on the role of mom. She never left Binx’s side. 4 1/2 years later Binx had a heart attack and passed in front of myself and Hayley. At this time, I also have another cat and 2 other dogs but Hayley now is going through depression. She eats very little, lays on the couch and stares at the spot where Binx passed away. She cries. Has little desire to go outside other than to go poop and pee. I have bought her new toys. Treats are out of the question because of her severe allergies. It’s been 2 weeks and is heartbreaking to me.
I’m so sorry for your loss, Pam. My heartfelt condolences go out to all of you during this difficult time. It must be so painful to watch Hayley struggle with the loss too. Sometimes, having a ‘Celebration of Life’ ceremony, smudging with sage around the spot where Binx passed away, and talking about your favorite memories, asking Binx to ‘let Hayley know she is alive and well in spirit’ can help. Also, let Hayley be a part of the event. When you talk out loud about what happened and in a positive way, it can help the remaining pets move through their grief.
When one of my cats die I place them on a towel on my bed for an hour or so to let the others say goodbye. They seem to understand and seem to really be saying goodbye to their friend.
I have several dogs and I have lost a few but after the death of one, a coworker gave me 2 dogs a male and female back in 2012. Well, we lost the male last year and my Annabelle has never been the same she lays around she barely eats you can feel her ribs and she will only occasionally get up to go to the bathroom otherwise she just pees where she lays I try to give her a lot of attention and hand feed her some of our food. I fear I am losing her I have other dogs that she and her brother Champ was around but it’s not the same for her anymore.
I’m glad I came across your article. My 12-year-old Papillon Truman has been displaying a lot of needy behavior after a couple of losses. I had to put my 14-15 year old cat Aubrey to sleep. They got along well except for an occasional hiss from Aubrey. Sometimes they slept butt to butt.
Then about three weeks later a very close friend and next-door neighbor moved out. Truman loved her and would always run to her door and squeal when she came outside. To let me know he needed to go out to potty he would come to me and stand up against my chair.
But after these losses, he came up several times a day in addition to needing to go out. He never used to do that. Sometimes scratching or pawing me. And it always happens when I’m on the phone or online with others. I finally started pulling up a chair next to me so he could sit next to me. He settles down now.
I want to make him comfortable but I wonder if I’m reinforcing his needy behavior. I’m considering getting another cat but it will be a while. Any ideas would be appreciated!
I’m so sorry for your loss, Kate. It is so hard to lose a member of the family. Pets grieve too, and I think you are doing all the right things for Truman.
If he were mine, I would tell him Aubrey died and the neighbor moved away and that he is perfectly normal for him to feel lonely, sad, or to miss them. Saying it out loud will keep you focused on saying the right things. Keep it simple and as positive as you can. He may not understand each word you say but when your thoughts align with your words and actions they are able to put all the pieces of the puzzle together better.
We often think one thing and do another. This can confuse and already upset pet.
Speak as if Truman were a 9 or 10-year-old child.
Sometimes getting a new pet is just what they need to help them move into healing. Other times it is too much too soon. You know Truman better than anyone else so trust your instincts. If it feels right, then move forward with getting a new pet. If it doesn’t feel right or things don’t come together easily, that is a big sign to wait and give it more time.
Blessings to both of you and big hugs for healing.
My dog Max has been mourning the loss of his companion, Ponyo. She was always with him since he was a baby. When she passed away recently I saw Max change overnight from a happy active dog into a depression I wasn’t expecting to be so overwhelming for him. Your suggestions really helped me to help him begin to heal. We put her collar on a stuffed animal and he has started to perk up some. I know it’s hard and we have to take it day by day. But I wanted to say thanks for your suggestions
I am so sorry for the loss of your angel, Ponyo. It is so hard on everyone when we lose a beloved family member. I’m so glad these suggestions have helped ease the pain. Thank you for taking the time to let me know. Sending love and healing…
I just lost my 10-year-old mini Dachshund, Marley. I had her since she was a baby, took her to have her teeth cleaned, she died while doing the cleaner, I blame myself, I wasn’t with her, she was doing great when we went in. It’s killing me, it’s only been 2 weeks. My other baby Kiwi was with her 5 years since 6 weeks old. He is grieving, just laying around, he is eating. But his normal happy self is no longer, I want us both to be happy again, just don’t know how to get us there. She was my heart, the greatest, sweetest pet ever.
I am so sorry for the loss of your angel, Marley. It is so painful to lose someone you love especially when you are expecting to pick them up from a simple procedure. Maybe someday we will understand why things happen as they do…or maybe someday we will realize that all that matters is the love we share. Not how things ended. It is still so very painful and I hope you have copy of my book, The Amazing Afterlife of Animals, to help you on your journey. Sending love and healing