Do animals experience grief?

22nd Feb, 2022

Written by Nicola van Ass – Qualified Dog Trainer, Groomer and Feline Behaviourist

Losing a pet can be a very traumatic experience. Many of us see our pets as part of the family, as our children and as our loyal companions. Losing one takes a big chunk out of our lives. But what about animals? Do they grieve for the one lost? Most would immediately answer yes, but I’d like to talk about the other side to grief: relief.

Part of the family unit

When we have more than one animal in the family, it’s such a gift to have them play or sleep together. We even accept it when they merely tolerate each other. If there’s no aggression or fear shown, we feel that the family unit is compatible.

When one of the animals in a family passes away, it can have a few different types of impact on the other pets in the household. As we all know, every animal has their own personality. They have their own likes and dislikes, fears and things that they enjoy. We automatically assume that when the animals in the household get along, it means they’re friends, or, at the very least, not enemies.

Missing you

Most reactions may start in a similar way. Calling around the house to see where the pet that has passed has gone. Looking all over the house and garden to try to find them.

One of the most common reasons for this is the change in dynamic in the household. If they were very good friends, we may see them start to pine for the other animal, and this breaks our hearts even more. They can stop eating, be less active, and not find enjoyment in the things that they once did, like going for walks or playing with their toys. They can become depressed. When we see these reactions, it’s generally safe to say that our pet misses their friend. They feel lost and insecure. It’s during this time that we may feel the need to fill the space our beloved lost pet has left, because we feel that getting a new friend will help our fur child feel better.

Another reaction – generally one we don’t expect – is, after a period of time looking for the animal that’s no longer there, the one remaining starts to become friendlier, more interested in toys, treats, and food, and being more comfortable in their home. This is what we call “relief”.

Often when there’s one pet that’s very outgoing and demanding and the other that’s timider and quieter, we see a very different personality emerge from the timid one. It’s not something we notice when they’re together, because we naturally assume that this is their own personality and that’s how they’ll always be. But, when given the freedom to be themselves, without the need to share attention or affection, they can become completely different animals!

Time for a new pet?

It’s this kind of information that makes it so important to observe our pets before making the decision to bring home another family member. Sometimes it takes a few days or weeks for the remaining animals to reorganise their lives to accommodate the missing pet. If they’re livelier and seem happier, then bringing in another pet may cause your current remaining fur kids to regress to a more timid and quieter personality.

However, if your pet’s pining and doesn’t seem to get better after a few weeks, it may be time to get them a new friend. But always remember, if they stop eating or get sick, it’s important to take them to the vet for a check-up.

Another thing to remember, for the human side of us, if it’s time to get a new pet in the family due to the loss of a beloved fur kid, never think that you’re replacing them. You can never replace a child, human or animal, but you can invite a new member to join your family to be loved, spoiled and adored. If it’s the right move, your beloved pet will look down and be happy you were able to give another animal a chance at a life they might not have been able to experience.