This story was originally titled "Losing a Companion" in the April 2011 issue. Subscribe to Canadian Living today and never miss an issue!
If you've recently suffered the loss of a pet, you may not be the only one in your home who's grieving. Animals form attachments to each other, and the loss of a companion can hit them hard, especially if there was a close social bond. Your pet's social interest and activity levels may change dramatically for a short time, not to mention their eating habits.
According to a study by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, 36 per cent of dogs ate less than usual after the death of another dog, and 11 per cent stopped eating completely. For cats who lost a feline friend, 46 per cent ate less than usual – a troubling thought since a cat could end up with liver failure if he goes off his food for more than 24 hours. Here's how you can help your pet get over his loss.
"Domesticated animals, especially dogs, are very attentive to human emotional states and behaviours," says Dr. Gary Landsberg, a board-certified veterinary behaviourist at the North Toronto Animal Clinic in Thornhill, Ont. Keeping your feelings in check around your pet will give you a better idea of whether the animal is behaving the way he is because he misses his friend or if he's just following your lead.
Set up play dates for your dog. Or, if he's an introvert, you can be his social playmate. It could be as simple as getting the Frisbee out a little more often or taking longer walks together.
Page 1 of 2 – Find out how long to wait to wait before bringing your upset pet to the vet on page 2.
Keep the same routine by encouraging your pet to eat and sleep at the usual time and to engage in his regular activities. Take a favourite thing (for cats, maybe it's catnip; for dogs, feeding toys) and use it to keep him enriched and occupied. "Maybe it will help you, too, to engage and spend more time with your pet," says Landsberg.
Don't panic. In most cases you're dealing with signs of stress – your pet should be fine within a few days to a few weeks. But if he displays feelings of apathy and depression and the changes in his sleeping and eating patterns last more than one day (cats) or seven to 10 days (dogs), it's time to call the vet.
Learn how to take care of an aging pet.
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