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How to Help a Grieving Dog Cope With Loss: 9 Ways

Nicole Cosgrove Profile Picture

By Nicole Cosgrove

sad golden retriever

The loss of a beloved animal is something no one wants to face. After having them there with you every day, ready to offer you unconditional love, support, and companionship, the idea that you’ll never see them again can leave your heart shattered in a million pieces.

However, as bad as it is for humans, at least we have the ability to put the loss in its proper context; we can rationalize it, understand it, and slowly (and painfully) come to grips with it.

Your dog, on the other hand, doesn’t have the same coping mechanisms to fall back on — and yes, dogs are capable of grief or at least emotion close to it. Whether it’s another dog or one of their humans, any time a loved one unexpectedly falls out of their lives, dogs have to pick up the pieces.

Fortunately, there are ways you can help your pet deal with the loss in a compassionate manner. The tips below won’t make the pain go away — only time can do that and even then, only to a certain extent — but they can make the entire process less jarring for your pup. Here’s how to help a grieving dog in nine steps:

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The 9 Ways to Help a Grieving Dog:

1. Watch for Signs of Grief

While dogs are capable of showing grief-like emotions, there’s no guarantee that they will. Some seem unphased by the change they’ve experienced, while others may just hold their emotions closer to their vests.

If you’ve noticed the following behaviors, though, there’s a good chance your dog is grieving:

  • Searching
  • Increased clinginess
  • Loss of appetite
  • Different sleep patterns
  • Crying or howling
  • Sad or listless demeanor
Mourning Dog
Image Credit: Aleksey Mnogosmyslov, Shutterstock

2. Consider Letting Them See Their Deceased Friend

Whether to let your dog view the body of their departed friend is a question that’s the subject of much debate; the fact is, there’s little evidence that it’s helpful, but there’s also no evidence that it’s harmful.

However, there are many anecdotal reports of dogs who didn’t get to view their friends, searching all around the house for them and in many cases, howling or whining after them.

Whether they truly understand what’s happened to their loved one isn’t clear, but there’s little risk in letting them see their buddy one last time.

3. Maintain Established Routines

Dogs thrive on consistent habits, and if you disrupt those habits while they’re grieving, it will throw their lives into even more disarray. It’s important to maintain a reliable schedule so your dog can have a predictable routine they can rely on.

Be sure to feed them at the same time, and don’t alter their diet (handing out a few extra treats here or there is fine). Keep walks consistent. Go to bed at the same time you normally would.

If a human passed away, pay special attention to routines that will now be missing; for example, if they always walked in the door at 5 p.m., there’s a good chance that your dog will look for them at that time.

It’s heartbreaking to watch your pet sit and wait for a family member who won’t be coming home, but there’s not much you can do for them other than to offer love and encouragement.

leaving dog at home
Image Credit: Alexey Stiop, Shutterstock

4. Don’t Bend Any Rules Unless You’re Comfortable Making Permanent Changes

When you see your dog struggling, it can be tempting to relax certain rules, “just this once.” Whether that means letting them sleep in the bed, beg for scraps, or jump on you to demand affection, it’s hard to tell them no when you know that they’re suffering.

However, you shouldn’t give in during the grieving process unless you’re okay with permanently changing the rules. Your pup won’t understand why they were allowed on the bed last week but are getting scolded for it this week.

It’s better to find alternate ways of showing them compassion than to offer a one-time hall pass on established boundaries.

5. Don’t Neglect Exercise

Dogs are better-behaved when they don’t have spare energy, and this can prevent them from becoming their own worst enemies as well.

When you give your dog physical stimulation, you allow them to step away from their feelings of grief and focus instead on something enjoyable. Once they’re good and tuckered out, they have less energy to devote to missing their loved one.

It’s not a panacea, but it’s a great way to provide temporary relief (and it can help keep physical manifestations of grief at bay).

australian shepherd dog and female owner are walking together
Image Credit: Anna Pozzi – Zoophotos, Shutterstock

6. Be Careful About Bringing Home New Pets

If your dog lost a fellow pet, it can be tempting to try to replace them as soon as possible. That would be a mistake, as your dog needs time to process the loss; however, it may also be a mistake to wait too long to expand your pack.

It all depends on your dog’s relationship with the departed pet. If they were play buddies who kept each other company all day, it might make sense to replace them sooner rather than later. If the surviving dog is an older animal, however, they may not appreciate having to deal with a new roommate in their senior years.

Regardless of how long you wait, make sure that your primary criteria in choosing a new pet is how well it will get along with the existing animals in your home.

7. Consider Asking Your Vet for Help

If your dog’s grief seems especially severe, it may be worth asking your vet to prescribe some medication to help with the depression. There are several mood-altering drugs that are as effective in pets as they are in humans, and your dog might be a good candidate for one of them.

If you don’t want to go the pharmaceutical route, many people claim to have experienced good results with pheromones. There’s little research to back this up, but there’s also not much to lose by giving them a shot.

Handsome young male vet_nestor rizhniak_shuttersock
Image Credit: Nestor Rizhniak, Shutterstock

8. Be Aware of Your Own Feelings

Dogs are tremendously empathetic creatures, and they can detect your mood, which in turn, affects their own. If you’re taking the loss especially hard, don’t be surprised if your dog is too.

That’s not to say that you should bury your feelings. It’s fine to grieve openly around your dog. Just be aware that if it seems like your dog isn’t making much progress, there’s always the chance that it’s your grieving process that they’re reacting to.

See also: Do Dogs Grieve? What You Need to Know!

9. Above All, Be There for Your Dog

Your dog will need you more than ever while they cope with the loss, and you must be there for them every step of the way.

This means spending quality time with them and offering plenty of affection. Be careful about spoiling them with food, though, as it’s a poor substitute for love and can lead to health problems down the road.

If your dog loves to walk, spend more time exploring the neighborhood. If they love training, ramp up the obedience drills. If they love just lying in your lap and soaking up affection, then give them every ounce of love you’ve got.

The great thing about doing this is it heals not only your dog’s heart but also yours. It’s also a tremendous reminder of the fact that while the loss of a dog can be unbelievably devastating, the time you get to spend with them in life makes it all worthwhile.

You might also be interested in: 50 Pet Loss Quotes – An Inpirational Guide Through Grief

Featured Image: Public Domain Pictures

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