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Do Our Pets Experience Grief?

They provide us comfort, but sometimes they need it, too


spinner image Illustration of dog looking sad in mirror; three pictures of dog hugging a human on the wall
Pet professionals say canine depression is incredibly similar to that of humans.
Liam Eisenberg

Before he recently passed, my husband, Jerry, would tell me how much he loved the two of us. Meaning me and Maple. Our dog.

He and Maple were inseparable. Even as Jerry lay on a hospital bed we had placed in our family room, Maple would pop up and lick him. That made Jerry smile when he had little else to smile about in the throes of Lewy body dementia.

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After Jerry died, I was a wreck. And so was Maple, I soon came to realize. She wasn’t interested in things she used to love. Instead of playing with doggie toys, Maple chewed up the wrist braces that Jerry had worn to help his carpal tunnel syndrome. She dragged several of his undershirts off a closet shelf and lay on them. She slept more. She ate less.

All of this made me wonder if dogs get depressed with a loved one’s passing. Do they experience grief?

The answer is yes, according to Stanley Coren, professor emeritus of psychology at the University of British Columbia. “In fact, the nature of canine depression is incredibly similar to that of humans,” he says.

So how could I help Maple? Kathryn Dench, chief veterinary adviser at Paw Origins, an online company that sells pet supplements, offers these practical steps for a surviving owner.

  • Maintain normalcy. Dogs thrive on routine, so keeping that up provides comfort. Try to keep walks, feeding times and playtimes as consistent as their deceased owner did.
  • Provide extra attention and comfort. This may seem obvious, but it can be helpful to the grieving human too. Give your pet more cuddles and petting and just time spent together.
  • Socialize and exercise. Activities that stimulate the pet’s mind and body — such as interaction with other dogs and people and regular exercise — can help lift a dog’s spirits.
  • Monitor your pet’s health. Watch for any signs of decline, and consult with a veterinarian if you notice significant changes in eating habits or behavior.

Maple and I grieved together; we need each other. And she’s doing much better. Each morning at 7 a.m., she licks my face, reminding me that she’s hungry and wants love. Now we are the twosome.

 

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