Helping Your Dog Cope With Grief

February 15, 2013

I can imagine some people acting like this is the most ridiculous post ever, but trust me it isn't. Based on my own experiences with dogs over the years, I can tell you they do experience grief and depression at the loss of a companion or owner. I've done a bit of research over the past two weeks to help ease Ellie into a new normal with minimal depression. The loss of a close companion for a dog, or other animal for that matter, can be very difficult. While we as humans can understand the new circumstances, I don't think it is always quite as easy for our pets to adjust. 

For instance, when my grandmother died a few years ago her pug remained by her side the entire time the EMT team was working on her in the house. My grandfather told us that the pug not only stayed by her, but continued to lick her as if to comfort her while she was in distress. When she initially fell in the house the dog is who alerted my grandfather that something had happened. That same goofy pug, whom we never thought had that much sense, followed the EMT's into the yard as they loaded my grandmother into the ambulance. The poor thing, not understanding what had happened, stayed in the yard for days looking for her, until someone forced him to come in doors. 

That particular instance really gave me a personal perspective on how dogs react to situations concerning grief. The pug obviously grieved the loss of my grandmother, and it was hard on him for awhile. 

Being that we cared for two dachshunds for a total of 7 years (5 with Maddie as part of the family) always had Jeremy and I discussing what we would do if and when Ellie died first. Maddie was always insanely dependent on Ellie, Ellie served as her mother constantly caring for her and bossing her around on a daily basis. Jeremy once caught the dogs at our house in Monroe in distress when curious Maddie dug her way out of the fence and was in sheer panic that she was separated from Ellie and couldn't decide how to get back in the gate. The girls were constant companions, taking them for walks separately caused distress...much less giving them a real reason to fear. 

So when Maddie died, like she did, at the beginning of the month we made sure to pay close attention to Ellie and her behavior. It has taken two solid weeks, but Ellie has come as close to normal Ellie as we could have hoped for. For a dog who has refused to go into the back yard since Maddie died, she actually scratched on the door and ran out to play today. Which, happily surprised us both. We did have a little more than regular concern for our 7 year old dachshund and how she coped with the loss of her partner because she is hypoglycemic and has seizures when her blood sugar is low. Here are a few tips I have learned and have worked for us to get our pup back to her normal bossy self, and I hope that this will be helpful for other dog owners too. 

* One of the things I wish I had done, but in the panic of it all didn't do was to let Ellie smell Maddie and see that she was actually dead. While it might seem morbid, it will help the dog to have a better sense of where their friend is. We simply buried Maddie in the backyard and Ellie was very confused about the smell, obviously she could smell her friend but didn't know where she was. 

*Give your grieving dog a solid month before washing bedding, blankets, and toys that smell like your other pet. Everything I've read has suggested that the smell can serve as a comfort for the grieving pet. Ellie personally hasn't gotten in the dog bed or played with Maddie's toys, but I am still holding out a good month before removing the smell from the house. 

* If your dog doesn't have the same appetite that is normal. After speaking with a dog dietitian I found out that they can actually go a month on water alone. Try to encourage eating by offering treats. Since Ellie does have a blood sugar problem the dietitian suggested I swap the brand of food I use and mix in wet food for a week. The wet food did wonders for convincing her to eat that first week, and within a week she was back to her normal eating habits. The new food peaked her interest so much that she was found picking her old food out of the bowl and leaving it around the house. 

*While you don't want to project your sorrow onto your pup, and all dog owners know how dogs tend to sense sadness in the house, it is good to do your best to divert their attention from the loss of their mate. Be sure to socialize your dog with other dogs, take them around people, maybe go for extra walks, and even get him/her a new toy that doesn't smell like the partner they lost. In the past two weeks the only toy Ellie plays with is the new one we got the minute I got home after Maddie died. Ellie now carries it everywhere with her and sleeps with it. 

*While this tip isn't for everyone, it worked for us. Since Ellie wouldn't sleep in the dog bed and only wanted to stay in the living room barking at night we let her sleep with us. After the loss of Maddie she (behaviorally) turned back into her puppy self and was very dependent on Jeremy and I. C0-sleeping gave her enough comfort that she was willing to sleep through the night and not be a bother to our sanity or the neighbors. This is definitely a "what works for you" tip. 

* Be sure to stick to routines. Losing his/her friend is hard enough, the last thing your dog needs to have have a routine that has been played out for years suddenly tossed in the fire as well. While we don't need to gate Ellie up while we are gone, we still did for a few days. However, it makes this pup happier to sit in the window all day long so after a week we gave into what she wanted. 

*While I'd love to break this rule, everything I've read has said to not immediately replace the pet you've lost with a new one. Give your dog a good month to grieve and then look into getting another dog. If you have children, also be sure they are ready for the new family member. 

Just remember that like people, every dog is different. Some may grieve longer, but as long as you can be sure they are getting the nutrients they need it is okay if your pup mopes around slightly longer than you hoped. They will get past the grief in their own time, just be sure you are doing what you can to facilitate their happiness.