Grieving Pet Attends Memorial Service
by Linda Banks
Photo of Wiley taken from Youtube
Do our pets mourn?
We grieve the loss of our pets when they die. Many pet owners hold a memorial service for their pet, and some keep a pet’s ashes in a pet urn or in a memorial keepsake. Pets also attend memorial services for their owners.
There is strong anecdotal evidence suggesting that pets mourn. Personal stories, photos and videos posted on social media show pets sitting by coffins or refusing to leave their owner’s gravesite. During the funeral service of Navy SEAL hero Jon Tumilson, his loyal dog Hawkeye lay down with a sigh near his casket.
How can we anticipate our pet’s grieving and plan for someone to care for our pet when we are gone? What are the signs of a grieving pet, and how can we help?
Today the study of animal behavior is a recognized science. Many colleges offer degrees in animal behavior. Biology and psychology are combined for a greater understanding of why pets act the way they do, including how pets grieve.
Barbara J. King is Chancellor Professor of Anthropology at the College of William & Mary. In her new book Why Animals Grieve, Dr. King provides evidence that many animals grieve the loss of a loved one. The book portrays tender moments between animals. Dr. King explains that:
An excerpt titled “How animals mourn their dead” from Dr. King’s new book can be found online at the New York Post website.
Pet professionals accept that pets suffer from some of the same emotional problems as humans. Pets experience depression, anxiety, fears and phobias. They are affected by events like moving, trauma from abuse or injury, or by the death of an owner.
Pets grieve differently from one to another, just like people. They can’t use words to tell us what they are feeling, but they communicate constantly through body language. Grieving dogs and cats may present with:
- Changes in eating and sleeping habits
- Negative behavior (such as urinating inside)
- Crying, howling, barking
- Wandering, looking for owner
- Cats may exhibit obsessive grooming
6 Tips to help a grieving pet
Both grieving dogs and cats need extra attention. Most importantly, pets need to be reassured that everything will be okay and that they will be cared for. Ways we can help include:
- Serve familiar food.
- Try to keep to the pet’s regular schedule with eating, exercise and playtime.
- Face time -- sit with the pet on your couch (if allowed), or at eye level on the floor. The special attention is comforting.
- Spend as much time as you can with them, talking, petting and grooming them.
- Some dogs will benefit from visits to dog parks and the distraction other pets provide.
- Go outside. Smells and fresh air are good medicine for a sad dog.
Pay attention to your grieving pet. If they do not return to a normal energy and routine, contact your veterinarian to rule out medical issues. If behavioral treatment is unsuccessful, veterinarians may suggest pharmaceuticals to treat depression or anxiety.
The Animal Behavior Society is a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting education and research in the field of animal behavior. The Society provides a list of Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists if you wish to find professional help for your grieving pet.
Recognized dog behaviorist Cesar Millan, the Dog Whisperer, provides information in his article “Dog in mourning: Helping our pets cope with loss.” His site is a good resource for dog lovers concerned about the health and behavior of their pets.
Humans and pets form strong bonds. They miss each other especially when one dies. Pets may struggle with the loss of an owner, but with time and care most adjust and adapt. Humans mourn their pet’s death and often find ways to keep their pet’s memory close. Our blog “Pet Parents and How to Honor a Deceased Pet” highlights a pet-only funeral home that offers various services.
Some people bury their pet’s final remains so that they can visit the gravesite. Many people choose to have a pet cremated and keep the cremated remains in a pet urn for ashes. Pet ash necklaces hold a small portion of a pet’s remains. One might even consider a companion cremation urn to hold your ashes beside your pet’s ashes.
Linda Banks provided extended end-of-life care for her beloved Aunt who was like her mother. When her brother suddenly died, she was instrumental in orchestrating all of the details of his final wishes to be cremated. Linda has been an active blogger for ten years, including blogging about Willie Nelson and his family. Willie told her recently that he reads her blog every day.