Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Helping Pets cope with the loss of their Best Buddy

Losing a much loved family member, well, just plain hurts.  Some people argue that our pets have no concept of death or loss.  Well, I am not going to argue with these people, other than to say that I hold a  different point of view.

Our pets are aware of death and dying - I have looked at a pet's eyes and seen the look of "it's time - let me go in peace". 
RIP Teddy - We knew it was time to say goodbye when he 
no longer wanted to play with his tennis ball.

The look in their eyes tells me so much when they come in for a vet visit. We have all seen other pets in the household behave differently when one of them is sick - they may often seem to try to comfort them, or they give them space.

After the loss of a pet, we (all of us), feel a  deep sadness and loss. Knowing that it is normal does not lessen the pain.

What if the pet owner has multiple pets ( like us)?  What do they (the pet's)  know or feel when their best buddy is no longer there?

In our current household at home, we have Piper (our kelpie), and two cats (Stone (our new cat)  and Dash). Our cat, Pusski passed away earlier this year from Lymphoma . When this happened,  our remaining pets (Piper and Dash)  knew something had changed.

 Piper no longer had to look twice around the corners (where Pusski used to do the "You shall not pass" look), and poor Dash - well, she seemed to grow old suddenly. They both would go when Pusski used to sleep, sniff the area as if searching for him.  

I used to joke that Pusski was still there sometimes as Piper would be at the top of the stairs barking (as she used to do when Pusski was sitting on them and wouldn't let her pass).

Pusski and Piper were not "best buddies", but even so, Piper did notice when Pusski was no longer there.
In many households, the pets didn't just grow up with the kids in the family, but they often grew up with each other - they would sleep together, walk/play together. Their day routine would be dependant on the other pet.

When one pet dies, the other one may show signs of distress.

Signs of distress can resemble human grief
- not sleeping well
- pacing, as if searching for their friend
- avoidance of social interaction or the opposite - being overly attached to someone
- not eating well

A question I often get asked "should I let my pet sniff the pet that has passed?" or "should they be present for the euthenasia?".  The best advice I can give is to not push your pet to sniff or interact with the one who has passed on. Most pets usually ignore the body itself, as if to know the spirit is no longer there. Others will sit by their side, as if to say "this is my mate".

Some strategies that will help you and your pet.

Understand that things are never going to be the same - you will have to develop a "new kind of normal"  Be kind to yourself and to those around you as you all adjust to this change.

Develop a consistent routine 
  •    of eating .  Keep the type of food constant, and avoid the temptation to feed extra treats or special foods.  Feed at the same time of the day.
  •  of playtime.  Knowing when there is going to be playtime, or meal time will reduce your pet's anxiety (because they know how the day is going to play out). This will help them adjust to a "new" normal routine. 
  • of comfort time. Of course you are going to want to cuddle and comfort your pet, and feel sadness and loss.  Keep your pet active during these times, through shared experiences of a nice long walk, or a trip to the off leash park or beach.  Create new positive memories for you and your pet. 
  • of interactions between existing pets.  In multi-pet households, each member of the unit usually have a particular role that oftentimes, as owners, we aren't privvy to.  When one passes, the others usually decide between themselves who is going to do what.  This can often lead to signs of aggression between these animals if not managed well.  In these situations, expert vet advice will help tremendously. 

Piper and Dash are "kissing buddies"
What about medications? 

Please speak to us about this option - there are some "over the counter" anxiety medications that I have used effectively, whereas some pets do have a need for short term prescription antidepressants.

Whilst no one wants to have their pet "on drugs", if your pet needs medication in the short term to help them cope, please do not deny them this help.

Vets can help you and your pet through this difficult time.
 What about getting another pet? 

For many pet owners, the thought of getting another pet is painful.  The pain of loss is too much for them, and so they decide not  to revisit that pain.  For many more, though, the memory of love and joy shines through, and there is enough love there to share with a new pet.

I have often had pet owners remark that their surviving pet "perked up" and started "acting like a puppy again" as soon as a new pet completed the family unit.  You are never going to replace the one you lost, you are just opening your heart up to another one to love you as much as you love them.

Do you have any questions?

  Let us know.  We will do our best to help you as much as we can.  Be aware though, that the advice we give can only be general in nature, and we often do need a veterinary consultation to make sure that there are no other medical issues that we need to be aware of.

I am Dr Liz, the mad vet from Bellambi.  I do believe our pets feel grief when a companion pet dies.  Like people, some dogs seem to cope better with loss than others.

I am also a pet owner, and have been through this (unfortunately many times) with our own family pets.  As a vet, I have been through this also many many times.  There are many things I can do to help you and your pet cope through this very difficult time.

Please call us if you feel you need that extra bit of help and support.