Grief in Dogs and Cats: How to Recognize and Manage It – Animals

  • 1 What are the symptoms?

  • Animals that have close emotional relationships with fellow animals and of course with their master may suffer from their loss. Sophie Trihan confirmed this: “Although it is generally shorter than in humans, mourning in animals includes, like ours, several stages, which can be determined by observing your animal.” Stages accompanied by characteristic symptoms: “After the death of a congener or its owner, the dog or cat first searches for it wherever it spends time. This is what approaches, in humans, the denial stage. Then, the animal will show sadness, for about a week (rarely up to a month), corresponding to sadness, the depressive phase. Finally, what I call integration comes, where the animal resumes normal behavior”, explains the expert, indicating, on the other hand, that he has not yet observed aggressiveness, which will be assimilated in the phase of anger , as in humans.

    The animal can sometimes remain in a depressive phase, stop eating, growl or meow often, sleep more than usual. These are signs to be alert: “You must consult a veterinarian because the risk is that the animal allows itself to wither”.

    Sophie Trihan remembers that two schools are still opposed today on the subject of animal mourning: “The first considers it a question of anthropomorphism, that the master lends to his dog or his cat the feeling that ‘He is not . Thinking that he is sad because he himself is sad, man will cause effects on his animal such as loss of appetite or apathy. But other experts assure that mourning is specific to the animal. The my personal belief is that both are at play. Dogs and cats are interconnected beings capable of feeling emotions: fear, joy, surprise, disgust… So why not sadness?”.

  • 2 How to soothe a grieving animal?

  • In the case of the loss of a four-legged companion, “the master must continue to give the same attention to the one who remains. He should make sure to do activities that are good for the morale of both. And do not hesitate to consult a veterinarian, some animals literally let themselves die of grief. Especially with cats, who cannot find the relational quality they had with their previous master. I experienced this personally when I was young: we had to leave our cat behind when we moved from Tahiti to France. He let himself go and died three months later. He is two years old.” Emotional shock can also trigger a hidden pathology, continued the specialist.

    In the case of the loss of its owner, the person who adopted it, whether it is a family member of the deceased person or when the animal passes through a shelter “we must put it, accepting it as it should be by responding. in its physiological and emotional needs. Without, however, falling into excess or miserabilism, because the risk is to promote adaptive behavior such as isolation anxiety, “explains Sophie Trihan.

  • 3 Take care of yourself to keep whoever stays… or whoever comes

  • When a person loses one of his animals, his grief can be as painful as the death of one of his fellow humans. Then it is necessary to be careful not to transfer its excessive sadness to the rest of the animal or animals. Even if it means getting help from a psychotherapist. “If the master cannot bear his grief, that his remaining animal is also killed, this is the double punishment for the latter, who must manage his own mourning and his master”, assured Sophie Trihan.

    Adopting a new animal after the death of the previous one can also cause a problem in this case: “Getting an animal too early, when in addition it is the same breed, the same coat or even a name with similar sound testifies. in a form of denial. The master lives in the past, the new animal strongly feels this cognitive dissonance and the link cannot be made to him. Then it is necessary that the master show stability by being aware of what is happening to him and taking steps to improve, by taking care of him”.

    * Sophie Trihan is a behaviorist, psychotherapist, sophrologist in Saint-Brieuc (22).

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