senior dogs

How Dogs Experience Grief

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Losing a pet is a sad and stressful situation for everyone, including the other dogs in the household. You may not realize it, but dogs do grieve the loss of a companion. If you are dealing with the death of one of your dogs, there are several things you can do to help your remaining dog (or dogs) get through this difficult time.

What to expect after your dog loses a friend

Just like people, all dogs react differently to loss. Some dogs seem to act completely normal while others get deeply depressed. Certain dogs may develop health or behavior issues. Here are some common dog reactions to the death of another dog:

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If you notice any signs of grief in your dog, call your vet today.

  • Personality changes. Some dogs may seem to change some of their behaviors. If the dog that passed away was a leader, the dog left behind may feel it is now their responsibility to take on that job. You may notice them barking more at passersby or acting more outgoing or confident. Or, you may notice your dog is more withdrawn and quiet.

  • Physical symptoms. Dogs left behind may have physical symptoms in response to the loss of another pet. Some common symptoms include lethargy, loss of appetite, and sometimes even illness.

  • No signs. Some dogs may not even show signs after losing a companion dog. This does not mean the dog is not experiencing some kind of grief.

Stick to your routine

No matter how your dog may react to the loss of another pet, they are likely feeling the stress over the changes in the household. One of the best ways you can help your dog adjust to the loss is to stick as carefully and closely to their normal routine. Continue to feed and walk them at the same times. By sticking to the usual schedule, you are reducing their stress a great deal. Keeping a routine will also help you cope with your own grief of losing a pet.

Provide more exercise and stimulation

Chances are high that the dog that passed away played a large role in the day-to-day life of your other dog. They may have played together, napped together, ate together. Losing this relationship may leave your remaining dog feeling anxious or bored. You can help relieve or help deal with this boredom and anxiety by providing them more exercise and mental stimulation.

Some things you can do for your dog include going for an additional walk each day, providing plenty of interesting toys, starting an obedience program, and playing extra little games like fetch or tug-of-war. You can also just make time for extra cuddling and bonding time with one another.

Should I get another dog?

One of the first pieces of advice people often hear when they lose a dog is to run right out and get another dog. This is not always the right choice. Before you get another dog, here are a few things to consider:

  • Are you ready for another dog? Your life may have changed a great deal wince you first brought your dogs home and new dogs are often a lot of work. Make sure you are prepared and emotionally ready for this kind of commitment before taking on a new dog.

  • Make sure your dog will accept another dog. Although your dogs were inseparable before, this does not guarantee the remaining dog will have the same relationship with a new dog. We suggest before you bring a new song home, test out their interactions beforehand.

So let’s reiterate. Some dogs show physical symptoms of grief. Others may exhibit behavior changes. Stick to your routine and give your remaining dog lots of exercise and attention. If you notice further signs of concern or physical illness, schedule an appointment to speak with your vet.

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Aging Pet Care Awareness

Help your pet live a long healthy life.

Help your pet live a long healthy life.

A comment made frequently by pet owners is that pets don't live long enough. As veterinary medicine advances and pet lover's awareness grows, longer and healthier life spans are possible.

Average pet lifespan varies greatly between dogs, cats and breeds. That said, I was surprised by a recent survey of more than 1,000 people by PetAg, Inc. that showed one-third of American pet owners don’t know when their pet will become a senior. With 71 million pet-owning households in the U.S. alone, this "one-third" statistic translates to millions of households that do not know how to prepare for and provide the best care during their pet's senior years.

Knowing when a pet is a "senior" will help people make appropriate changes in diet, exercise and health examination schedules to ensure a long, healthy life of their pet.

As a general rule of thumb, dogs and cats are considered "senior" around age seven. Larger dogs sooner (age 5 or 6), and smaller dogs later (age 8 or 9). Dogs have such a large variety of breeds and sizes that there isn't a single age that automatically translates to senior status.

The most accurate way to plan for your pet's senior years is to make an appointment with your veterinarian to discuss your pet's specific needs and age-related plan for optimal health.

Here are some age-related myths from the Aging Pet Care Awareness Survey:

MYTH: Pets and their owners age differently.
FACT: While the rate at which pets age is certainly different than humans, the changes seen with advancing age are very similar: changes in weight (gain or loss), dental problems, arthritic joints and heart troubles, to name a few. "Many of the same health and wellness strategies may be implemented in pets to increase longevity," notes Dr. Kelly Swanson, an assistant professor at the University of Illinois who teamed with PetAg to design the survey. A wellness/geriatric examination with your veterinarian is the perfect time to discuss an appropriate senior diet, supplements or medications to ease the pain of arthritis, and schedule a dental cleaning to keep teeth, gums, heart and liver healthy.

MYTH: As long as my pet isn't overweight, it isn't a major health concern.
FACT: While obesity is a huge health concern and one that actually "ages" animals faster, sudden weight loss or being chronically underweight is also a serious health concern. Diseases such as cancer, kidney failure, and Diabetes Mellitus can cause weight loss along with other symptoms, and must be addressed for optimum health.
At the other end of the body weight spectrum, two of the age-related symptoms most concerning to survey participants — aching joints (55.7%) and lack of energy (36%), are common symptoms of obesity that can be managed with proper diet and exercise.

MYTH: Exercise and engaging toys are the best ways to prevent cognitive decline.
FACT: Cognitive decline, or geriatric dementia, is something that is most often associated with human seniors, but pets are prone to age-related dementia, too.
Dementia in pets may manifest in different ways, most commonly: inappropriate vocalization (barking or meowing in the middle of the night), loss of house training (urinary accidents), getting "lost" in a corner or part of the house, and not interacting with family members as before.
The general confusion from dementia along with the above behavior changes may cause additional stress/fear/anxiety for the pet as well as for the human family members.
From the study: "maintaining proper levels of exercise can help maintain cognitive function, but Dr. Swanson explained that there is more evidence supporting dietary intervention, including the use of nutritional supplements. He suggests looking for products that include antioxidants (i.e. vitamins E, C and beta carotene) or those with omega-3 fatty acids." Please check with your veterinarian to see what product(s) or medications may be able to help your senior pet.

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Schedule an appointment with your vet today to talk about your aging pet’s health.

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Don't forget to subscribe to our email newsletter for more recipes, articles, and clinic updates delivered to your inbox (here). Or, you can keep up to date by liking and following our Facebook page (here).

Related: We have more information under our dog health tags.