It’s not uncommon after the loss of one pet for owners to be concerned about the well-being of any remaining pets. The loss of a companion animal can be a difficult life event for pet owners, but the loss also may affect other animals in the household. A recent Morris Animal Foundation-funded study of owner-reported observations indicates there are a number of common behavioral changes to look for in dogs and cats after a companion animal in their home dies.
The study surveyed 279 owners following the death of a pet. The questionnaire was distributed through veterinary clinics and several animal welfare organizations based in New Zealand and Australia. The two most common classes of behavioral change reported through the questionnaire were in affectionate behaviors and territorial behaviors.
“Both dogs and cats were reported to demand more attention from their owners and/or display affiliative behavior, as well as spend time seeking out the deceased pet’s favorite spot,” noted the study article that appeared in Animals 2016, 6(11).
Dogs were reported to decrease the amount and speed at which they ate, and increase the amount of time spent sleeping. Cats were reported to increase the frequency and volume of their vocalizations. Researchers also looked at the practice of giving the surviving pet the opportunity to see the deceased pet’s body. The survey found no difference in behavioral responses between animals that saw the deceased pet and those that did not.
The study’s authors admit that one of the limitations of their study is that it can be easy for owners to over-interpret their pet’s behaviors, or project human traits onto their pets. However, they also acknowledged the intimate bond between owners and their pets, and the ability of pet owners to detect sometimes behavior changes in their pet that would escape notice by others. More study is needed, but the authors hope that the results of their study will lead to greater recognition of the special needs of pets coping with loss.