This article is directly from Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. Although concise, it covers basic questions that plague many caretakers when tough decisions are on the horizon.
Pet Loss Support Hotline – Resources for Grieving
Frequently Asked Questions
As we receive your comments and suggestions to the site, there are questions which have come up several times. We want very much to continue to hear from you and to respond to your individual questions. Below, however, please find responses to questions that have come up several times already.
When is a good time to think about getting another pet? Am I dishonoring the memory of my deceased animal by replacing it with another one?
Perhaps the best answer to that question is that there is no “correct” time to get another animal. What is disturbing to many pet owners is the pressure from concerned friends to fill the empty place in their home and life as quickly as possible, to “get over it” and find a new pet.
The timetable of an individual’s recovery from loss is intrinsic to the person themselves and their relationship with their pet; some feel that they can and should get another as soon as possible, perhaps they were waiting through some illness to get a new young animal in the house. If so, this was done out of love and courtesy to the previous pet, and the joy that a new puppy or kitten can bring should not be tinged with guilt for having done so quickly. For others, years can pass before the time feels right to get a new animal. The place occupied by that pet was so large, and the loss so overwhelming, that finding emotional space for another is not possible.
When considering getting a new animal, be sure that you are prepared for the time and emotions needed to be given to this new pet. No animal could ever hope to replace the special relationship that was shared with a former animal, expecting this would be cruel to the new animal, as it is simply unrealistic. However, every animal, like every person, brings all of their uniqueness to a new owner. Going to pet shops and shelters, looking around and waiting for an animal to strike your fancy may be the best way to go about acquiring a new pet. If this makes you uncomfortable, or brings up too many bad memories, it is ok to stop and wait. When the time is right, you will know, and a new animal will find you.
I have another animal, and they’ve been acting strangely since the death of my animal. What are the signs of animal grief, and how can I help?
Here is a short list of things to look for in an animal that is grieving:
Anxiety, restlessness or a need to stay by the owner
Changes in eating, drinking, sleeping or exercise habits
Depression, heavy sighing or disinterest in usual activities
High-pitched distress vocalization (especially in young animals)
Searching the yard, house, and other familiar areas for the animal that has died
The best way to help your animal through this time, which seems to be as difficult for them as it is for us, if not sometimes more so, is simply to give them time, and allow them to grieve with you. It may be helpful for you as well as for your pet to spend time together talking about, or silently remembering the one who has passed on. Trying to spend extra time and attention with your animal will be good for you as well as for them, playing special games with them, giving them special treats, etc.
In cases of severe grieving, when an animal stops eating, cries incessantly, self-mutilates (cats especially), or seems especially anxious, your veterinarian may be able to suggest medication to relieve the anxiety associated with the loss.