How To Help Your Grieving Dog in Mourning

How To Help Your Grieving Dog in Mourning

For many of us, losing a part of our family is one of the most difficult times to experience. Yet, we don’t always consider how these losses can affect our furry canine friends. Whether we lose a grandmother, sister, uncle, dog, cat, or bird, there is a sense of mourning that is bound to settle on the house — and humans aren’t the only ones who feel it. The loss of a pet is as heartbreaking as the loss of a human in many cases.

Our dogs are highly sensitive and intuitive creatures, who can tell when something is off with their normal routine. Especially when they are able to recognize the absence of a family member. Your dog’s best friend could have been your cat, and when they pass, your dog might not quite understand where their buddy went and why they aren’t able to find them in the house.

So how are you supposed to help your dog when they are struggling with the changes but unsure exactly why? It can be tricky to communicate these changes to a pet, but there are ways that you can comfort your pup so that they can grieve for their friend and learn ways to cope.

Continue reading for more information on the mourning process for dogs and ways you can help comfort them.

Do Dogs Mourn the Loss of an Animal or Person?

While we cannot verbally communicate our emotions with our pets, pet parents often have a good sense of what their dogs are expressing. Based on behavior and mood, we can pick up on how our dog might feel, even if we can’t be 100% certain.

It’s well recognized that dogs do feel happiness, fear, sadness, excitement, and possessiveness, so they can likely experience the feeling of grieving. It ties in with sadness, but there is a bit more to it. Your dog has experienced a loss. Without that presence in their life, the confusion mixes with their sadness and creates even greater pain.

What Are Signs of a Grieving Dog?

When your furry friend has lost a loved one important to them, you might recognize changes in their behavior resembling mourning. If your dog has a sudden mood change and is moping around more frequently and not showing interest in activities they love, they could be depressed.

If they are showing signs of loss of appetite or avoiding play time (which is unusual behavior for them), they could be under the stress of the change in their daily routine. Similarly, they might sleep more and have lower activity levels. Perhaps it seems like they are sulking or moving more slowly than you’re accustomed to.

If these signs are persistent and either a person or pet a part of your family has recently passed, your dog could be reacting directly to that loss.

Why Might a Grieving Pet Be Mourning?

It can be challenging to explain to your dog what has happened to someone they love. For instance, explaining death to a dog is impossible. One day someone is here, and the next, they aren’t. Sometimes the loss isn’t related to death, but other life changes.

For example, dogs who have family members go off to college, experience divorce or breakups between their human parents, or have a neighbor that moves might struggle to know where their person has gone. They will often show signs of grief as you go through your own grief process.

So your dog might not have experienced a death in their close circle, but rather just the act of no longer being with someone they love. This experience is still hard, despite you (as the owner) knowing these people can come to visit.

If the individual visits often (like a college student), your dog may become used to this and be lifted from the grieving process. Then, it’s back to cuddles and playing fetch. Sometimes, this is possible, and your pup keeps feeling blue.

The absence of a person or pet that your dog has grown accustomed to is devastating to an animal, and we need to lend them a supportive paw. Then, you can work on ways to help your dog grieve the loss of something they love.

How Can You Help a Mourning Dog?

Your dog is undergoing something that even they can’t quite explain. All they know is that things have changed, and someone they love is not around all the time. If it’s a person they grew attached to, your dog might be struggling with a sense of purpose. If their routine is disrupted because of the loss of this individual, your dog might benefit from new routines to help distract them.

If your dog has lost one of their siblings or other animal companions, keeping items that the animal liked available to your dog can provide comfort. Dogs grieve the loss of animal companions, which comes as no surprise.

Imagine losing your best friend, the one you share treats with, go on walks with, cuddle with, and play with all day when everyone else is at work. It can be hard to accept that things are now different! It can be difficult for your dog to learn to cope, but you can help make things easier.

Spend Some Quality Time With Them

When your dog is in mourning, they will need more of your time. They will likely be extra lonely and will not want to leave your sign. If they have grown to become more anxious, fearing that you too will leave, they might form some separation anxiety.

If you engage more with your dog in doing activities they love, it might help to distract them from the loss. Going on walks and taking car rides or getting puppy-safe ice cream are good ways for you to spend time with your pet in a positive way. You might even want to make sure that someone is home at any given point in the day so that your dog isn’t alone for the first few weeks might soothe your pup’s stress.

Offer Lots of Extra Attention

Tying into quality time is giving your dog more affection than normal. Petting can be very soothing for both you and your pet, and it can help when your dog is grieving. If your dog likes being petted and kissed, now is a time to bump up your efforts. Carve out more time cuddling with your pet, petting them whenever you walk by or checking in on them every half hour.

Your dog will appreciate the additional love that they desperately need. Interacting with your pet frequently allows your dogs to get a little burst of serotonin. If your dog begins to feel lonely, these additional bouts of affection can boost their morale.

Consider Veterinary Assistance

If your dog has undergone several weeks of grieving, it might be best to consult with a veterinarian about prescribing them medications. Some medications can be prescribed to dogs to help reduce their anxiety and depression. You might not want to do this for a prolonged period, but it can help your dog as they struggle to mourn.

Your vet might want to do a physical exam before prescribing your dog any medication to rule out any other issues.

Introduce Your Dog to New Friends

If your dog is grieving and lonely, it might be nice to introduce them to new or old friends. Having dog playmates that your dog gets along with and feels respected by can bring out a puppy-like charm in your dog.

Not all dogs love to socialize in large groups, but setting up puppy playdates with neighborhood or other family dogs can give your pup a well-deserved energy boost. You can even invite some of your dog’s favorite people over to play with. Any kind of happy distraction is worth it to watch your dog pull themselves out of a funk!

What To Do When Introducing a New Dog to Your Family

While we don’t expect you to do this immediately, it might be worth adding another dog to your family when you are ready. Your pup might be missing their best friend, and not that they could be replaced, but having a new dog around can help your dog heal. If you add a new pet to the equation right away, it could add stress to your already grieving dog.

Once your pet has had time to adjust to the loss of a companion, adding another pet to the family can bring them joy. It helps them focus their energy on new tasks and interactions. No, it doesn’t replace the loss you all feel, but there is a sense of happiness from watching everyone fall in love with a new family member.

Support From People for Your Pets

Grieving dogs can experience many similar symptoms to having other diseases or issues. But, if your dog has just experienced a loss, these symptoms are likely in direct relation to that loss. To be sure, you can reach out to AskVet and let us know what your concerns are.

When you sign-up today, you get 24/7 access to our team of Certified Pet Lifestyle Coaches™ who can guide you through what your pet is experiencing. We can offer support and a plan to help your pet overcome their grief and become their happy, normal self. If you don’t address their grief, things can progress, and your dog can begin to have behavioral changes.

Sign up to access individualized care, FREE One Pet ID tag, a supportive community, and more. And don’t forget to give your pet an extra squeeze tonight from all of us here at AskVet!



Study Suggests Pets Grieve | American Veterinary Medical Association

Domestic Dogs (Canis Familiaris) Grieve Over The Loss Of A Conspecific | Scientific Reports

Use Of Trazodone As An Adjunctive Agent In The Treatment Of Canine Anxiety Disorders: 56 Cases (1995–2007) | American Veterinary Medical Association

Tips For Road Trips With Pets

Traveling with our furry buddies can be fun and memorable! Before you hit the road there is much to consider to prepare for anything unexpected while away from home. Here are some tips for making preparation and travel smooth and pleasant.

Preparation for Your Trip

  • Prior to the trip, check that your pet is current on vaccinations and parasite prevention and has a plentiful supply of any necessary medications. Prepare for the unexpected and bring a copy of the vaccine paperwork, rabies certificate, and medication prescriptions with you too, just in case!
  • Confirm that your pet’s collar or harness fit well so no one wiggles out if they get nervous. Ensure the identification tags and microchip registration are up to date with your cell phone number and address.  
  • Confirm your hotel is pet-friendly and has a copy of any required paperwork.
  • Weeks prior to the trip, start taking your pet for short car rides and consider a refresh on crate training. This helps to decrease anxiety associated with traveling or being confined. Treats and positive reinforcement can make your pup much happier about this process too!
  • If your pet shows signs of anxiety/stress or becomes car sick during rides, be sure to chat with a veterinarian several weeks in advance of your trip so that we can help customize a plan for stress-free travel. Any potential medications prescribed should be tested at home first to see how your pet reacts and minimize surprises on the road.
  • Pack your pet’s favorite bedding, blankets, toys, and supplies for comfort and familiar scents from home.
  • Be sure to pack enough food and treats to last the entire trip (and then some)! Running out and needing to change foods on the road can cause stomach and intestinal upset, especially if your pet is also experiencing any stress and anxiety due to travel. Bring plenty of waste bags as well.

Give you pet the personalized care. Get the app!

Keeping Your Pet Safe and Comfortable on the Road

  • The safest spot for your small dog or cat is in a crate or secured with a leash/harness system to ensure a comfortable ride. A pet loose in the car may be distracting, potentially interfere with the driver, and can escape during stops!
  • Pack portable food and water bowls and plenty of accessible food and treats for the road. Plan to stop every few hours to give your pet some water and a snack. 
  • Take potty breaks every couple of hours so your dog can stretch their legs and relieve themselves. Be sure your waste bags are accessible! For cats, it is not recommended to remove them from their kennel as they are likely nervous and may attempt to flee. Small disposable litter trays can be brought along for cats and kept in a corner of their crate.
  • Using calming sprays and collars like Adaptil (for dogs) or Feliway (for cats) can help your pet feel more comfortable in the car. If supplements and/or medications are used for anxiety, take care to adhere to your veterinarian’s dosing guidelines.
  • Never leave your pet in the car unattended! Inside temperatures can rise to dangerous levels in just a few minutes, even if the windows are cracked and temperatures seem mild. 
  • Upon arrival to new locations take care to leash dogs and closely monitor cats who may be nervous in unfamiliar surroundings and may try to flee. Taking dogs for walks to expend some of that pent-up energy can help them settle in.

Enjoy that trip! Always remember that AskVet is at the ready to answer your questions and help with any issues while you are out on the open road with your favorite furry friends!


Written by:

Alexa Waltz, DVM
Dr. Waltz was raised near the beaches of Southern California but has spent her adult life living all over the beautiful United States while serving in the military and as a military spouse. She left California for the first time to pursue a career as a veterinarian at Louisiana State University School of Veterinary Medicine and graduated as a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine in 2006. She was accepted into the US Army Health Professionals Scholarship Program during vet school and upon graduation spent her military years as a veterinarian in San Diego working for the US Marine Corps and US Navy Military Working Dog programs as well as caring for pets of service members. After her military service, she became a civilian veterinarian and continued as a small animal general practitioner at clinics in California, Rhode Island, Colorado, and Maryland. Dr Waltz loves to see her “in person” patients just as much as communicating with and assisting pet parents virtually on AskVet. Dr Waltz is also a Mom to 3 humans, 2 guinea pigs, and 1 Australian Shepherd and in her spare time she loves traveling, adventures, exercising, and doing just about anything out in nature!

Separation Anxiety in Dogs: Signs & Vet-Approved Treatments

Do you dread leaving your own home because it might stress your dog out to be left alone? Have you come home to find your dog has destroyed objects, chewed through walls or doors, or caused damage to her paws from frantically trying to “escape” the comforts of your house? 

If so, your dog may have separation anxiety, a mental health disorder that causes your dog to feel terrified and panic when left alone. While it can be normal for dogs to chew objects out of boredom when dog owners leave the house, a dog suffering from separation anxiety truly feels that he is in a life-or-death, fight-or-flight situation—and is willing to do ANYTHING to escape what he perceives as a dangerous situation. Dogs with separation anxiety will literally chew through walls and doors, scratch until their nails are broken and paws are bleeding, break out of a kennel, and even break their teeth trying to chew their way out of the terrifying situation of being left alone. (Just think of how terrified YOU would have to be in order to accomplish these things—nobody wants that mental anguish for their beloved dog!)

Differentiating Separation Anxiety From Other Behaviors

True separation anxiety is often diagnosed with the use of video cameras in the home to observe your dog’s behavior after you leave the house (yay, technology!). Just because your dog chews on non-toy objects, barks excessively, or urinates/defecats in the house does NOT mean they have separation anxiety. (If your dog is merely barking excessively, read our guide on “how to make a dog stop barking“). It’s important to understand dog body language. While your furry friend is left alone, look for clues that he is genuinely fearful and anxious.

For example, if your dog has an open, relaxed facial expression and seems to enjoy rooting around your belongings for your favorite shoe before he settles down into a good chewing session, then this is not cause for concern (other than a reminder to put your shoes away before you leave!). Making sure your dog is tired out from lots of exercise, and hiding or securing inappropriate chew items are great tools to help solve these common problems!

However, within 15 minutes of your departure, if your dog is panting, drooling, whining, pacing, holding their tail down, urinates or defecates, destroys things or seems frantic as he paws at the door or other objects—then he may be suffering from true anxiety. If you have any concerns your dog may have separation anxiety, it’s best to talk to your veterinarian as soon as possible. The genuine terror your dog feels while being left alone will only get worse over time, and a mental health disorder requires medical intervention. 

How to Treat Separation Anxiety

While supplements and prescription medication are often used to help calm your dog’s anxiety and enable him to learn that “being left alone is okay,” the most important part of therapy for separation anxiety is what YOU can do at home: exercises referred to as “behavioral modification.” In this article, we’ll discuss several common exercises that your veterinarian may recommend (and that you might be able to start today!), different supplements to discuss with your veterinarian, and how your vet may approach your anxious dog.

Desensitization to Triggers

The next time you leave your house, pay attention to your dog’s behavior and your own typical routine prior to leaving that may stimulate symptoms of anxiety.  Dogs are keen observers, and may display anxious behavior while you prepare to leave the house—called a “departure.” Performing tasks, especially in the same order, like putting on your makeup, putting your shoes on, grabbing your keys or purse, or doing that last-minute check that the coffee pot is turned off are all examples of potential anxiety-inducing “triggers” for your dog that lets her know she is about to be left alone.

How do you know your dog is feeling anxious? Early signs of anxiety could be starting to pant, excessive licking of the lips, or following you as you complete your departure routine. Whining and bumping into your legs are other indications that he/ she is anticipating a stressful situation.

Once you’ve identified the triggers that tell your dog you are about to leave, it’s time to desensitize your pup to these behaviors. The idea behind desensitization is that your dog no longer associates your actions with an imminent departure—and instead, that triggering behavior eventually becomes meaningless to your dog. 

Once you have a trigger in mind, the goal is to repeat the task over and over and over again until your dog does not associate your behavior with anything worrisome. For example, let’s say a trigger for your dog is when you put on your shoes. Pick a day when you are home with your dog. Put your shoes on, ignore your dog, walk around the house, take your shoes off, sit down, put your shoes back on, take them off….you get the idea! The important thing is to make putting your shoes on “no big deal” to your dog. Eventually, when you put your shoes on, your dog should barely lift his head to pay attention—because it doesn’t mean anything to him. This exercise takes a LOT of repetition—sometimes dozens, or even a hundred times! Stick with it, and try doing this for each trigger you identify as distressing to your dog.

For some triggers, it may be easier to alter your own departure routine to become less predictable or to perform the behavior out of sight of your dog—for example, closing the door to your bathroom while you put on your makeup. Less stress and anticipation are built if your dog cannot predict what is happening and what may come next. 

Graduated Departures

Once your dog is desensitized to common triggers, it’s time to desensitize her to when you actually DO leave the house. Start by going to your door and putting your hand on the doorknob, then walking back and sitting down. Touch or turn the doorknob again, go into the kitchen, touch the doorknob, go into the bedroom, etcetera. 

Eventually, when your dog seems relaxed while you touch the doorknob, move on to opening the door. Repeat opening and closing the door over and over, while varying your behavior in between trips to the door. Once your dog doesn’t care if you are opening the door, the next step is to actually TAKE a step outside and come right back in. Again, do this over and over and over and over and…(I’m sure you’re getting the idea by now!).

After your dog doesn’t seem to notice that you are leaving for a second, you can start spending thirty seconds or a minute outside before returning. Gradually increase the length of time you are outside, eventually going for a walk around the block. As you can probably tell, this exercise takes a LONG time—and dozens and dozens of repetitions. Keep at it, though, because the results are worth it! 

It’s important that, if your dog is exhibiting any anxious behavior as you go through these desensitization exercises, you ignore her UNTIL she calms down. If you are trying to comfort her, she will continue to think that there is genuine “danger” when you leave the house and your comfort is viewed by her as positive reinforcement for her behavior. Similarly, when you leave the house, make sure to do so in a casual way that implies it is “no big deal” to your dog—nix those prolonged goodbyes, telling your sweet pup that you are going to miss her and she should be good! Instead, stay calm and relaxed, acting like nothing unusual or upsetting is happening as you leave the house. Once your pup exhibits any evidence of calm behavior, reward her immediately—see below!

Give your pet the personlaized care. Get the app!

Rewarding Calm Behavior

Just like training your dog to do a trick, it’s important to reward your dog for behavior you want—and ignore behavior that you do not want. In patients with separation anxiety, you can also reward the behavior you want—which are signs of calm and relaxation. 

While doing your desensitization exercises, have some of her favorite treats in your pocket—or a willing accomplice who can toss treats to your dog as soon as any calm behavior is noticed. It’s important that the time from behavior to reward be two seconds or less—otherwise, your puppers will not associate the positive reward with the action she has just taken. This will probably remind you of the days when you were conquering potty-training together, as it’s the same idea!  

As you go through your desensitization training, pay attention to what your dog is telling you. Is she pacing, panting, whining, or drooling? Keep calmly going about your random repetitions. The second she closes her mouth and turns away (because “there’s nothing to see here”), toss a treat! As soon as she lays down, that deserves another treat. Stretching out a leg or letting out a big sigh? You guessed it—treat time! By giving your dog a favorite treat when she lays down, stretches out, gives a big sigh, or settles, it reinforces the happy chemicals in her brain. This further reduces stress and general anxiety.

Calming Mat

It’s helpful to train your dog to go to a “safe space” where everything is positive—like a special blanket, or bed. We refer to this as a calming mat, and want your pet to associate only positive and happy things with settling on the mat/bed—similar to crate training. If you teach your dog a command to “go to your mat,” you can use this tool to help reinforce calm behavior and happy brain chemistry before you prepare to leave the house. You can also utilize a long-lasting treat to distract your pup before you even leave the house—Kong brand makes lots of yummy fillings for their rubber treats that can keep dogs distracted on a calming mat so you can sneak out without too much drama.

Crating—or Not!

If your pup is crate-trained and relaxed in his crate, then utilize the crate as a “safe space” for when you leave. So, how to crate train a puppy? Teach your dog to “kennel” and give him a long-lasting treat to enjoy. It’s helpful to have the crate located out of sight of the door, so your dog does not receive visual cues that you are about to leave.

However, if your dog is anxious in the crate, or fearful of being confined —DO NOT CRATE YOUR DOG to solve a separation anxiety problem. Crating a dog who is scared of the crate will only serve to amplify their distress and panic—and they can harm themselves just as easily inside of a crate or during a panic attack trying to break out. Veterinarians have treated many broken teeth from dogs frantically chewing at the bars of their cage, trying to escape due to the genuine terror associated with separation anxiety and confinement.

Veterinary Help

As you can tell, helping a dog with separation anxiety requires a lot of time, effort, and patience on your part. How can your veterinarian help? 

At your appointment, your veterinarian will ask questions about how your dog behaves when you are out of the house, including house soiling, and any destructive behavior towards household contents or self-injury your pup has induced. A video recording of your dog alone in your home may be requested to better understand whether your pup is truly suffering from anxiety, or normal behaviors. The doctor will likely recommend blood, urine, and possibly hormone testing to make sure there is not another medical cause for your dog’s anxiety.

We all know that, when you are fearful of something, it is difficult to focus on learning anything new. Your veterinarian may recommend a multimodal approach to reduce the stress-related chemicals in your dog’s brain so that he can more easily learn that being left alone is okay. These options may include pheromones (chemicals dogs use to communicate with each other that “a happy dog was here!”—available in collars, sprays, or plug-in diffusers). Supplements are often used to help improve your dog’s mood and brain chemistry, though these take several weeks of daily use to build up in your pup’s system enough to help. A prescription food is available that also includes calming nutraceutical ingredients.

Finally, your veterinarian MAY elect to prescribe anti-anxiety medication for your dog. Just like in humans, some drugs vets choose are for “rescue”—they are short-acting and not meant to be used on a daily basis, but are instead used for unusually scary situations. They are also often used as needed when starting a daily anxiety medication—since daily medication also takes several weeks to take effect in your dog’s brain (just like people!). 

While investing in supplements, pheromones, and possibly medications may seem excessive, multiple treatments are often used to achieve success as quickly as possible. If pheromones improve your dog’s mood by 10%, and supplements help 20%, and your behavioral modification exercises help 40%–then you may not need to depend on anxiety medication at all, or your dog can be on a lower dose! By using calming supplements and medications, your dog will also learn more quickly and progress through desensitization training faster.

Consulting a Specialist 

If your pet has a severe case of separation anxiety, is at risk of being re-homed or placed in a shelter, or if your veterinarian simply recognizes that your dog’s needs are beyond their professional capabilities, you may be referred to a veterinary behaviorist. These doctors are veterinarians who completed three years of additional training in mental health AFTER veterinary school and became certified mental health veterinarians—the vet world’s equivalent of a psychiatrist.

Veterinary behaviorists are some of the profession’s most valued resources, helping countless pets with mental health issues and allowing them to live happy lives with their families. However, not many veterinarians have completed this training, and there are parts of the country where access to one of these specialists is hours away.

The Bottom Line

Separation anxiety is a true mental health disorder. The good news? You have the power to help your dog, just by devoting some time and effort! Partnering with your veterinarian and putting in the time at home will help your dog live her best life—even when you are living yours outside the home.

Our AskVet Veterinarians are available to discuss all of your pet’s needs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Whether you have an immediate need to address separation anxiety or are looking to improve your pet’s overall wellbeing, just sign into your account and one of our friendly and knowledgeable veterinary experts will attend to your needs, no appointment required!

Written by:

Allison Ward, DVM
Dr. Allison Ward grew up in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. and started working in veterinary hospitals when she was 14 years old. After graduating from veterinary school in 2011, she completed a small animal rotating internship in New Jersey, followed by a neurology/neurosurgery internship in Miami. After completing this advanced training, Dr. Ward then moved on to general small animal practice. Dr. Ward’s professional interests include feline medicine, neurology, and pain management. Her passion for educating pet owners carries over into her work with AskVet, and she loves being able to help pets and their parents at all times of the day (and night!). She currently resides in sunny south Florida with her two cats, Larry and George.