Dealing with the loss of a pet or a loved one can be a difficult time for many people, but it’s not just humans who suffer, according to a report by the ABC.
Director and surgeon at North Hobart Veterinary Clinic, Dr Jennifer Cormack says grieving is also shared by pets left behind, affecting their understanding of their place in their home, and they are affected even if they did not enjoy the company of one another.
“People outside of our work say, ‘Oh gosh, it’s only a dog’,” Dr Cormack told Helen Shield on ABC Local Radio.
“This is really, really important…other animals can go through grief.
“People may say, ‘they never got on, they always fought, or they always left the room, I had to keep them apart’.
“But there was a relationship between the other animals and the one that has passed away.”
Whether that relationship is positive or negative, Dr Cormack is sure there is a direct influence on a pet’s life after the death of another pet — sometimes in unusual ways.
“It goes beyond what we think as a friendship, there may have been an order that has happened.
“If you have two dogs and one does a wee and the other dog always wees on top of it, the first dog that does the wee could be the one that’s passed away.
“The second dog that normally does the wee on top of that wee, it’s no longer [there], and the pattern’s broken so there’s a complex inter-relationship between those other animals.”
Dr Cormack says the complicated relationships between pets can often leave them in a state of confusion.
She says this can be especially so when one of them is gone and the remaining pets’ relationship with their owner changes if a replacement pet is brought in to deal with the grief.
Australia is one of the countries with the highest percentage of household pets with an estimated 63 per cent of households owning a pet and 33 million pets in total in the country.
Pets often form a close relationship with their owner and grieving the death of a pet is very normal for people.
Dr Cormack says grief is not a sign of emotional weakness or being too attached to the animal.
“The heartening thing is that I think the community is accepting that grief is not particular to loss of a human. It is particular to the loss of a loved one,” she said.
“That crosses all the species, that grief feeling. It justifies the love and the relationship you had with that animal, with that human, with that pet, it’s the whole process of the bond you make.
“You can’t have the good bits without that sadness as well.”
Dr Cormack said not having the chance to say goodbye could be a contributing factor for pets and their owners in the case of a sudden death, but dealing with it should not be measured in time.
“People should realise there isn’t a timeline. There may be changes in the feelings that you go through,” she said.
“Initially you may be empty, shocked, you may be blaming yourself; you may be blaming the process. You’re not prepared, you haven’t said goodbye, but you will have different feelings as you go along.
“It’s a modifying of your behaviour for something else to occur, but you just have to ride it through.”