I am a wife and mother of a 13-year-old and a 12-year-old Golden Doodle dog
attempting to find balance in the rat race called life.
Loss is just as devastating for dogs as it is for their human counterparts.
Here are a few ways to ease your four-legged friend’s grief.
Photo by Alfredo Garcés on Unsplash
When my mother passed away, it took a while for our dog Scooter to understand
that she was really gone. When he finally did, his health declined rapidly,
leading to a frightening vet visit where I was told he might not even make it
through the night.
The good news is that with excellent veterinary care and several visits on my
part to the animal hospital, Scooter made a full recovery. Despite the loss of
my mom, somehow Scooter found it in his heart to love me and went on to live
another 10 years! Scroll to the bottom for the full story of Scooter’s decline
Do Dogs Grieve the Loss of Their Owner?
Yes. If your dog recently lost a cherished companion—human or
otherwise—it is very normal for them to mourn that loss. While some dogs, like
Scooter, show physical symptoms of grief, others may only display behavioral
changes. Some dogs may not display any noticeable changes at all, but be
No matter how your pup’s grief manifests, there are things you can do to help.
Signs of a Grieving Dog
- A decline in energy and interest in things that typically are of interest
- Change in or absence of play
- Pervasive sadness or listlessness/moping
- Refusing to eat or reduced appetite
- Fewer or reduced interactions with others
- Sleeping more frequently during the day
- Less sleep or fitful nighttime sleep
- Declining weight
How to Help a Grieving Dog
The first step is acknowledging that your dog is in the grieving process.
Luckily, there are things you can do to help your dog through this time.
- Provide additional love and affection. Extra affection will help your dog through this troubling time. This might mean you will need to spend extra time with your dog and/or supply special treats in order to increase food intake.
- Stick to their usual routine. One way to relieve grief-related stress in dogs is to maintain their routine as closely as possible (i.e. feeding and walking them at the same time as usual).
- Be patient. Just like with humans, dogs need time to grieve. Most dogs will come out of their grieving process and form new attachments. This may take as little as a few days or weeks to several months.
- Contact your vet. If you are concerned with your dog’s behavior, do not hesitate to contact a vet. Explain what the circumstances are and what behaviors your dog is exhibiting. Getting help is a great way to prevent another potential loss, especially if you too are suffering from the loss of a loved one.
Our Story: Scooter’s Reaction to My Mother’s Passing
It appeared to be another typical day in Scooter’s life as the little
champagne-colored poodle mix happily raced to the front door when he heard the
familiar sound of the car. This was the day that Scooter’s world came crashing
down; this was the day that he would learn that his beloved master of eight
years was no longer alive.
The changes actually happened some weeks earlier, but Scooter had not fully
understood what had occurred. Scooter spent the first several months of his
life living with me, as I was a then 24-year-old teacher who couldn’t resist
taking the little fella under my wing. After realizing that apartment living
and a new puppy wouldn’t mix, I asked my parents to take in the cute ball of
fur who loved scooting around the floor chasing after anything that moved.
After all, my mother and father had an aging dog of their own and a puppy
would keep the older dog company and also provide a wonderful pet after their
mature canine passed on.
Not wanting to disappoint their daughter, my parents took in Scooter and
enjoyed eight years together.
Scooter circa 1990
It was quite a surprise when after eight years, I learned that I would be
getting my dog back as my parents announced that they would be downsizing from
my childhood home into a condominium. My parents felt that it was unfair for
Scooter to be without a yard to play in, and so it was decided that since I
had moved from an apartment into a home of my own with a big backyard, it was
time for Scooter to return me.
Scooter Was Deeply Attached to Mom
It was a good thing that we only lived less than a mile from my parents, as
Scooter had grown extremely fond and protective of my mother, and being apart
was a bit confusing at first. Scooter quickly adapted to his new home, as he
loved the backyard as well as me, becoming just as protective of me as he had
of my mother. Scooter looked forward to seeing my mother on a regular basis
and learned the sound of her car as it would pull into the driveway. It was
Scooter’s custom to hear the car and start barking, and with a smile on his
face, he would run to the door to greet my mother.
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One January, I tried to explain to Scooter that his former master had died,
but it didn’t seem to sink in until one day that March. To Scooter, the
familiar sound of the car signaled that he was about to be greeted by the
woman who took care of him for eight years and who still snuck his favorite
treat to him despite the fact that his new master frowned on such behavior.
The Sound of Her Car Caused a Frantic Search
That chilly day in March marked the day that Scooter really learned that his
former master was no longer alive. It started out with the familiar sound of
the car in the driveway and Scooter hauling off in a mad dash to the door,
barking loudly to say hello to his good friend. It wasn’t until the person at
the other side of the door wasn’t my mother, but rather my brother, that
Scooter knew something was wrong.
Scooter sniffed my brother’s pant leg and then scooted past him because he was
certain that our mom must have been coming up the walk. When Scooter got to
the front porch and my mom wasn’t there, he was undaunted and tore off into
another part of the house in search of his friend.
My brother and I didn’t realize what was happening at first, but after Scooter
ran from room to room looking frantically and barking loudly, we figured out
what was unfolding. Scooter was looking for our mom. Little did he know that
my brother was now driving the car that once belonged to our mother.
Scooter Experienced Drastic Changes in Behavior
It was then that I scooped Scooter into my arms and began to cry and once
again told Scooter that the person that we both loved had died three months
earlier. Somehow, on this day, Scooter seemed to understand.
About three days after the incident, I noticed that Scooter wasn’t acting like
himself. The normally happy-go-lucky dog was very sullen and withdrawn. He
didn’t even try to chase after Salem, the black cat who was also a member of
our household. Soon after discovering Scooter’s behavior, I witnessed that my
dog was not eating or drinking. The situation was very serious, so I took
Scooter to the veterinarian that he had seen since his puppyhood.
His Grief Quickly Led to Extreme Health Issues
The vet immediately took Scooter under his care and recognized just how grave
the situation was. The vet told me that Scooter’s kidneys were failing and
that he may not make it through the night. The doctor explained that I should
consider staying by Scooter’s side at the hospital for an hour that evening,
and if the dog were to live, I should visit him in the animal hospital at
least twice a day just to comfort him and be by his side.
Luckily, He Made a Full Recovery
It was a very long night, but by morning, test results showed gradual
improvement. This was wonderful news for me, as I couldn’t think of bearing
the loss of my mother and my dog within a three-month span. The vet saw me in
the morning and said he had never seen an animal survive under such
While scratching his head, the vet said to me “I cannot explain why Scooter’s
kidneys failed, or how he lived, but I need to know if Scooter has undergone
any trauma or stress recently.” I recalled how Scooter had recently reacted to
the sound of my mother’s car and asked if the death of my mother could have
triggered the illness in my dog. The vet responded by saying that animals
could sometimes react physically to the death of their master.
Please Take Your Dog’s Grief Seriously
Thankfully, Scooter made a full recovery, but if I had not given credence to
his grief and taken him to the vet, he would have died that night. If you
think your dog may be experiencing grief, it is critical that you take it
seriously. Don’t make the mistake of thinking your pup’s grief isn’t real
because “he’s just a dog.”
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It
is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription,
or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional.
Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a
© 2011 Judy HBerg
Judy HBerg (author) on September 23, 2019:
Oh Wanda, I’m so sorry to hear that you and China lost your pops. What a
difficult time for you both! As I’m not a vet I’m sorry to say that I cannot
offer any advice. Hopefully with your continued love and support China will
begin to feel like her old self. I’m also hoping you might find some answers
from someone qualified to deal with what China is experiencing. Best wishes
and hang in there!
Wanda1223 on September 22, 2019:
My pops just passed away and he had a dog named China I took her in to take
care of her and she’s grieving so bad I’ve had her for about a week I cannot
get her to eat she was drinking plenty of water but now she’s not doing that I
don’t know what to do for her it breaks my heart. And I can’t afford to take
her to the vet and I don’t know what to do if there is anyone out there that
can help me and tell me what to do that would be great. I don’t wanna lose her
too.All she does is lay around but I do take her out pretty frequently for
walks and she likes that but she won’t eat and I don’t know what to do please
Judy HBerg (author) on June 04, 2012:
Dottie I am so sorry to learn of your loss and what it is doing to both you
and your dog. I am glad that you found this hub to be helpful. You are in my
thoughts and prayers.
Dottie on June 04, 2012:
I looked up this subject because my Momma went to heaven 33 hours ago.Our
chihuahua has quit eating, looks in her bedroom, and is very quiet. I have
spent extra hours with him, wrapped him in my mom’s robe, and kept an eye on
him. He is truly heartbroke. If he gets worse, I will see about getting him to
the vets. I am worried, thank you for this page.
Judy HBerg (author) on May 18, 2012:
Thanks for stopping by my hub. I am sorry for your loss and the challenges
that you are facing as you and your German Shepherd are trying to define a
It sounds like you and I had a similar experience with our dogs and the sound
of a car. It really is amazing and gut wrenching at the same time as it
confirms how much our pets can identify with our personal “things” such as an
engine sound and equate that to the car owner and also how their reaction can
stir up so much grief in us.
I admire how you are attempting to meet the needs of your dog by taking her
for a walk and throwing the ball despite the fact that it isn’t the same as
when your husband did it. I suspect that she recognizes the differences but
appreciates your efforts none the less. I also suspect that she pesters for
additional attention for a few reasons. Perhaps she is trying to affirm that
she is coming to terms that your husband is gone and that you are still there
and will continue to shower her with love and affection. I also suspect that
she continues to pester in order to show you that she is there for you and she
knows how much you miss your husband. You two have something in common and
that is a bond that you share. She may be trying to help you and she does so
by wanting to be close and show you that she wants to interact.
It will take some time for the two of you to sort out new routines and
eventually she will take your lead, but for now she is clamoring for attention
and it must be a bit tiring for you! I am no expert but if I were in your
shoes, I would continue to do what I could for her as far as taking walks and
trowing the ball. I might also try to introduce some new activity that she
will eventually associate with you (as opposed to your husband). Maybe throw a
frisbee instead of a ball or if you ride a bike, attempt to have her run
alongside since you don’t walk as fast as your husband. A friend recently told
me about a product called “walkiedog” (found on Amazon) which is something
that attaches to your bike wheel that extends out and a dog leash attaches to
it and the dog runs along side of the bike yet is contained and doesn’t cross
into the bike’s path. I’ve never tried it but my friend runs her two dogs at
once while she rides her bike.
As you know first hand, the reality is that the grief process is complex and
takes time and in my opinion isn’t much fun. My experience is that it is
similar for our pets as well.
I wish you well as you and your dog navigate the maze of grief together. Hang
Mimi on May 18, 2012:
My husband just passed away a month ago and left behind his best friend…our
German Shepherd. She is nearly 7 years old, and they were together all the
time. I could barely get him to take a vacation or weekend trip because he
liked being with her. Anyway, a month ago he passed away from cancer. We tried
to let her see him ill, and he was home up until the last few weeks. After
that, I took her to the nursing home.
But I know she misses him. She usually goes through the house once or twice a
day, and I just can’t help but feel she’s looking for him. She never used to
go downstairs to the basement by herself. There’s no other reason for her to
go down there. We had an extra TV down there and he would go downstairs on
occasion and watch sports.
One day a few weeks ago, my sister and I took his pickup truck to town. When
we came home, I opened the door of the house and she burst out, tail and ears
up, all excited. She ran to the pickup and both my sister and I had a gut
wrenching reaction when we saw her look inside the pickup truck and not see
She’s eating OK, but every night she bugs for attention, even after I give her
extra attention. I’ve been taking her for walks but I don’t walk as fast as he
did and I can tell it’s not much fun for her. I throw the ball, and I can’t do
that very well either. She will run after it 2 or 3 times, then she keeps the
ball. ( They used to do this for hours.) So we come inside, and not 10 minutes
after I sit down, she’s pestering for attention. I don’t really know what to
Judy HBerg (author) on October 06, 2011:
🙂 I am glad to know that you found this hub encouraging. Regarding your
question, I am not an animal expert and can only speak from my own experience.
In my situation I tried as best as I could to let my dog know of the loss but
it was a full three months before the reaction occurred. My vet said that this
is fairly typical (the time elapsed from the death to the dog’s grief).
I also know that when I found myself facing grief early after the loss, I
would let my dog know why I was upset and I would have no clue if I was
getting through, but it made me feel better knowing that I tried.
I will say that it was extremely painful for me to witness my dog’s reaction
when it did finally occur because I had no way of taking his obvious distress
away, and it reminded me of my own sense of loss.
Having said that, it did however, help me to realize that he indeed did
“connect the dots” and recognized the profound loss of his beloved owner.
Best wishes as it sounds like you are facing a similar situation.
🙂 on October 04, 2011:
This was quite encouraging, as I’ve believed for years that pets can/do grieve
much like us humans. However, my question is a little deeper. Do you think, in
the event a pet owner dies, is it a good idea help the pet understand that the
owner is no longer alive? Or is it better to allow the pet to just move on
with life- however it may change and confuse them, hoping they don’t fear that
the owner deserted them some how?
Judy HBerg (author) on March 17, 2011:
Thanks for the feedback Puppyluv. I find your confirmation about grieving and
depressed pets to be very interesting especially about how pets grieve for
other pet buddies that have passed. I think that pets can also serve as a
barometer for their owners as well!
Serena Zehlius from Hanover, PA on March 13, 2011:
Excellent hub! I work at a 24 hour emergency veterinary hospital and I get
phone calls all the time about grieving and depressed pets. They grieve for
their owners as well as other pet buddies that have passed. Keep up the good
Judy HBerg (author) on March 07, 2011:
Marcoujor thanks for your comments as well as introducing me to the term fur
angel- I love it and am glad that you were inspired to write about Alvin.
Maria Jordan from Jeffersonville PA on March 07, 2011:
JHB~~ What a poignant example of the intuition and love in our pets; this
inspired me to write my own memories as my fur angel ALVIN would have been
16yo today. Thank you so much.