Article By: Jan Jeremias, MSc., DTM, RYT, CR
Throughout our lives, there are different types of loss that we and our pets can experience. It could be the loss of a companion pet, an owner, caretaker, family member or friend. Pets, like people, mourn the loss of a loved one and may become depressed and sad.
It is well documented that the loss of a companion pet or animal can be difficult for the remaining pet in the household. Our four legged friends not only respond to their own loss, but also perceive and sense grief in the home. One of the most dramatic changes, when one pet in a multi-pet household dies, is the change in the structure of the “pack” hierarchy. Dogs and cats have well defined social roles with leaders and followers. Without their companion, the remaining pet’s role may be ill-defined or confusing.
Animals are very sensitive and emotional. They become extremely attached and reliant on us, not only for their basic needs like food and care, but also for affection and love. Loss of an owner or caretaker can be traumatic for our pets.
In response to a loss, you may notice both physical and behavioral changes in your pet. For example: avoiding social interaction, hiding or segregating from the family, a change in play habits or a decreased desire to go outside or to walk. Some pets may pace or look as if they are “searching” for their lost loved one, others may wait at the door or sleep at the base of a bed, and some may vocalize excessively, crying out for their companion or owner. In both dogs and cats, changes in appetite leading to weight loss or gain can occur, as can a change in grooming and bathroom habits.
There are a few easy steps you can take to help your grieving pet:
1. Diffuse or apply essential oils, which can help shift the emotional environment of your home. Essential Oils are absorbed throught the coat and skin promoting feelings of peace and comfort. Combining petting with the application of essential oils further enhances the time you spend with your pet and may foster healing for you both.
2. Engage your dog or cat in a new activity. Positive training is a beneficial way to help your pet learn its new position in the family. This bond and communication make it easy for your pet to look to you for leadership.
3. A training class using positive methods or private lessons from a trainer may help you to learn the skills you need to help your pet shift its focus from loss to enthusiasm.
4. Increasing the activities your dog or cat loves helps them to cope. For example, a dog that likes to play fetch might benefit from a few more sessions in the park. Simple things like riding in the car while you run errands, extra brushing time, a new squeaky toy, or, for a cat playing with a laser light or fishing rod toy. These added activities may captivate your pet’s attention and make them feel loved. Just a few added minutes of play time or attention can help your dog or cat adjust to life without its companion, and may make you feel better too!
5. Touch between a human and a pet has therapeutic benefits for both. In humans, petting a dog or cat can trigger the release of the hormone oxytocin. Oxytocin acts as a chemical messenger in the brain and has been shown to be an important factor in human feelings such as trust, safety and reassurance. Another benefit of petting is that it may lower your heart rate and blood pressure.
6. Include your pet in any ceremonies or services that you might have to honor the life of the dog or cat who has transitioned.
7. In ancient cultures, the emotion of grief is known to be concentrated in the sinuses and lungs. Taking extra care of these areas of your and your pet’s physical well being should be incorporated into their and your self care routine.
Investing time with your other pet(s), will help them and you process grief. We all mourn in our own way, including pets. Be patient and loving and allow your pet the time and space that it needs to heal.
Jan and her collegue Elizabeth Wallace will be offering a 9 Week Program on Transforming Grief after the loss of a pet. If you would like more information please contact her on Facebook or Linkedin.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Jan Jeremias, MSc is a certified yoga teacher and a reflexologist, and has an extensive background in science and health. Jan received her Bachelor’s Degree in Biology from Stern College for Women and her Master’s Degree in Immunology of Infectious Diseases and her diploma in Tropical Medicine from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine-University of London. Jan worked in clinical infectious disease and cancer research centers at Cornell University Medical College and Mount Sinai Medical School in New York City for over 20 years. In addition, Jan worked for the New York City Department of Health (NYCDOH) for four years. While working for the NYCDOH, Jan was introduced to essential oils to help with her 14-year-old dog, Kasey, who had Canine Cognitive Disorder or old dog “dementia”. At first Jan did not know about the power and benefits of using essential oils and other healing modalities but, she soon became convinced when her dog began acting and feeling better. Kasey lived to the age of 19 years old. Since then, Jan has completed extensive coursework in aromatherapy and intensive course on essential oils for animals. Her passion for natural health and her scientific background has allowed her to help people and their pets worldwide. Jan has the unique ability to merge the west and the east to empower people and pets in a journey to wellness. Look for Jan on Facebook, Linkedin and you can hear her on her new Podcast Pet Life and Longevity.