Grieving Pet Loss

Other family dogs share the loss & the grief.


A few weeks ago I had to put down Sam, one of my four dogs, due to liver failure. The remaining three seem to be grieving, no playing, no barking, not eating. Sam seemed to be the leader. How can I help them overcome their grief when I cannot seem to recover from it? Thank you for listening.


Dr. Nichol:

Your world has been badly shaken. You and your special family are having normal feelings of loss. The other dogs had a unique social structure that needs to repair itself. It will take time. You too need time but you may get through it better with help from a grief counselor. Don’t feel silly asking for help because Sam was “only” a pet; he was a family member in every way.


The remaining three dogs in your life share your grief as well as their own. When you feel better they will too. In the meantime your veterinarian can prescribe a medication such as Clomacalm that may ease the transition for your dogs. Thanx for writing.





Grief Counseling for the Humans; Antidepressants & More Interaction for the other Dog


We have lost a very important member of our family. Virgil, our Rhodesian Ridgeback, and the most kind hearted dog in the world. Our remaining dog is very depressed and sad. They were so close and the best friends. I am so sad for our loss, but for his too. He is a Shih-Tzu, and has a slight separation anxiety problem. He did pretty well when Virgil was with him.


Dr. Nichol:

Virgil must have been a once-in-a-lifetime friend for all of you. Most dogs are highly social creatures who form strong bonds. It’s why they’re man’s and woman’s best friends. Your Shih-Tzu is struggling with the same grief as you are.


Your family’s sadness is affecting the little guy. The insecurity he feels when he is alone will make this particularly hard for him. You can help him by spending time with him, taking him on walks and hikes, and playing interactive games so he can connect with life’s joys. You will both feel better when you are together.


Along with the TLC you share with your Shih Tzu a prescription antianxiety medication like Clomicalm or Reconcile could help him adjust. It would take either of these 3-4 weeks to become effective. Adding diazepam or alprazolam in the short term could give him immediate relief.


You humans should not feel alone if you are having a hard time coping with Virgil’s death. Pet Loss and Bereavement Counseling ( at 505-265-3087 makes a real difference for grieving pet owners.


Your Shih Tzu’s separation anxiety may turn into a serious problem. He came pre-wired for this overwhelming fear of being alone. With Virgil gone his panic could ramp up fast and become extremely hard to control. Keep an eye on your dog. If he seems agitated as you prepare to leave home or gets destructive or house soils while you’re gone he’ll need more than drugs. A customized behavior modification plan may be essential to everyone’s sanity. You can find more information on my Web site ( My heart goes out to all of you.





When to Add a Replacement Dog


Your article last week about the grieving dog is what we are about to experience.  Carl, our Great Pyrenees is having his last days, a life cut short by bone cancer.  We have Lucky, a little 18 month old mutt puppy. They are best friends — sleeping, playing, eating together. Shouldn’t we get a new dog for Lucky when Carl dies and how do we make sure Lucky and the new dog get along?


Dr. Nichol:

Losing a dog like this is extremely hard. Many people and their dogs need time to process their sorrow before they can fully commit to a new pet. Others can dive right into a new relationship.


Your Carl will be sorely missed by you and by Lucky. I advise attending a grief counseling support group before your excellent Pyrenees passes on. Share your pain with Lucky as you face the reality of Carl’s death.


Enduring the pain makes it possible for many people and their pets to love deeper and better the next time. You will need to let your hearts tell you when it’s time to add another dog. When you are ready to adopt, take Lucky along. I have seen great insight in dogs who pick their own friends.





Anticipation of Loss of a Well Loved Dog


We are pet lovers and have always had dogs. Our problem is, we get too attached to them. One of our dogs is getting old now, and know he won’t live forever. A few years ago, we lost another older black lab. My husband made her a beautiful headstone for her grave.


Dr. Nichol:

We love our pets the same way we love our children. Dogs, in particular, worm their way into our hearts because of their need for a nurturing leader. When I remember the joy I’ve felt holding, feeding, and guiding the dogs in my life, I know how right it’s been.


It is a sad reality that cats and dogs live short lives. But it’s something we can’t change. Helping pets and their families with loss and grief is an important but difficult part of my job. It’s the price we all pay for the love and healing that only pets can give. Multiple studies, plus a whole lot of experience, show the benefits of pet ownership. We have less stress, less cancer and a lower risk of premature death. Your dogs have meant even more to you than you may realize.


I know how you feel; your beautiful old dog can’t last forever. I suggest adding a new puppy to your family now. Older dogs often make excellent “grandparents” because the extended family is a fundamental of canine behavior. The old salt can teach that young whippersnapper a thing or two. He might even house break the kid for you. When nature finally claims your older dog’s life, your family can grieve the loss together and move on together too.





A Story of the Excellent Influence an Older Dog had on the Youngster AND the Human Family


I am responding to the answer you gave to someone about getting a new puppy before the old dog passes on. Two years ago we brought home a six-month-old Yorkshire terrier. He became a “son” to our fourteen-year-old Silky terrier. Our Silky named Genie mothered him and taught him everything she knows. Sadly, she passed away last September and now our Yorkie Teddy has become a “clone” Genie. Everyday that we look at him, we are reminded of her. How about that!


Dr. Nichol:

It sounds like Genie was a healthy influence on young Teddy. Great dogs share their lives with their families with no hint of guile. They bring out the best in all of us just by being themselves.