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Wednesday, October 6, 2010

ASK THE VET, with Dr. Pat: Help Your Dog Through Mourning a Packmate

by Pat Bradley, DVM
Even Dogs Mourn a Loss
Dear Dr. Pat:
Woo hoo....a new vet, and a holistic one at that!

My female German Shepherd has been depressed since our Doberman passed in January.  She hardly eats, she lays around all the time, and she is clearly depressed.  With the 5 male dogs (3 shepherds) she is aloof.  It's like she could care less about them.  

They are very boisterous and active and "rough" in play, so when we are out playing ball etc., she doesn't even try to get the ball anymore.  I sometimes just take her for play time, but that doesn't change her behavior at home. I try to spend extra time with her too in the yard, but for all 6 years of her life she was with Sassy, laying together outside and inside, playing together, eating together, grooming each other, sleeping together - Goldie was 10 weeks when I brought her home and Sassy was almost 6.  She was her surrogate mom. I really don't know what to do to help her.  My partner says we should get another female Doberman - a puppy - but I really don't need another dog and I don't know if that will make a difference.
Rene Green, NYC
Hi Rene,
I agree.  It sure sounds as if Goldie is mourning.  Anyone who has been around companion animals knows they have a rich emotional life, just as humans do, and grieving after the death of a friend is an expected response.  Grief in animals can show up as irritability, loss of zest for play, decreased appetite, and either isolation or extra clinginess. So how do we help her? 
Just like with a human, it’s important to honor an animal’s sadness and allow her time to grieve-- up to a point.  But animals, like humans, can get stuck in “complicated grief”. This means they’re not recovering in the expected amount of time and may need some help getting out of it.
 My dog, Lady, really took it hard when her bff (best friend forever) Max died.  She moped around for weeks, and so did I. 

But I decided a few weeks was long enough.  I thought of her two favorite things in life: food and hiking.   One day I made sure she was extra hungry by letting her miss a meal.  I brought some exquisite treats for her and we loaded in the car and went out to the woods one day – walking, snacking and sniffing.   It seemed to do the trick, and both of us started to really feel better.

·         Take her on a special outing or two that are really fun for her.
·         Homeopathic remedy Nat mur 30c, once, is for grief
·         TTouch – a massage technique for animals to help emotional or physical problems.
If these don’t help within a week or two, get her checked by a vet to make sure there’s not an underlying health problem.
But you know what, Rene?  Lady never fully returned to her playful self until this stray pup came to live at our house.  I was not interested in adopting another dog, but his childlike exuberance has rubbed off on all of us.  It’s possible a new puppy might give your Shepherd a new lease on life, too.
Dr. Pat
(c) courtesy of P. Bradley

Have a question for Dr. Pat? Write to

For a personal consultation about your pet's needs, visit Holistic Veterinary Services.
Dr. Pat's opinion or advice does not replace an actual exam with a veterinarian

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