Q: I just had to euthanize one of my older dogs and now my other dog is acting depressed. Can an animal be depressed from the loss of a friend and is there anything we can do to help?
A: It can be very challenging to describe animal behavior without applying human emotional descriptions.
As humans, when we lose a loved one, we all go through a grieving process that is very personal and can include anger, sadness, denial, and acceptance. This process is normal and very human but how do we know if animals go through the same grieving process?
If you are around animals long enough you will start noticing behaviors that can potentially be described by human emotions such as love, kindness, fear, and sadness.
These behaviors are exhibited mostly by the animal’s body language toward other animals or humans. Dogs especially have evolved to be very sensitive to human body language and behavior and can quickly and easily read the emotions of their humans.
Dogs also have strong pack instincts that drive their behavior around other dogs and around their human families. If there are multiple dogs in a household, they will inherently determine hierarchy and social standing with body language and this is done more efficiently without human intervention.
If the pack is stable, and there is no fighting for dominance, all the dogs will know their positions and act accordingly. Therefore, it is always challenging to try to understand the possible emotions of an animal as their behaviors are intimately tied to their humans and their standing in the pack.
If your dog that was euthanized was the dominant dog in the pack, then your dog that was left behind might have difficulty adjusting to not having an alpha dog around to guide its behavior. This can lead to confusion and fear which might then be interpreted as sadness.
If the humans in the household are exhibiting significant sadness about the loss of the older dog, then the surviving dog could be mirroring their behavior and behaving in a sad manner. If you live with dogs long enough, it becomes easy to believe that a dog is truly feeling grief from the loss of a friend or human owner. Therefore, if grieving is a normal process for humans then grieving must also be normal behavior for dogs that live so intimately with humans and, if so, your dog should not need any intervention other than time and kindness.
Maybe the best thing for all of you right now is to go on a long walk in the forest with your dog and enjoy spending time with each other.
Q: My cat is very old and has started to act strangely such as sleeping in odd places and urinating all over the house. Do cats get senile as they get older?
A: All animals, if they live long enough, will show signs of aging such as memory loss, hearing loss, vision loss, and arthritis.
Cats are very good at hiding diseases, so they are also very good at hiding signs of aging; however, just because they’re good at hiding it doesn’t mean they aren’t experiencing the aging process. Your cat could be either becoming senile, or it might not be able to navigate your house as effectively as it did when it was younger.
A cat’s ability to jump will decrease with age so bringing food and litter boxes down to the floor can be helpful. If you have multiple floors in your house it is important to have a litter box on every floor so your cat does not have to navigate stairs to go potty.
As cats age, it is also very important to have a veterinarian assess their health with blood work so that any underlying medical condition can be addressed.
Aging cats need just as much attention and consideration as an aging dog in order to give them an excellent quality of life as they get older.