Canine Response to Sibling Death
I have a 3-year-old Shih Tzu who will soon die from renal dysplasia. As hard as this is on me, I’m worried about her surviving sibling. These dogs have been together constantly since birth, and I worry what it will be like for her to be the only pet in the house. Do you have any guidance on how to handle this?
Frank, you are wise to anticipate the grief that both you and your surviving dog will experience. She may exhibit the following behaviors: eating less, sleeping more, searching the house for her missing sister, avoidance or excessive attachment to her sister's bed or sleeping spot. However, there is also a chance that the remaining dog will thrive, as she will no longer have to share her resources with another.
In either case, the remaining dog will naturally be sensitive to your mood, and it is fine for you to express your grief, tears and all. However, it will help both of you to keep your routine as close to normal as possible. You may need to be proactive to prevent the development of separation anxiety in the dog, so avoid lengthy goodbyes and excessive gestures of reassurance when you leave the house.
Finally, some pet parents make the mistake of assuming that a remaining pet’s loss of appetite or lethargy is a sign of how much he or she misses the deceased pet, when actually the animal is genuinely sick! Data suggests that companion animals remaining in the home after a fellow pet’s death may show some changes in behavior, but rarely do they exhibit signs of “depression” that would threaten their healthso if you see any behaviors that could have a medical origin, please visit your veterinarian.