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ALTERNATIVE HEALTH

YOUR ANIMAL'S GRIEVING PROCESS

By Beverly Kune, ND, D. Hom., LPCC

We think of our pets as part of our family. When they die or disappear from our lives we are disheartened, desolate. Yet many of us never imagine that our pets similarly grieve when the situation is reversed.

Animals are social creatures. When we take them in as pets, we become part of their flock or pack - part of their social grouping. Even cats, often mistakenly thought of as solitary creatures, bond strongly to their owners and fellow pets. We become a part of their family, just as they become a part of ours. Although our pets can neither verbalize their feelings nor shed tears, they are none the less affected by sudden loss.

It is not always easy to detect how an animal is feeling. The more sensitive you are to the nuances of your pet’s range of emotional expression the easier it will be. As with people, some animals are more obvious in displaying their feelings than others. Typical indications of distress might include signs of disorientation or confusion (pacing from place to place, inability to settle down, constant meowing or whining, a sense of their attention being elsewhere), acting out (destructive behaviors, messing on the floor, biting or scratching, excessive vocalization), moodiness, signs of nervousness, anxiety, or irritability —or, at the other end of the spectrum, abnormal quietness, withdrawal or depression, or any sudden behavioral changes (changes in appetite, feather picking, tendencies toward aggression or extreme passivity, etc.). The more closely you know your pet, the easier it will be for you to pick up on such signs.

Pets grieve for a variety of reasons. Although perhaps seemingly oblivious to a fellow creature’s presence in your household, most pets are attuned to their presence—especially if there is frequent interaction. When one of your animals becomes ill or dies, your remaining pet(s) can be quite disturbed by this loss. Additionally, s/he feels your distress, further adding to its sense of upset. At the very least, your pet senses that something is wrong—out of the ordinary. This alone is enough to distress many animals. The effects of loss will be even greater if your animals have been close companions.

Pets also grieve when a favorite human in the household suddenly leaves. A child going off to college, or sudden departure caused by divorce or separation can upset an animal, especially if closely bonded with the person leaving. Animals are also particularly affected when an owner or primary person in their life dies. Some animals have been known to stop eating altogether, or to become quite morose and lose interest in their surroundings. Often animals begin to show signs of separation-anxiety.

When sudden loss occurs, it is helpful to talk to your pet, just as you would to a small child. Explain what happened—they might not fully understand your words, but they will understand the nuances behind them. When we speak we unconsciously project visual images along with our words, a form of communication your animal readily understands. Flower essences are particularly helpful in the grieving process of your pet(s). Useful essences include Walnut (for transitions, letting go of attachments), Honeysuckle (for clinging to the past), Borage (for heavy heart), Star of Bethlehem (soothing the shock of emotional trauma). Other essences related to the presented behavioral/emotional picture can also be useful. When in doubt reach for Rescue Remedy.

Beverly Kune is a Naturopath and Mind-Body Therapist in Santa Fe, NM. She works with children, adults, and animals of all kinds. She can be reached at (505) 988-4816.

Note: This article first appeared in the Spring 1998 issue.

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