Just as grief is both a universal and yet individual experience for humans, so it is for animals, meaning that while all animals have the ability to grieve, the expression of that grief may vary from animal to animal and from loss to loss.
However, it is important to be aware that animals have a much healthier, more instinctual relationship to life, and thereby to death, than do most humans. Animals don’t have a psychological fear of death. In fact, they carry none of the psychological baggage surrounding death that so many humans do.
This doesn’t mean that they don’t grieve -- they certainly do. But, it does mean that they don’t create psychological suffering for themselves in regards to death via guilt, blame, regret, self-recrimination, and fear of the unknown the way that humans can.
An animal’s grief experience is a mindful one, always anchored in the present moment rather than caught up in regrets about the past or anxiety about the future. In this, animals have a great deal to teach humans about grief, just as they do about life.
If the surviving animal had a close relationship with the newly deceased, you may notice the following grief responses:
These responses will vary from species to species as well as from animal to animal. However, in general, the more social the species, the more likely the animal is to respond to the death in a manner clearly recognizable as grieving. And, as with humans, the closer the two individual animals are, the more likely it is that the one left behind will grieve.
It can help to remember that as a family, you will all be facing the challenge of creating a New Normal after your beloved pet’s death. This can be as unsettling, daunting, and even scary for the non-human members of your family as it is for the human members. Approaching each other (and yourself) with extra patience, kindness, affection, support, and love can help everyone with this transition. Doing so in honour of the family member who has died is also one of the best ways to memorialize them.