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My dog is grieving.

Species: Dog
Breed: Mix black lab/beagle
Age: More than 15 ye
Good Day Dr.

In March of 2011 we lost Lucy (Coton du Tulear) to heart disease. She was almost 16. Lucy and Abby had been together since they were approximately 1 year old.

Abby continues to mourn. We have been told by the superintendent of our condo building that she cries and howls quite a bit during the day while we are gone to work. I leave her with the run of the house, the radio on, a piece of my clothing (for comfort) and we have a lovely doggy sitter that comes in with another dog at lunch time and takes Abby out for her pee and walk.

She is fine when we are home albeit quite clingy with me.....but that could be her age, I suppose. She eats well and is extremely active and healthy for her age.

I need advice on how to help her deal with her loss. Getting another animal is out of the question. It breaks our hearts to think that she is so sad and we cannot help.

I look forward to hearing from you. Thank you.


Online vet, Dr. Marie

Dr. Marie replied:

Oh, I am sorry to hear of the loss of Lucy, and also that Abby is not doing well with this loss. Hopefully I can give you a few ideas of things that may help.

My first suggestion would be to have your vet examine Abby and if possible, do a senior blood screen. Dogs generally tend to get over grief relatively quickly and when I have a dog who is not coping well I often wonder if there is a medical problem. The fact that she is eating well is good, but it's still worth checking into.

To tell a story that relates to this, three years ago my husband and I had a baby girl. When we brought her home, our dear little dog Joey did not adapt well. He became very withdrawn and didn't want to go for walks. I figured he was upset at the changes involved with having a new baby in the house. But, it turned out that he had leukemia.

Now, in Abby's situation, she is still generally perky and has a good appetite, so hopefully there is not a medical condition there.

This may sound silly, but have you tried getting Abby a stuffed animal? I know that no stuffed animal can ever replace Lucy. However, we find that in our hospital, when an animal is stressed they will often calm down when we put a stuffed animal in their cage.

Another thing that may help is something called a DAP collar. Here is an article I recently wrote to describe DAP Collars. They release a pheromone which is a very safe chemical that helps to relieve stress and anxiety in dogs. There are a good number of studies that show that they work and there is no harm in trying one. You can buy one online here. They work for about a month. But, in Abby's case, if we can relieve her stress for a month this may be enough time for her to get over her grief.

If you can't get another dog, how about joining up with a local dog group at a park? Perhaps she would enjoy some social time at a doggie daycare? You did mention that you have a dogsitter though, so this may not be that helpful after all.

There are medications that vets can prescribe to help dogs with anxiety or grief. But I usually reserve these for very intense cases.

The other thing that I can suggest is to be sure that you are not overly encouraging the clingy behavior. It may be that she started to be clingy when Lucy died and then realized that she gets a lot of attention when she does this. Often when dogs show fear or anxiety behavior we tend to coddle them a lot. This can create an unhealthy bond where the dog actually trains us to do more coddling. It's just a thought, and may not be correct, but I thought it was worth mentioning.

I wish I had more advice for you! If this is because of grief though, she will get over it in time.

I hope things are better soon!

Dr. Marie.

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Disclaimer: Although Dr. Marie is a qualified veterinarian, the information found on this site is not meant to replace the advice of your own veterinarian. and Dr. Marie do not accept any responsibility for any loss, damage, injury, death, or disease which may arise from reliance on information contained on this site. Do not use information found on this site for diagnosing or treating your pet. Anything you read here is for information only.

Customer reply:

Thanks so much Dr. Marie:

We do have a stuffed toy for her. And I should have mentioned that she has always been rather timid and clingy...she is a rescue dog and had been abused and abandoned (hence, the name Abby)but seems to have become more so since Lucy died.

We will have the senior check up done. Great idea for many reasons. And if no physical explanation is forthcoming, we will try the DAP collar.

With all of the positive physical aspects (good appetite, no stress when we are home, sleeping well, no "accidents", good elimination etc, etc,) I think she is just having an protracted adjustment period.

I feel I need to explain why we won't have another animal. My husband and I work and I think it is really unfair to an animal to leave them all day. I guess I should have thought of that years ago, but Lucy was a gift to my daughter when she was 3. When I had to go back to work (my 1st husband left us), we got Abby to keep Lucy company. That was 13 years ago. Hopefully, rational, practical thinking now prevails, with the focus being on the well being of a pet as opposed to the whimsy of the 'human'. (I did consider a cat, but 2 of my children are allergic).

Thanks for your help. The online resource is an outstanding idea!

Online vet, Dr. Marie

Dr. Marie replied:

I totally understand not wanting to get another dog....and we don't even know that a second dog would actually help Abby. I've seen some dogs that don't adapt well to a new addition.

Hope she improves soon!

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Dr. MarieDr. Marie is a veterinarian who practices in a busy animal hospital in Ottawa, Ontario. She created Ask A Vet Question as a resource for good, accurate veterinary advice online. Dr. Marie treats dogs, cats, hamsters, guinea pigs, and rats. She has been a vet since 1999.

Is an online vet visit just as good as a trip to your veterinarian? No! But, many times, asking an online veterinarian a question can help save you money. While Dr. Marie can't officially diagnose your pet or prescribe medications, she can often advise you on whether a vet visit is necessary. You can also ask Dr. Marie for a second opinion on your pet's condition.