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How To Help Sibling Dogs Grieve


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As I sit here amidst my tremendous grief I am wondering if anyone has advice on how to help a sibling dog grieve the loss of their fur family member?

My Mkwaa is at a loss! She constantly looks for Nvwati who passed away suddenly on Friday. She refuses to play with other dogs at the dog park, wanting to come home to find Nvwati!

I am talking to her telling her that Nvwati has gone to Rainbow Bridge and we will see him again someday but for now its just her and I.

As I type this she is laying on my bed ( on the spot he last lay on just before heading out to the Vet on Friday) with HIS teddy bear between her paws.

When Nvwati was alive, she never touched his teddy bear, only playing or sleepign with her own.

How can I help her grieve healthy? Especially when I feel so out of control with my own grief>?[attachmentid=169]


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Your concern for Mkwaa is certainly understandable, Amber. Common sense tells us that, just as we form attachments to our companion animals, they form attachments to each other as well. When dogs share their life with each other in the same household, they often become inseparable -- sleeping together, playing together and following one another around most of the day. When death separates them, it's understandable that the animal left behind can become distressed. Although there are no scientific research reports in the literature about this, I can assure you that I've read, heard about and experienced myself many examples of animals reacting strongly to the death of their companions (human and animal) with symptoms of separation anxiety.

It's also possible that Mkwaa is sensing the distress of other humans in the household and is reacting to any changes in routine that accompanied this loss. In other words, it's not so much that she is grieving the loss of her sibling herself, but rather that on some level she is aware that you are grieving a significant loss. She knows something is wrong, but she's not quite sure what, and she is reacting to your distress by refusing to leave you to play with the other dogs in the dog park. Here are some suggestions that might help you to help reassure Mkwaa:

- Keep her daily routine as unchanged as you can, so it remains as predictable, familiar and consistent as possible.

- Stick to her normal feeding routine. Even though you may be tempted to offer special treats at such a sad time, you don't want to reward any refusal to eat regular meals.

- If Mkwaa seems to want it, give her extra attention, petting and affection, but try to do so when she is behaving in desirable ways (with toys, games and exercise). Again, you don't want to reinforce negative behavior, and you don't want to force yourself upon her. (Some animals who've always been friendly may behave in a hostile or aggressive way — another symptom of grief.)

- It may help to let her see and smell Nvwati's "things" (toys, collar, dish or bedding, etc.). Some people recommend actually sitting down and "explaining" to the surviving animal what happened to her companion, as you yourself have done. Your dog won't understand every word, but your gentle touch and the soothing tone of your voice will provide some comfort.

You might also find these articles helpful:

Grief in Dogs

Can You Explain A Pet's Death to Another Pet?

Since I am a bereavement counselor and not an expert in animal behavior, I want to suggest that you also consider consulting someone in that particular field. See, for example, some of the sites listed on the Animal Behavior Specialists page of my Grief Healing Web site. I'm sure that one or more of our other members will have referral suggestions for you as well. (I know, for example, that our own Maylissa will be of great help in this regard.)

Finally, Amber, I will say to you what I often say to bereaved parents: The best way to help Mkwaa with her grief is for you to take care of your own grief first. You've taken an important first step simply by coming here to this very caring place.

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Marty you are a God send! Thank you. The links you provided are so very helpful!I guess I was doing what should be done with regards to Mkwaa. Ive always talked to her and to Nvwati like I would a person and they comprehend I guess as much as they can. Dealing with this grief has been no different. When I have been crying Mkwaa comes to lay with me and I have been talking openly about missing her brother and loving him so much and telling her how very special she is to me as well and how its just her and I now and we need to continue to be there for one another.

I will make her a little Medicine Bag with some of Nvwati's fur and ashes in it so she can always carry him close to her heart. I am doing the same for myself. Again thank you.

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I am truly sorry for your loss. Your dogs are beautiful! When my husband died I had three dogs at the time, they were all mixed breeds. When Jimmy died I had put them out in the pen because of all the confusion and for the first time ever they all started howling. They were so lost. I was so glad I had them though because we all tried to comfort each other. You are doing the right thing with your Mkwaa, let her comfort you and you comfort her. Our animals do sense our feelings and are there to comfort us.

Hugs & prayers,


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Much of what Marty wrote is good advice as always, but I respectfully disagree with a few of the finer points, based upon my own experiences with both of my kidlets through their lives, and also specifically from Nissa grieving the crossing of her brother, Sabin.

Many people have found that allowing the remaining animal to view and check out their friend's body after death has helped, but I realize that Mkwaa wasn't able to do this for himself. Therefore, I'd agree that talking to her and explaining just what happened will be of value. I also often suggest when talking, (verbally &/or mentally) with an animal, to send them mental pictures of what you want to convey to them. The process of Animal Communication is most often reinforced by these mental images, as that has been discovered to be one of the more common ways in which they communicate to us....when we learn how to effectively listen! In your case, you could send images of what you saw happen to Nvwati (I know.....might be tough for you right now) and also of where you believe he's gone to now, as best you can. Images of HOW you will be there to support Mkwaa would also be of great help in reassuring her that she won't be alone and will have your continued help and presence.

However, I must disagree with the notion that they can't understand many words. I experimented with this concept hundreds of times during my kidlets' lives and can attest to this not being true....at least, not with MY kids! :D I've found that even during a telepathic connection (with mine and others), when I have no images to convey a more abstract thought, I can just as easily use human language (even 'big' words!) and have it work just as well. I believe this is because it is through our Higher Selves (and our beliefs and expectations) that we most effectively communicate, and so the information is received on a higher level, more like soul-to-soul, rather than just through earthly personality and language. So yes, treat Mkwaa as the fur-person she is! ^_^

As to things like not giving treats, I'd have to disagree again. While it is best to avoid giving them during behaviours you don't wish to encourage, since I firmly believe we are essentially no different in terms of range of emotions, I think any animal ought to be treated pretty much the same as if they were a human in mourning. And don't most of us like a little treat or some extra pampering when we're grieving and not able to muster up enough energy for our normal daily tasks? So yes, try to keep as much regular routine up as possible (using the guidelines in that article Marty suggested - same one I was going to mention, but w/o advocating for the use of drugs!), and include some NEW activities/games to try out but also add some HEALTHY, natural treats (raw veg's, clean, raw, lean meats and the like) every few days or so! Providing great nutrition in the form of 'treats' at such times can go a long way towards keeping possible emotional-based illnesses from getting a toe-hold. This also has the added benefit of finding out which healthy foods your girl actually likes (so you can add it to her diet more regularly), and gives you both a happier 'project' to focus on together. Animal nutritionist experts of course advocate a raw food diet as one of the best defenses against ill health nowadays anyway. This is something you might wish to research and pursue later on when you have more energy yourself.

In my case, since Nissa's appetite was not only affected by her grief, but also from her newly-diagnosed renal insufficiency (a common reaction, esp. in cats, to losses of their own), I had to pamper her with many different food offerings, and many times/day, for many months! However, once she began feeling more alive again, she naturally returned to regular eating patterns (though more meals/day, which was recommended as healthier for kidney diseased animals), so I don't subscribe to the notion that this necessarily creates bad habits. Common sense and a clear understanding of your own animal's needs and circumstances help create a healthy balance between helping and hurting, I think.

I also always suggest considering using flower essences, both for yourself AND your animal companions. This link to Teresa Wagner's wonderful website can get you started on this: Animals In Our Hearts ~ flower essences for grief. You will likely end up taking at least some of the same ones together. They are not very expensive (here, locally, about $15/bottle which will last many yrs. once diluted into a treatment bottle, if stored cool and dark and not contaminated) These will also help nip any possible 'bad' reactions in the bud, such as increased aggression. I know of one woman who made so many mistakes and omissions with her grieving dog (who was already aggressive due to previous abuse) that she created even more problems and ended up leaving her dog in a shelter to be killed 10 long days later. It was a tragedy that didn't need to happen, in my opinion.

As Marty suggested (in different words), one of the animals' great and noble purposes in their earthly lives with us is to mirror what WE are feeling, in order to help us see what we need to overcome or improve. That is why FEs are normally advised to be taken by the guardian as well, even if the individual essence differs from the one(s) indicated for one's animal. Some have even taken on their person's physical illnesses FOR them...it's pretty fascinating, though often very sad.

And an animal behaviourist's &/or an animal communicator's assistance if you run into any long-lasting problems is always a good adjunct, too. I checked in with Nissa through a communicator about 2 months into her grief, just to see how things were going for her, in case I'd missed anything important....and I had. I found out at the time she was SO stricken that she was in the process of deciding whether she'd STAY or not! That got me in even higher gear, I'll tell you! I vowed to get her through this, with me in tow! The most telling day was when I made a firm decision and active choice to envision LIFE AND LIVING! for her (again, I used mental images of what that would look like) on her behalf, and w/i days of that she perked up so much more, it was astonishing. She taught me so very much from that and frankly, saved me in the process! :wub: Many communicators, such as Teresa Wagner, Kat Berard, Sharon Callahan, Hilary Renaissance, Lynn McKenzie and many more, are also able to provide emotional counseling for animals if need be. Like us but more easily-helped, often animals only need to know that someone is willing to listen to their concerns and give them a 'voice' in their family.

Regarding comforting scents, Nissa also liked to sit where Sabin had voided his bladder just before he'd passed, so I left those small, familiar scents for her for about a year - one on the carpet, one on our bed's comforter....I could barely smell it myself (no feline nose), but even if I'd been able to, I would have left it anyway. She was more interested in and comforted by that than from any of 'his' toys, because they'd shared most of those toys anyway, and naturally, the bulk of them remained hers, except for a few I put in either his casket with him or in the shadow-box I made for him. I was also told by my regular communicator that she and Sabin would still play together off and on. Since I'd already witnessed some indications of this myself, it comforted me greatly to know she still had some 'access' to him once in awhile....in fact, I was totally jealous! ;)

Your Medicine Bags idea is a great one! If you believe in the healing power of crystals, too, that's another thought - you could just add one to the bag. Aromatherapy is also another option, though with sensitive individuals, one must sometimes be careful which essential oil can safely be used in a diffuser. (with cats, they're not always safely recommended, and NEVER in any case on the skin with them) Isn't Sweetgrass supposed to be useful for grief, too?

However, I think the most aid comes from just BEING THERE for and with them, just as it's what we need from others. And in the same way, connecting on these deeper levels such as when we're grieving, can create an even stronger bond between us than when we're happier. Same for when one of us is ill and one takes care of the other. We learn to appreciate each other even MORE than usual. We love and care for each other more.....just as you and Nvwati already did with each other. Your instincts are right on ~ you only need listen with your heart and you will be guided as to what to do for Mkwaa. You might also wish to read the article I'd posted here recently, if you hadn't already done so - link to it here.

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  • 4 weeks later...

Thanks for bringing this subject up,

I am in a similar situation right now since Cricket died... Boomer and Chelsea will not play or do much else... With all the replies made here I do have some information now so maybe I can help them... Take care Shelley

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I speak to Mkwaa a lot about Nvwati, at first being careful not to bring up his name if she seemed to be ok in that moment but when she would search for him or look so depressed I would lay with her, hold her and tell her that Nvwati is gone now but he will be with us in spirit. I would take her to the park and let her sniff where he had been and remind her that he was gone. It helped her, bless her little heart to wear his bandana, she knows they each had their own so for her to have his on now means it is hers.

She is a bit better since Yukon moved in. At least she is busy keeping him on his toes and not spending so much time in her little head missing her other brother.

At his Memorial Feast bless her, she sang HIS song from beginning to end. She has never done that before.

I also have pictures of Nvawti here and from time to time I took one down and we sat n the bed talking about him........... letting her kiss his picture.

Yes I believe dogs grieve.

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LOL Mkwaa NEVER sang before and this was the song Nvwati sang on several tv shows including Oprah! Bless her little heart she sang the whole thing. It was precious.

I DO know Nvwati had his paws in the bringing of Yukon Jack and Mkwaa and I together. I have NO DOUBTS he had something to do with this.

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