Grief in Dogs


Grieving dog

Question: How do I deal with the loss of a dog? I purchased a full brother and sister Weimaraner dogs 12 years ago. The two dogs have been kennel mates all that time and never have been seperated. They were not house dogs and kept in an outside kennel I constructed next to the house. The male dog was diagnosed with vestibular syndrome four weeks ago, showed poor recovery, and was euthanized. The female dog, evidently missing her brother, developed a constant whine, howl, yelp that goes on for about 45 minutes, stops for about 30 minutes, and starts and night. I have an electric Bark Control training collar that works for the bark, but she has learned that she can whine and "yowl" without getting a correction. My local vet gave me acepromazine to calm her down, but it works for about four hours. When she is in the house with us, she is in constant sight of me.....when we are outside, she is never more than 10' away. I am a wheat farmer, so we have some wide open spaces. Do you have any ideas on how to calm or quiet her down? Thanks for your thoughts and ideas....Wes

Answer: Wes-

We have had this type of situation in our practice on three or four occasions in the past. I think that dogs experience grief, personally, but some behaviorists view this problem as more of an anxiety problem associated with loss of social structure. Since that seemed somewhat reasonable, we have tried anti-anxiety medications, both diazepam (Valium Rx) and buspirone (Buspar Rx). I thought these worked OK, but more recently we have tried amitriptyline (Elavil Rx) and it seemed to work a little better. We choose amitriptyline because it is an anti-depressant that is available generically and is fairly inexpensive. I would also consider fluoxetine (Prozac Rx) but it does cost significantly more.

If anti-anxiety or anti-depressants are helpful, it is best to use them for at least a couple of weeks after behavior returns to a more normal state and then to taper off the dose rather than abruptly stopping the medications.

She may also be lonely for the first time in her life, since she had a companion for so long. If this is the case it would help to let her come inside with you or to consider getting her a companion again. There is a risk in getting another dog. That doesn't always work out well. The anti-depressants or anti-anxiety medications might still work in this case, too.

If she was dependent on her brother and is confused or disoriented without him there is a chance that selegiline (Anipryl Rx) might be helpful, as well. This really doesn't sound like it is the case but it is something to consider if other approaches to the problem aren't working.

Hope this helps some.

Mike Richards, DVM 2/25/2000


Michael Richards, D.V.M. co-owns a small animal general veterinary practice in rural tidewater Virginia. Dr. Richards graduated from Iowa State University's College of Veterinary Medicine in 1979, and has been in private practice ever since. Dr. Richards has been the director of the PetCare Forum...