My Pet World / Pets

My Pet World: We don't know for sure if pets 'grieve' the way we do

Q: We lost our Soft-Coated Wheaton Terrier, and it's still very difficult to talk about and deal with the loss. Poor Gracie, our other dog, has also had a tough time, and it's been heartbreaking. I think Gracie is still waiting for McGee to come home. There's no way to tell her that's not going to happen. How can we help Gracie through this difficult period? -- S.O., Chicago, IL.

A: I'm very sorry for your loss. I -- and many other readers -- have felt a similar hole in our hearts.

We don't really know what surviving pets are thinking when it appears for all the world as if they're grieving. They may be, or they may be merely picking up on our sorrow. It could be they're only responding to a sudden change in the household - or the changes may be a combination of all those things. Personally, I'm convinced that pets (who we know, for a fact, feel emotion) can grieve. But why do some pets appear absolutely unaffected by the loss of a best pal? No one knows.

"On average, people actually take about two years to grieve the loss of a loved one," says Sue Yellen, Glenview, IL-based clinical psychologist and chicagonow.com blogger. "I suspect many pets do grieve, though we don't understand that grieving period."

She adds, "It's a difficult balance, you want to give attention to people who are grieving, and I believe the same is true for grieving pets. However, you also don't want to reward sad behavior too much."

Try to keep a regular schedule for Gracie's activities, so there's a consistent structure to her life. Feed her and take her for walks at about the same time you always have. Playing with a dog's favorite toy is probably the best antidote (for dogs who enjoy play), and the exercise is a great outlet for both you and your pet.

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Q: Our Australian-shepherd mix doesn't have fleas, but he scratches constantly and has developed many sores on his body. The vet gives him cortisone shots and then sends us on our way. The cortisone only lasts for a short time and I worry about the long-term effects of these shots. We've tried Benadryl and Chlorotrimeton, which do nothing, and we tried to change the dog's diet. The veterinarian has no further advice. Do you have any ideas? -- K.C., Las Vegas, NV

A: Dr. Cecilia Friberg, a Chicago-based veterinary dermatologist, is concerned about those sores, which may be bacterial or yeast infections triggered by allergies. In any case, they should be treated. Obviously, you need to treat infections, but additionally they can be very itchy. Until you deal with these sores and relieve the itching, there's no way to know if the Benadryl or Chlorotrimeton might actually help the allergies.

Friberg adds, "Steroids are a great choice to treat allergies for short-term relief, as you've learned. Steroids also can diminish the immune system, which may more easily allow for infections to occur. The use of steroids should be carefully controlled."

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