When you have a pet, they feel your pain when you’re going through a divorce. Your pet is in-sync with your daily rhythms and moods, and when you change, they may change too, especially if a home that once housed a couple and perhaps children too is no longer the same day to day. Because pets are typically considered personal property in a divorce, it’s inevitable that one-half of a former couple is going to retain ownership of the family pet. Consistency, love, and thoughtfulness will help your pet – and you – cope with the major life change that is divorce.
1. Be consistent.
You may be tempted to let your pet get away with things that are usually off-limits, like sleeping on the bed, getting on the couch, or scratching at the front door. If you established rules about these behaviors in the first place, you did so because you don’t want to share the bed, hate clearing pet fur off the couch, or really don’t find those claw marks on the door all that endearing after all. And, believe it or not, your pet might feel like they’ve made a major accomplishment with your leniency at first, but you’ll soon discover you’ve created a monster. Your pet doesn’t need coddling during your divorce, they need consistency to be their best.
2. Maintain a routine.
If you’re moving to a new home post-divorce and your pet is coming along too, this shift can be traumatic. Pets thrive on familiarity and routine, and now that will be different. If at all possible, keep the same routine you’ve always had when it comes to walking, feeding, sleeping, and playing – even if you and your pet are living somewhere new. A routine will help minimize bad behavior, like going to the bathroom on the rug or growling at familiar people, and it will help your pet feel happy and safe.
3. Watch your moods.
You’re getting a divorce, and you’re entitled to your share of anger, sadness, and bad moods. Your pet will pick up on this pessimism quickly though, and have probably already been on high-alert for a while if there was fighting and tension in your home pre-split. Know that it’s possible for your pet’s mood to mirror yours – appreciate this sign of empathy. Continue to give your pet the love and affection he needs and has come to expect from you, and rely on your pet too to give you comfort during the especially difficult times. Above all, make sure you’re not lashing out at your pet because of how you feel toward your ex – your pet isn’t the enemy, but you could lose a devoted friend with too much bad behavior.
4. See the situation from your pet’s point of view.
With pet ownership comes great responsibility, and it’s important to look at your divorce from your pet’s point of view. Why is the atmosphere in the house so strained? Why does no one want to play with my favorite toy? Why is she crying all the time? Why is he never home anymore? Your pet can feel stress, sadness, joy, relief, anger, and even separation anxiety as you muddle your way through a divorce. Respect that your pet can have very human needs at times, and appreciate that their life as they have always known it is changing too, and perhaps not in a way that they might want.
5. Make the best pet parenting decision.
While it can hurt terribly to give up your pet, when it comes to divorce you have to consider where your pet will be better off. Is your pet incredibly attached to your former spouse? The best choice you can make for your pet is to let him live in the home and with the owner who will make him the happiest. If you make a selfish choice, you may end up with a depressed and badly behaved pet, and that’s not good for your or the creature you love.
The human-animal bond is powerful. And it can be comforting to feel unconditional love from your pet particularly at a time when you might feel unlovable. Just be sure to think of your pet’s best interests too even though you’re very wrapped up in the changes in your life. If you have concerns about making the right decisions to help your pet cope with your divorce, speak with your vet. And during a particularly stressful time in your divorce, or when someone is moving out or moving on, consider making a boarding reservation at the Northpointe Veterinary Hospital, open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, so your pet is well taken care of while you’re otherwise occupied