Pet Tips

Dogs – Cats – Pets and Divorce – Pet tip 232

The divorce rate in Canada and the U.S. is extremely high with nearly one out of every two couples getting divorced. Many couples that are divorcing don’t think much about how the divorce can affect the family pet. This is a mistake. When times are good we like to think that pets are part of the family, the same should be true when times are bad. The fact of the matter is that both cats and dogs are affected by divorce and the stress that divorce causes.

Screaming and fighting are common activities when couples get divorced. Sometimes our emotions get the better of us and this is normal. When kids are around we try to protect them from this screaming and fighting as we know it can cause the child pain and possibly even psychological trauma. Pets aren’t kids and should not be treated like kids but they (especially dogs) too suffer when their owners are fighting. They are creatures of habit and the screaming and yelling coming from divorcing couples (hopefully) is not what they are used to.  It causes them stress and it is common for a dog’s behaviour to change during these stressful times. These behavioural changes can include not eating, lethargy and social withdrawal; which are also symptoms of depression. If at all possible, please also try to protect pets from the stresses of yelling/slamming doors etc. If yelling is unavoidable, put your pets in a quieter room with some music on. This will help muffle the noise.

Custody is also a big issue when it comes to pets and divorce. Who gets to keep the pet after the divorce? This is a tough one and there is no easy answer. The prudent answer might be the one that cares for the pet the most or the one with whom the pet has bonded the most. Either way this will be hard on the pet as they are creatures of habit and changing residences, and/or having a regular household member more absent, creates stress. At least try to keep the pet’s routine the same with regard to eating, playtime, walks etc.

Whatever the family dynamic do not use your pet as a way to get even with your spouse or partner. There have been many cases where when one of the spouses wasn’t too attached to the pet, they harmed the pet, surrendered the pet, or acted in a way that is completely opposite to the pet’s best interests. This happens in a similar fashion when parents use their kids as pawns during a divorce. Logic clearly tells us that this is the wrong maneuver yet sometimes during divorces logic flies out the window. Try to maintain composure. Doing anything deliberate to harm your pet to aggravate your spouse is immoral and likely illegal. It can also severely damage any kids that may be involved.

At the end of the day divorce is hard on the whole family including pets. If you are finding that you or your spouse are unable to come to an ‘agreement’ and that the family is being affected by the troubles, seek help. Mediation is a great option and can help couples come to an agreement including an agreement on what happens to the pet.

© 2010

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