Divorce is a sad fact of life and a stress-inducing human problem. It can cause stress for pets too, and often in a way that’s eerily similar to how it affects humans. Cats and dogs are creatures of habit and are accustomed to the timetable we have set for them – meal time, bedtime, playtime, etc. Some pets, especially older ones, have a more difficult time adapting to a change of routine than others. What divorce essentially means to pets is a disrupted routine and overall sense of upheaval, which can be very upsetting to the animal.
Dogs (and many cats) are social animals bonded to a family routine and a way of life that relies on us for their physical, mental, and emotional welfare. Our pets are often denied consideration when it comes to separation, divorce, and other difficulties in relationships and family life.
As nervous behavior in pets is often caused by the owners’ actions, divorce can bring about an escalated level of anxiety for animals. They pick up on our vibrations, and can be easily upset by changes in the environment caused by hostility between humans. When couples shout and slam doors, it causes stress to pets, who are silent watchers of all that goes on. Pets sense human aggression, and this can be frightening for them. What we can do is to be more mindful of our tone and body language in the presence of pets, and learn to recognize certain behavior patterns that come across as an expression of extreme canine anxiety – things like excessive barking, howling, digging, soiling inside the house, hiding, cowering, etc.
Divorce is traumatic, but pets can in fact play a very important role in helping various parties (particularly children) cope with and express their feelings. That being said, when couples separate or divorce, the best solution is to keep the children and the pets together, assuming children are in the picture. The other alternative is sharing pets between two households, which rarely works, since this can cause additional stress to the couple, the children and the animal. However, as couples have usually trained, cared for, and loved their pets together, it is their responsibility to decide what is best for them.