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You’re Splitting Up, But Should Your Pets Be? Why Pets Should Be Kept Together After Their Owners Break Up

Updated: Jan 23

Should the pets of a divorcing or separating couple be kept together? Under Ontario law, pets are considered personal property and are treated as such when couples divide their assets. 

Though this tradition can simplify the division of assets, couples with multiple pets can face unique considerations during divorce and separation. Couples concerned about their pets’ well-being may agree that the pets should remain together instead of divided between the parties.

This article explains why it can be in pets’ best interests to remain together after their owners divorce or separate. 

Pets Who Have Lived Together Can Share a Special Bond

Pets who have lived together for a long time can form a close bond. Citing veterinarian Dr. Janice Huntingford, Pet Wellbeing explains that separating two animals who have lived together may actually be separating “two close friends.”

Further, your pets may be what animal shelters call bonded pairs. As defined by the Ontario SPCA, bonded pairs are animals with strong attachments to each other. Writing for VCA Animal Hospitals, veterinarian Dr. Lynn Buzhardt explains that bonded pairs are better off together and “do not thrive” when separated. When animal shelters recognize bonded pairs, they try to have the pair adopted together and not separately. 

Separating Bonded Pets Can Cause Grief and Stress

Pets who have lived together consider each other family. They experience grief when a family member is missing. In Dr. Buzhardt’s words, “Since [a pet’s] world is confined to the home environment, these family relationships are the center of their universe. Pets see family members, human or otherwise, as a pack much as their ancestors did in the wild. They depend on the pack for a sense of safety and wellbeing.” 

Separating pets who are used to living together can trigger stress or separation anxiety, with symptoms including lethargy, excessive speaking/noisemaking, clinginess, hiding, and aggression. With Dr. Huntingford, Pet Wellbeing emphasizes that pets thrive with a consistent routine and that owners can ease stress by maintaining a stable and familiar environment. If pet separation is necessary, it is best for the separation to be gradual instead of an abrupt change.

Not All Pets Are The Same

Sometimes, pet separation remains the ideal option. For example, a pet may have a stronger bond with one party, not get along with the other pets, or be better suited to be an ‘only pet’ or be in a smaller group.

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