How Dogs Mourn

Grieving for a loved one is one of the greatest pains we humans know. Researchers from Italy have now shown that dogs also react to the loss of a conspecific.

Using a validated online questionnaire, the scientists interviewed owners of at least two dogs, one of whom had died.

The interviewed dog owners reported behavioral changes in the surviving dogs, which are not unfamiliar to us from times of grief: After the death of their conspecifics, the dogs sought more attention, played less, and were generally less active, but they slept more. The dogs were more anxious after the loss than before, ate less, and vocalized more often. The changes in behavior lasted longer than two months in about two-thirds of the dogs, and a quarter of the animals even “mourned” for more than half a year.

The researchers are surprised that the intensity of the owner’s attachment to his dog did not correlate with the behavioral changes in his animal. The results cannot be explained simply by projecting the owner’s grief onto his animal.

Loss of the partner animal: Animals mourn too

Some animal species such as primates, whales, or elephants are known to have rituals associated with the death of conspecifics. For example, the dead body is inspected and sniffed; Whales or apes carry dead young animals around for a while. In wild canids, reactions to the death of conspecifics have only rarely been documented: a wolf buried dead pups, and a dingo pack carried a deceased pup around for a day. On the other hand, there are many anecdotal reports from domestic dogs about changed behavior after the death of partner animals, but there has not been any scientific data on this question so far.

The study cannot answer whether the animals really understand and mourn the death of partner animals from the same household or rather react to the loss. However, the study shows that dogs may also need special care and attention after a loss. The authors believe that the impact of such an event on animal welfare may have been underestimated.

Frequently Asked Question

Can a dog cry properly?

Dogs cannot cry for sadness or joy. But they can also shed tears. Dogs, like humans, have tear ducts that keep the eye moist. The excess fluid is transported through the ducts into the nasal cavity.

When do dogs start grieving?

Whether dogs can mourn has not yet been scientifically proven. It is clear, however, that dogs show unusual behavior as soon as a conspecific or a person important to them has died. Many dog owners report this.

What to do if one of the two dogs dies?

If one of the dogs dies, their companion may feel understimulated and even bored. It helps the dog adjust if you can fill in the gap with mental stimulation, such as games or extra walks, and even teach them a new trick or two.

How long does grief last in dogs?

Experience shows that dogs mourn very differently and also for different periods. That’s why there is hardly a rule of thumb. The mourning behavior usually ends after less than half a year.

How does a dog feel when it is given away?

sadness in dogs

They don’t feel any higher human emotions like shame or contempt, but they do feel emotions like joy, fear, and sadness. In most cases, they react to immediate circumstances, but these emotions can also accompany them over a longer period.

Can a dog miss me?

They may miss their company, but that longing in well-groomed dogs is more anticipation than longing, comparable to the human feeling when a loved one goes on a long journey.

Can a dog sense human emotions?

Do you sometimes have the impression that your dog senses how you are doing? You’re probably not wrong at all. Recently, in experiments, dogs have shown signs that they can tell by facial expressions and vocalizations whether a human or another dog is happy or angry.

Can a dog be resentful?

Dogs are considered to be loyal animals that rarely hold grudges. But just like humans, four-legged friends can be really angry and give their master the cold shoulder.

Mary Allen

Written by Mary Allen

Hello, I'm Mary! I've cared for many pet species including dogs, cats, guinea pigs, fish, and bearded dragons. I also have ten pets of my own currently. I've written many topics in this space including how-tos, informational articles, care guides, breed guides, and more.

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