Whether it's a human family member or a furry friend, it's always difficult to deal with the loss of a loved one. On top of that, your dog is acting a little strange. Maybe they are sleeping more or howling at night. Perhaps they aren't eating and prefer to hide away in a room alone. This may leave you wondering, do dogs grieve, or is dog grief real?
Just like humans, dogs do grieve. They are sad after a loss and will go into a state of mourning. So how do you know your dog is grieving? And how can you help? First, let's identify what it means for your dog to mourn. Then we will provide you with ways to comfort your dog during this painful time.
Do Dogs Have Emotions?
The short and sweet answer: Yes! Studies on dog behavior have become prominent, allowing us to understand our dog's actions and feelings more than ever before. There are studies that have recently concluded that dogs experience an assortment of emotions equal to that of a 2.5-year-old human. Those are:
Dogs cannot, according to science, experience shame, pride, and guilt. Dog owners might argue against this, but scientists note that the slinking and discomfort dogs show after being caught doing something mischievous isn't guilt but rather sadness. So dogs definitely have emotions, just like us. They get excited when they see us after a long day at work or feel joy when we bring them on a walk. Some can feel fear if they're caught doing something bad. So, of course, dog grief can also be an impactful feeling they deal with.
Do Dogs Grieve?
Several experts believe that dogs do grieve. Like humans, dogs experience sadness and anger, so it's no surprise that they can feel these emotions strongly when they lose a loved one.
Dog grief isn't limited to just their feelings for humans. It's been proven that dogs will mourn for dogs they are close to as well.
While dogs will appear depressed when a human or other animal they love has passed away, studies haven't confirmed that dogs fully understand the concept of death itself. Marc Bekoff, a biologist, behavioral ecologist, and professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder, explains that dogs won't understand that someone died but do know that they are "missing."
“It’s a situation of loss of companionship where that dog is no longer around," Dr. Marc Bekoff stated.
There are skeptics out there, however, who don't believe dogs truly mourn. Instead, they think that dogs act out because they are upset at this significant change. Dogs are creatures of habit who will definitely be upset when their routine gets thrown off. Since they can't understand death, these frustrated pooches might believe the dog or owner will return at some point.
But, there's been an abundance of research on dog behavior. Studies have proven that dogs do truly grieve, meaning they are greatly impacted by the loss of another dog or person they love.
So how do researchers know that dogs mourn? There are several signs that your dog is grieving. You just have to pay close attention to their change in behavior.
Signs of Dog Grief
A study by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, or ASPCA, concluded that 66% of mourning dogs exhibited four or more changes in their behavior.
When a dog is upset that a loved one is gone, you might notice that they avoid contact with other family members, including pets. Usually social, dogs might become withdrawn after experiencing a major loss. Instead of spending time with their family throughout the day, the dog might lay around in a different room.
Loss of Appetite
Just like humans, dogs might lose their appetite when they are extremely upset. The ASPCA's study on grieving dogs found that 36% of mourning dogs had a decreased appetite after the loss of a canine companion. An additional 11% refused to eat altogether. You might notice your dog stalling when it comes to feeding time, and not rushing over to their food bowl like usual.
Change in Sleeping Pattern
A grieving dog might appear lethargic. They won't be as excited about playing or walking. Or, they won't get up to follow you when you leave the room. Some mourning dogs will sleep more than usual, while others suffer from insomnia. Some dogs would also sleep in a different area of the house. Be on the lookout for these changes.
You may notice a change in the way your dog communicates if they are grieving. The ASPCA study found that 63% of mourning dogs had an altered vocal pattern. Some of them vocalized more while others barked less.
If your dog usually barks at squirrels outside but hasn't since a family member has passed, they are most likely experiencing grief. If they are howling more often, that's another sign of mourning.
Aggressive and Destructive Behavior
Mourning dogs might lash out in anger and frustration. They may start urinating on the floor even though they used to use the potty outside with no problem. Maybe they will start scratching at doors, leaving marks in the wood and chipped paint. Or, they might start ripping apart shoes or stuffed animals and chew the couch.
Mourning dogs might appear to be searching for the missing dog or person. They will look around the house, hoping to find them. The ASPCA study also showed that grieving dogs might become more clingy with their family, showing more affection towards them. This can mean possibly following you all around the house. Clingy behavior may be their way of getting comfort when they can't find the human or dog who passed.
Immediate Signs of Distress
Sometimes the loss of a companion can trigger anxious episodes in your dog. If your dog has a separation-induced panic attack, it may display these behaviors:
How to Help a Grieving Dog
While it's impossible to replace a loved one, you can provide comfort for a grieving dog in various ways. It's important to study your dog's behavioral changes to determine if they are sad. That will better help you understand what you can do to help during this process.
Spend Time Together
Many dogs will become clingier when they are sad about a lost loved one. Reciprocate their affection by petting them and cuddling them whenever you can. While you're working or doing chores, make sure to talk to them.
Spend quality time together to keep them active and engaged, like playing fetch or taking them on errands with you. This can help take their mind off the loss and make dog grief easier to deal with.
Give Them More Distractions
You can't be home 24/7. But your dog likely starts worrying about the missing person or dog the most when you're gone. Provide them with a large variety of toys to keep them occupied during that time. Mental stimulation is key for all canines and it can be especially helpful during stressful times! Try puzzle toys that reward them with treats or hide food around the house.
Give Your Dog CBD
CBD is a non-psychoactive phytocannabinoid found in hemp, meaning it won't get you or your dog high. Instead, CBD interacts with the cannabinoid receptors in your dog's endocannabinoid system, or ECS.
Just like in humans, your dog's ECS maintains their sense of well-being and balance, including their emotional state. Help your dog feel calmer and more relaxed with CBD dog treats or dropping CBD oil on their food each day. You'll notice your dog becoming more social and active when they aren't feeling as many negative emotions. CBD calming chews can also provide a sense of tranquility during moments of dog grief.
Set Up Playdates
If your dog is social, getting together with other people and their dogs might be a great way to keep their mind off the sudden loss of their loved one. When you have friends over, your dog will easily become distracted as they try to get attention from the different people in the house.
Have your friends talk to your dog and pet them throughout the visit. Meet up with friends at dog parks so your dog can spend time playing with other dogs.
Curb Bad Behavior
When your dog starts to do something bad — like incessant howling or destructive chewing — find ways to distract them. Don't approach them or give them treats. Do not scold them either, as even negative attention can be craved by some mourning dogs. Instead, call your dog over to you. Pet them or play a game of tug-of-war to inspire a new activity.
Replace a Lost Pet
It's very important that you don't immediately replace a dog that's passed away. Your dog, just like humans, needs time to grieve. Allow them time to get used to the loss and heal before getting a new dog. If you introduce a new dog while they are still feeling upset, it might just create more stress and uncertainty.
The period of grieving varies among dogs. Dogs can grieve for weeks or even months. The amount of time your dog needs to process the loss depends on the dog's age and health, as well as how close they were to the dog or human who passed away.
Can Dogs Pick Up on Our Grief?
One reason that your dog may appear more upset than usual after the loss of a family member can be because they've picked up on your emotions. Dogs are able to read our feelings through our body language, facial expressions, and even how we smell. They can not only sense our sadness and grief but feed off of it.
While you might not be able to help how sad you are feeling during this mourning period, try cheering up your dog. Go on walks with them frequently. Give them a hug. Train them to do more tricks and give them extra treats. Sleep with them at night. This will not only boost your dog's spirits but give you a positive and loving distraction.
Should You Seek a Vet for a Grieving Dog?
It's normal for dogs to grieve. It's even normal for dogs to mourn for months. But if you feel that your dog has remained affected for far too long, it might be time to contact a veterinarian. It can be dangerous if your dog isn't eating enough or is exhibiting aggressive behavior.
Bring your grieving dog to the vet if you notice an extreme change in their emotional state.
Your vet might recommend certain medications to help your dog adjust to its new feelings. After doing some tests, they might prescribe medication that can enhance your dog's mood. They might also recommend therapy or changes in routine in addition to the medication.
Vets might also want to do additional tests that rule out other possible reasons your dog's appetite or behavior has changed. This can ensure they don't have a serious medical condition you weren't aware of. Once that has been ruled out, you and your vet can focus on your dog's mental well-being.
Final Thoughts - Do Dogs Grieve?
Dogs are emotional and intuitive pets that feel many of the same feelings we do. This includes joy, love, and excitement. Unfortunately, this means dogs also experience sadness and grief when a loved one passes away.
You will notice a lot of changes in your dog's behavior if they are experiencing grief. Once you have identified that your dog is mourning, there are different ways you can give them comfort during this time. Make sure you are showing your dog a lot of love, care, and attention. When you're feeling positive and loving, your dog will too!