Losing a pet is a unique kind of pain. But if you’ve got more than one dog, losing one might bring additional worries. Often, dogs form strong bonds with other dogs, so a loss might mean that you say goodbye to a beloved pet, and your other dogs lose a dear playmate and companion. During times like this, the research shows that dogs experience behavior changes related to grief, but they might not fully comprehend death the way we do.
Signs of Grief in Dogs
Mourning is a deep and complex emotional process, and in humans, the behavior is closely aligned with culture. There isn’t one reaction to grief, and that makes it hard to study. Because we don’t have a window into what dogs are thinking, it’s hard to say what exactly they feel after a death. But we can look at behavioral changes for signs of grief.
If we go by changes in behavior, it’s clear that dogs do go through a period of mourning following a loss. Many dogs become withdrawn after a death. They may avoid other pets and people, lose their appetite, and sleep more than normal. They might also stay in “safe spaces” like a kennel or favorite resting place. All of these are signs of mourning. Although no two dogs are exactly the same, these reactions help us know what dogs think and feel during a difficult time.
Do Dogs Understand Death?
Even with all these signs, it’s not certain whether dogs really understand death. Dogs can also react like this due to other kinds of separation, and so it’s pretty likely that these signs are a reaction to your dog missing a former friend. Whether and at what point dogs realize that the friend is gone for good is uncertain. Either way, the grieving process can be long, sometimes lasting up to six months before a return to normal behavior.
Dogs Follow Our Emotional Cues
Emotional cues are another aspect of grief that we don’t understand as well as we’d like. Dogs are emotionally in tune with those close to them, reading and understanding when their owner is excited, angry, or sad. These emotional cues might feed into grief. Seeing us humans become upset might be a cue to your dog that their friend is really gone. These reactions can intensify grief in dogs, but there is an upside. As you work through your own grief, your dog might pick up on your renewed energy and happiness. And spending time together will likely be just as healing for your dog as it is for you.
The signs of grief in dogs can be alarming, but most dogs do recover. If your dog is struggling to eat or sleep and his health is negatively impacted, consider seeking veterinary support. But as you and your dog process the loss together, your shared grief might be a source of strength and comfort for you both.
Featured Image Credit: Mylene2401, Pixabay