Do Dogs Grieve?

Gram and I are at our usual place, sitting at the patio table, sharing a treat or two and having a conversation. Gram was telling me about a friend who lost one of her dogs to a serious kidney ailment and how the surviving dog was behaving.

This led us to talking about dogs and emotions. Gram was curious about how I would feel if Mr. Yule, my lifelong companion, should suddenly pass away. Would I grieve?

To tell the truth that question knocked me for a loop, as I cannot imagine my life without Mr. Yule. He was here when I arrived and put up with all my silly and sometimes rather mean antics toward him when I was a puppy. I have to admit that even now, I can be a pest, if he is not in the playful mood that I usually am.

How would I feel? Extremely bad and them some.

Back to Gram’s question and yes, I know I would grieve and feel terribly lost.

For the longest time it was thought that dogs and other animals did not have any emotions and thereby did not grieve, feel happy or lonely.

Studies and experiments at such places as the University of Pennsylvania, the Animal Behavior Clinic at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine and many other places have learned that dogs and other animals have emotions and do feel grief.

In 1996, the Companion Animal Mourning Project conducted by the ASPCA found that 36 percent of dogs ate less than usual after the death of their companion dog, while 11 percent stopped eating all together. The researchers also found that 36 percent changed their vocalization habits, some barked more and others became quieter,

Some dogs became very clingy toward their humans and many changed their behavioral patterns. The study showed that even cats have starved themselves to death, when their companion cat died.

Gram and I talked about the ways that you can tell if your dog is grieving; though it differs with each dog, just like it does with humans.

The most common signs are lack of appetite, lethargy, and sleeping much more.

Other signs are:

  • Lack of interest in things they enjoyed before
  • House soiling
  • Destructive chewing
  • An increase or decrease in barking, howling or whining
  • Going off and hiding
  • Chewing on itself for no reason at all
  • Acting nervous or fearful
  • Becoming aggressive
  • Stops drinking water
  • Waits by the door or window (especially if the dog was taken out of the house to be euthanized)

    These are just a few of the signs that a dog will show, and just like people, it is difficult to know how they will react.

    The question now is how can you help your dog recover? My Gram says this can be a tricky problem, as you have to consider what the behavior is.

    The ASPCA study shows that the grief period can last for as little as a few weeks or that it can go on for months. They also feel that a “hands off approach” is not the way to go.

    If your dog is not eating or drinking do not attribute it entirely to grief, err on the side of caution and take your dog to the vet for a check up. There could be a medical problem that you are not aware of.

    Offer your love and affection to your grief stricken dog, a few extra pets and scratches can go a long way. Keep your dog’s routine as stable as you can, keeping feeding time, playtime and grooming time as consistent as you can.

    Sometimes additional exercise or mental stimulation such as a new Kong toy will grab its interest.

    Keep some of the companion dog’s old toys or blanket around for a few weeks, do not make any major changes around the house, do not move the dog’s bed or change the type of food you feed your pet. Keep the routine as stable as you can until this period passes.

    The important thing here, according to my Gram, is do not encourage any behaviors that you do not want to continue. What does she mean? First of all, if your dog suddenly has started howling or barking, do not try to distract him/her with treats. Why not? You are reinforcing the barking/howling behavior and it will continue.

    Do not enforce a behavior you do not like, ignore it. When your dog is being quiet and well behaved then give it treats and the extra attention. Do not do it when he/she is being naughty.

    If your dog seems to be slipping into a depression, my Gram says call your vet and/or take your dog to a canine behaviorist, it is important not to ignore this situation.

    Should you get a new dog? My Gram says that is the million-dollar question. At my house, Mr. Yule’s best friend died and my mom did not intend to replace her with another dog. However, she saw me at a kennel and fell in love with me, as a result I came home. Mr. Yule being a cool dog did not object and we have a wonderful relationship, though I know I drive him crazy at times with my playfulness.

    However, if you are thinking of another dog, do not do what Mom did. Have your dog meet the new dog at a neutral place and have it brought to the spot by a friend. If the meeting goes well, it is possible that you have a match, if it does not, try again in a few months.

    Mr. Yule is a special laid back dog and he accepted me with just a bit of indifference because I really was a pesky puppy and now there are still times I think, if he could, he would paddle my behind.

    Gram and I hope that this article has helped you and your dog. Until next time, I remain

    Your Sadie

    Drs. Foster and Smith Inc.