Dogs Feel Grief When Canine Companion Dies
The team found that after one dog died, changes in behavior were common among surviving dogs, with only about 13% of owners noticing any change inhabits. For example, two-thirds of the surviving dogs had a sharp increase in the need to attract attention, and 57% began to play less frequently. Overall activity levels decreased in 46% of dogs, with about one-third tending to sleep more, eat less, and be more afraid. Three out of ten dogs barked and whined more frequently.
The team found that the risk of behavior change increased the more the owner grieved.
In the study, “the level of fear in the surviving dog was positively correlated with [the] the level of suffering, anger and psychological trauma of the owners,” Pirrone said.
The findings were published on February 24 in the journal Scientific reports.
Patricia McConnell, a certified Applied Animal Behavior Specialist, reviewed the results and believes that all of the changes mentioned in the study really boil down to canine grief.
“I’m glad the study was done because, frankly, it seems impossible for dogs not to grieve,” McConnell said. “They are very sociable, one of the most social mammals in the world. And as mammals, they have a lot in common. neurobiology and the physiology that governs our own emotions.”
What to do if one of your dogs has died?
Pirrone advised keeping a daily routine and staying close to the surviving dog so “they feel protected.”
But McConnell warned that, as with human grief, there is no quick fix.
In the advice she shares online, McConnell encourages owners also to give themselves a chance to grieve, even knowing that “dogs can be extremely sensitive to your suffering and feel powerless to ‘fix’ it on their own.”
McConnell also suggests spending time “talking” to your dog to keep in touch, as well as trying to follow a mix of old routines and new stimulating activities.
But in the end, she said, “dogs need something similar to what we need: tenderness, nurturing care, and time, time, time.”
The US Department of Health and Human Services has more information on the relationship between humans and pets.
SOURCES: Federica Pirrone, DVM, Ph.D., Lecturer, Veterinary Ethology, and Animal Welfare, Department of Veterinary Medicine and Animal Science, University of Milan; Patricia McConnell, Ph.D.; Certified Applied Animal Behavior and Specialist in Pet Behavior, Biology and Philosophy of Human-Animal Relationships, and Associate Professor of Zoology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison; scientific reports, February 24, 2022