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Do dogs grieve? 

owner holding face of sad grieving dog

Mourning the loss of a loved one is a devastating and inevitable part of being human. Anyone who has loved a pet knows the pain can be felt just as acutely at the loss of an animal companion. Given the mutual bond we share, can our four-legged loved ones understand and experience the same emotions of bereavement as we do? Do dogs grieve? 

Table of contents:

Can dogs grieve? 

Dogs are social animals with the ability, and even the biological impulse, to form strong familial bonds, whether with fellow canines or humans. When these bonds are broken through the death of a companion, it’s logical to expect and observe some kind of psychological impact. After all, expressions of mourning are not unique to the human condition. Other species, such as dolphins, elephants, apes, and some birds have been observed performing rituals of death and displays of mourning.  

On the other hand, animal behavioral experts and developmental psychologists have determined that most domesticated dogs have the cognitive abilities of a two- to three-year-old child, during which stage the concept of death is too complex to grasp.  

Therefore, whether you believe a dog can truly grieve depends on the definition of grief itself, and whether it requires a philosophical understanding of death or just the pain of loss. Barbara J. King, professor emeritus of Anthropology writes in her book How Animals Grieve:  “We can’t understand how an animal understands or thinks about death,” says King. “We can only evaluate what we can see, and when someone in a dog’s life dies, dogs will react with behavioral changes.” 

Do dogs grieve humans?  

Dogs are famously man’s best friend — and all evidence would suggest the relationship is one of symbiosis. Dogs form strong attachments to family members, who represent a version of the social and familial packs that their wild ancestors would have been part of. In addition, dogs are routine-driven creatures, who tend to thrive in predictable environments. Therefore, when a key human companion dies and disappears from that dog’s life, it can cause a significant disruption in the familiar dynamics and routines of a dog’s life, leading to negative emotions like confusion and distress. Anecdotal stories of dogs who shared a fixed daily routine with a human, such as a daily walk or a set time when a human would return home, may continue to wait in the same spot for the same routine, despite the ongoing absence of the human partner. After all, we value our dogs for their loyalty.  

No dog is the same, and each individual will respond differently to a given situation, but signs of stress may indicate a dog is processing grief.  

Do dogs grieve other dogs? 

Much like the loss of a human, the loss of a companion dog, particularly one with whom your dog shares a home and routine, can impact the emotions and behavior of an individual dog. A recent study conducted by researchers in Italy tracked the behavior of dogs who experienced the loss of a fellow canine companion and found that 86% of the surviving dogs displayed negative behavioral changes (such as increased attention seeking, decreased activity, decreased play, and increased sleep) in the wake of the death.  

Furthermore, dogs are very receptive to the emotions of their human family. They can pick up on moods, odors, expressions, and even read our body language to pick up on negative emotions, If you are mourning the loss of a person or a pet, your distress may be transferred to your pet. A 2019 study published in Scientific Reports revealed high cortisol levels in the bodies of dogs with similarly stressed-out owners.  

Signs of mourning in dogs 

There is no definitive guide for how a dog will behave following the passing of a close human or canine companion. You may observe behaviors that mirror depression or stress. 

  • Lethargy and withdrawal, including hiding and sleeping more than normal 
  • Loss of appetite 
  • Panting and stressed behavior 
  • Vocalization — whining and calling out excessively 
  • Pacing or searching around the home for the absent companion 
  • Sudden destructive or aggressive behaviors 
  • Increased separation stress and clinginess to surviving family members 

How to support a dog following a death 

Just like you, a dog needs extra support following the loss of a loved one. There is no firm metric on how long the mourning period will last, though a 2016 study of cats’ and dogs’ revealed: “The median duration of reported behavioral changes in both species was less than 6 months.” During this time, you can alleviate your dog’s mourning by offering them additional care and attention: 

  • Maintain a routine 
  • Spend more time with your dog 
  • Increase exercise and playtime 
  • Avoid leaving them alone for extended periods 
  • Observe eating habits to ensure they stay healthy 
  • Carefully consider adding another dog to the household  

When to see a veterinarian  

In extreme circumstances, it may be necessary to seek out professional intervention. If loss of appetite and lethargy persists for an extended period, your veterinarian may decide to prescribe medications to help with the depression or stress. Some physical reactions to grief that appear in the wake of loss, such as vomiting or diarrhea, can be caused by acute emotional distress. However, if these symptoms persist beyond the short term, there may indicate a more serious illness that requires medical attention.  

How can ElleVet’s CBD + CBDA help grieving dogs?  

ElleVet’s CBD + CBDA chews, soft gels, and oils can offer support for your dog’s emotional well-being and stress by helping to relax and calm them. This can allow your dog to become calm enough to manage their grief and the associated stress. In addressing your dog’s stress, ElleVet’s CBD + CBDA can lead to improved overall well-being and a happier, healthier dog.