Humans cry tears of sadness, pain, and happiness, but our canine companions express their emotions a little differently than we do. Dogs are known for their ability to bond with their humans and can express a range of emotions using vocalizations and body language. They make noises that sound a lot like crying to us, and sometimes produce tears, but do dogs cry?
Table of contents
- Do dogs cry tears?
- Crying vocalizations in dogs
- Why is my dog crying?
- What are some other signs that my dog is sad?
- Why do dogs produce tears?
- Do dogs cry happy tears?
- Bottom line
Do dogs cry tears?
When we talk about crying, we are often referring to the production of tears from the eyes that result from strong emotions, whether it be sadness, distress, or happiness. People often humanize the emotions and behaviors of dogs. But dogs do not express these emotions the same way we do, so any discharge around your dog’s eyes is not likely from them crying.
Similar to humans, dogs’ eyes produce tears to keep them clean, protected, and lubricated. Your dog’s tears function to keep the eyes comfortable and clear of discharge. However, canine tear ducts are structured differently, draining back into the nasal cavity rather than dripping from the eye. If you do notice brown or reddish stains under your dog’s eyes, or see discharge in this area, it’s more likely that something else is going on and they are not actually crying.
Crying vocalizations in dogs
Although they do not produce tears to express emotion, dogs can cry in other ways, including vocalizations, body language, and other behaviors. When it comes to those sad-sounding noises we often refer to as crying, your dog is most likely trying to express excitement, frustration, stress, or discomfort. They could also be seeking attention or communicating sadness.
Audibly, a crying dog may whine, whimper, or howl. The pitch and volume of these sounds can range from soft and subtle to loud and insistent, and can indicate a range of emotions from sadness and distress to excitement or a desire for attention.
Whimpering and whining is one of the first ways dogs learn to communicate. Puppies instinctually use this noise to cry out for their mother. As adult animals, they may continue to use whimpering to communicate with you, particularly if you are responsive to it.
Why is my dog crying?
Hearing your dog cry out as a result of an unpleasant emotion is difficult for pet parents. Understanding why your dog is crying can help you address the issue.
One of the most common reasons that dogs cry is due to physical discomfort. If a dog is injured or otherwise experiencing discomfort, they may cry out in distress. This can also occur if a dog is experiencing digestive issues, such as an upset stomach, or if they are overheating or too cold.
Check your dog’s body for any visible signs of injury and monitor for symptoms of illness, like lethargy, fever, or vomiting. Limping due to joint discomfort is often accompanied by crying, whimpering, or sharp yelps. ElleVet’s CBD + CBDA can offer support for dogs experiencing joint discomfort by modulating their inflammatory response and perception of discomfort.
Stress and depression
Dogs may also cry due to stress. For example, separation-related stress is a common issue for dogs who have formed strong bonds with their humans. In these cases, a dog may cry or howl when their owner leaves the home, or may become destructive or distressed if left alone for extended periods of time.
Dogs are also very attuned to their people and their emotions. If you are experiencing stress, sadness, grief, or depression, there is a good chance your dog has picked up on it. Dogs are not immune to negative emotions—they are capable of feeling sad when a family member moves away or lonely and bored when they are not given socialization opportunities.
Fortunately, ElleVet’s CBD + CBDA works extremely well for helping dogs with stress. Whether it’s daily, generalized stress or acute, situational stress, ElleVet’s CBD + CBDA calms without sedating, helping dogs safely handle stressful situations, reduce their stress response over time, and support their overall well-being.
In some cases, dogs may cry simply to get attention. This can occur if a dog is bored, needs to burn energy, wants to play, or is seeking affection. In these cases, the cries may be accompanied by other physical behaviors, such as barking, jumping, or pawing at you. Making sure your dog has ample exercise and both mental and physical stimulation is the best way to avoid attention-seeking behaviors.
Dogs also communicate pleasure, happiness, and excitement through their vocalizations. This can be confusing, as whimpering and whining are most commonly associated with negative emotions. The American Kennel Club points out that the difference is that an unhappy whine rises in pitch toward the end of the sound, whereas an excited vocalization either drops in pitch toward the end of the sound or does not change in pitch.
In dogs, crying out of happiness in dogs may look like:
- Loud vocalizations, such as barking and whining
- Relaxed but excited body wiggles
- Jumping on you, or hopping around
- Wagging tail
- Lots of eye contact
- Attempts to lick your face
What are some other signs that my dog is sad?
Because dogs don’t cry like we do and can’t verbally communicate in the same language, it is important for dog owners to use other signals to recognize when their pet is sad or stressed. In addition to whining and whimpering vocalizations discussed above, other signs that your dog may be sad or stressed can include:
- Sudden drop in energy
- Squinted eyes
- Less excitement around their favorite things like treats or toys
- Shaking or trembling
- Hiding or retreating to their “safe place”
- Asking for extra snuggles, comfort, and affection
- Ignoring you, refusing to make eye contact, not listening to commands, and other avoidant body language
Why do dogs produce tears?
So, dogs don’t cry and produce tears when they’re sad like humans do, but they definitely produce tears. Most dog parents are familiar with discharge coming out of their dog’s eyes and even the brown or reddish stains that can develop under their eyes. If they’re not crying, why do dogs produce these tears?
Epiphora refers to an overflow of tears from the eyes. Normally, a thin film of tears is produced to lubricate the eyes and the excess fluid drains into tear ducts, which then drain into the back of the nose and the throat. Dogs can experience epiphora when there is insufficient tear drainage. If your dog appears to be crying tears, that may be a result of:
- Allergies – Just like humans, dogs can suffer from all kinds of allergies to pollen, food ingredients, dust, or other environmental allergens. Reactions often include overproduction of tears or watery eyes.
- Blocked tear duct – There are several reasons a dog’s tear ducts can become blocked, including hereditary defects, inflammation and infection of the duct or surrounding tissue, or a foreign object stuck in the eye.
- Infection – Your dog may be crying tears because they have developed an eye infection. Tears in the case, however, are more likely to be yellow mucus or even bloody, and the infected eye will likely be swollen and red.
- Foreign object – Dogs often get dirt, dust, or other foreign materials in their eyes. In response, their bodies may produce a lot of tears in an attempt to flush out the irritant.
- Scratched cornea – Although more common in active dogs, all dogs are at risk of scratching their eyes. This can cause severe discomfort and damage to a dog’s cornea, and dogs may tear excessively, paw at their eye, blink more than usual, or have inflammation around the eye.
- Breed – Brachycephalic dogs with short noses like Pugs and French bulldogs have relatively shallow eye sockets and the wrinkles around their faces can easily become irritated or infected, both of which can lead to increased tear production. Cocker Spaniels and Poodles are also more likely than other breeds to suffer from blocked tear ducts.
Do dogs cry happy tears?
We’ve established that dogs do not cry tears of sadness like humans do, but what about happy tears?
A 2022 study published in Current Biology found that when dogs were reunited with their owners after spending 5-7 hours apart, they produced increased amounts of tears. Additionally, when the dogs were greeted by familiar non-owners like friends, researchers found significantly decreased tear volume. These “happy tears” are likely a result of the release of the bonding “love” hormone, oxytocin.
Dogs cry for a variety of reasons, using vocalizations, behavior, and body language to communicate physical discomfort, sadness, stress, a desire for attention, and other emotions. But these feelings do not prompt flowing tears like they sometimes do for humans. Understanding how our cries differ from our dogs’ cries is important to identifying what might be bothering our dogs and addressing their issues.