Can Dogs Feel Heartbreak?

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Introduction

The current buzz about dogs is to forget everything you learned in the past. For hundreds of years, our patient pooches have waited for their true selves to be discovered. Dog owners knew it, but it was still nice to hear it verified by scientists and psychologists that our canine comrades are emotional beings. 

The supreme race of humans didn’t give woofers much thought and banished them to an eternity of herding, guarding, and pretty much doing as they were told. It never occurred to people in past centuries that dogs had a lot of our human traits, including getting their heart broken. Dogs can feel happy, sad, and truly upset as they are attuned to us and sense what we feel. If there’s heartbreak in the home, your melancholy mutt could feel it too. What do you think, could this be true?

Signs a Dog Could be Heartbroken

Dogs get super attached to their owners so if one dies or leaves because of a breakup, the family pooch could feel heartbreak. If you’ve grown up in a home where the dog wasn’t considered emotive you might remember their sad, little face when a family member passed away.

The signs are there to help you understand when your dog is feeling the hurt of losing someone they care about. Your pooch will show little interest in food, and where they once play-bowed to get you to throw the ball, they lie on the floor with a sorrowful look.

They may also chew or excessively lick their paws as an outlet for their pain. Normally, the word walk would get a tail-wagging response, but since the changes around the house, your mournful pup has been whining and whimpering.

If your partner left and they had a strong bond with your pooch, be prepared for some grieving time. You may feel it yourself and not be aware your dog could be heartbroken as well. Animals all over the planet mourn their dead and do so in very humanistic ways. Elephants are known to try to revive a fallen friend and then cover them with dirt and leaves like a funeral ritual.

Some dogs may become incredibly clingy with the partner left behind. Separation anxiety may begin in a pooch that was once okay when their owners had time away. This dog will howl and bark when their pet-parent leaves the home. Their heart is in bits as they wonder if this guardian will return. They may show their grief by causing damage to furniture or urinating on the floor.

Your fun-loving fur-baby may have trouble sleeping, so get them checked out by the vet to ensure they are not suffering from Broken Heart Syndrome. The caring folk at South Pacific County Humane Society know this to be true. Pets surrendered to the shelter can go into a shut-down mode as they realize they have lost their secure home. This can lead to illness and in some cases death. Humans experience this life-threatening syndrome with shortness of breath, chest pain and irregular heartbeats. 

If your heartbroken pup shows a complete lack of focus, dilated pupils, and is looking unwell, get them to the vet as soon as you can.

Body Language

Signs your dog is heartbroken include:
  • Chewing
  • Howling
  • Lack of focus
  • Whimpering
  • Licking
  • Pupils dilated
  • Sleepiness

Other Signs

More signs a dog could be heartbroken are:
  • Clinginess
  • Separation anxiety
  • Urinating on floor
  • Grieving
  • Symptoms of broken heart syndrome
  • Damaging property
  • Loss of appetite
  • No interest in play
  • Depressed
  • Hiding

History of Heartbroken Dogs

Before dogs became man’s best friend, wolves stalked the prairies in the midst of early man. A two-legged creature was determined to dominate nature and took on the big beasts, plentiful at the time. The playing field between wolf and man was decided as these noble creatures threw down the white flag and declared a willingness to work with humans. Men became superior hunters with the wolves by their side

Some think it was more like humans poaching wolf cubs and taming them, which is highly possible as well. The only dent in the original theory is wolves in captivity are never overly-friendly to humans, as their genetics are those of wild animals.

Dogs, on the other hand, have been genetically rearranged by the amount of breeding in the age of domestication. With no rules or regulations in place, humans created a variety of breeds for work and pleasure. Mother Nature got involved and set a blazing trail for cooperative genetics, taking the Poodle, Boxer, and German Shepherd further from their ancestral wolves.

There are some things that have never been denied and that is the ability of both dogs and wolves to feel heartbreak when they lose a member of their clan. Wolves are known to chillingly howl with heads hung low when a pack member passes, while dogs can whimper and lose their playful motivation.

According to a veterinarian featured on Animal Wellness Magazine, pooches can lose their zest for life when separated from a guardian. The dog is not able to comprehend what happened and why their person may have gone for good. The result can be a depressed pup that doesn’t want to play with their toys.

There are heartbroken dogs in history like Hachiko, an Akita who waited for over nine years at a Japanese train station for his deceased owner to return. Stories like this cut to the core of human sympathy and amazement. Could a dog love a person this much?  

A dog's cognitive capacity is similar to that of a 2-3 year old toddler who does not understand the permanence of death, although the pain and grief of separation is felt.  

Science of Dogs Feeling Heartbreak

Couples who are super-close have been known to die within a short space of each other as their heart literally stops working. It seems hard to believe that the body could shut down in such a permanent way.

According to a doctor featured on Pet MD, the romantic notion of dying from a broken heart is referred to as takotsubo cardiomyopathy (broken heart syndrome) and can be very real. Scientists tell us it could be a spike of adrenaline combined with stress hormones that affect the left ventricle of the heart from performing normally.

NBC News reports the tragic story of Liam, a British soldier, and his bomb-detecting English Springer Spaniel named Theo. Sadly, Liam, a lance corporal with the Royal Army Veterinary Corps, died in the line of duty. Within hours of Liam's passing, his devoted dog had a fatal seizure. Liam’s father believed Theo was overwhelmed by his partners passing. His mother agreed, saying Theo had died of a broken heart.

We know people can die unexpectedly soon after someone they love passes, so why not dogs? They share our mammal minds and conceive emotions in a similar way to us.

Helping a Heartbroken Dog

Helping a dog to see a ray of light through a dark period takes a little creativity and a whole lot of love. If your pup is down in the dumps because a family member has vacated the premises, you’ll need to spend time reassuring them it’s going to be OK.

Dogs are creatures of habit and enjoy an everyday routine. If the home has recently witnessed an upset by someone’s passing or a divorce, your dog needs you, as much as the kids will, to survive this confusing time.

You may be struggling with grief or feeling overwhelmed, so ask a family member or neighbor if they could take your pup for their daily walk. It’s so important your pooch gets away from the atmosphere in the home so they can hopefully feel better. If their favorite place is the local dog park, one of the other dog owners might be happy to take your woofer to meet up with his doggy pals. Having support will help you and your pup recover.

If you are concerned about your dog’s mental and physical health, a vet appointment needs to be set up so they can rule out any physical ailments. If your pup is genuinely depressed, your vet can advise treatment or medication.

You could play soothing or cheerful music or leave the TV on where your dog hangs out. Dogs soak up the vibes in an unhappy home, so it may be a good idea for them to stay with a relative they really like. If they are unhappy with this idea or it makes them worse, bring them home and arrange (if possible) for a walker or sessions at doggy daycare to lift their spirits.

Buying new toys would spark the interest of most dogs unless your Maltese or Labrador are missing a dog or guardian. If you get a tail-wagging glimmer of hope, start handing out the treats and praise. It can be a long journey back to normality after a major life upheaval but through that dark tunnel always comes light and new beginnings.

How to React if Your Dog is Feeling Down or Depressed:

  • Take them for walks.
  • Buy them new toys.
  • Praise them when they act happier.
  • Ask a relative to babysit for a while.
  • Try to reassure them.
  • Let the vet check them out.
  • Ask for help.
  • Play music near their bed.
  • Spend more time with them.

Tell Us About Your Heartbroken Dog!