Humans have the ability to feel a whole range of emotions and feelings, including those negative feelings that come along with grief. It can be hard when one of our furry friends passes on, and even harder when there is no one to grieve by your side.
People have studied whether dogs can feel another's death and understand grief, including the death of one of their canine companions. Although still a controversial issue, there have been several moments captured over the years - like observing dogs perform certain rituals among their dead, or covering their loved ones with blankets - that have really made us wonder whether dogs can comprehend death.
No matter what you believe, there will likely be behavioral changes in your pup after a furry friend passes on. These behavioral changes will often be minor and brief, but it is important to be able to identify these changes so that you can help your dog cope and move forward in a pawsitive light.
Signs Your Dog Knows Another Dog is Dying
For humans, it is usually obvious when a fellow pet is sick and its life is coming to a close. They may be lethargic, have a loss of appetite, or your pet may even have a terminal diagnosis from a veterinarian. Dogs are similarly, if not more, in tune with their environments and surroundings, and more likely than not, they fully understand when a canine companion is on its way out.
For instance, dogs who sense that death is near will likely cling to and surround their fellow pup. Dogs have incredible senses of smell, and when diseases, sicknesses, or other types of physiological changes happen, tiny behavioral and chemical changes are picked up by dogs.
Just as grieving humans may exhibit symptoms of sadness and depression, man's best friend may exhibit similar behaviors. However, no two dogs are the same, so it may be hard to know what your dog is feeling. For instance, you may observe a loss of appetite in your pup or disrupted sleep. Or you might witness your dog sleeping the day away or sleeping at odd hours. Your dog may also appear withdrawn or have no interest in playing or going for walks. Some dogs become disoriented and clingy, or they might wait by the door for the other dog to return.
Many owners and dog experts are able to identify changes in behavior when a death occurs. Other people believe that how your dog feels depends on the intensity of their relationship with their canine companion. However, when two dogs are socially bonded together, there will more often be signs of depression in the surviving dog.
Generally, these common signs of grief will ease over time, as time heals all wounds. However, if your dog's personality does not shine through after a few weeks of mourning, it is best to play it safe and bring your pup to the vet.
The Science Behind Dogs Knowing Another Dog is Dying
Research shows that certain pack animals, like wolves, for example, are known for announcing their anticipated death to the pack. This is believed to be a way to help prevent passing disease to the rest of the pack, signaling that it is better to stay away.
Dog and human bonding began around 15,000 years ago when the process if early domestication from wolves began. Thousands of years of roaming the Earth together eventually lead to a genuine understanding of one another, and the ability to observe each other's body language and feelings. Research shows that although dogs are capable of sniffing out some cancers, it's often about body language. Similarly, dogs can recognize when a household pet isn't doing well either, whether a smell changes in the other dog's body composition or the other dog is moving less.
Further, dogs are capable of smelling pheromones. Pheromones are chemical secretions that members of the same species sense and respond to in social settings. For instance, sex pheromones signal that the animal is in heat. Necromones are a type of pheromone discharged from dying or decaying animals. Researchers believe that dogs can identify necromones in sick people and animals, including their canine companions.
Helping Your Dog Cope With The Loss of a Friend
Help Your Dog Understand That Its Canine Companion Is Gone. Some veterinarians believe that it is important for your dog to understand that their friend is passing on. For instance, it may be helpful to bring your dog along to the veterinarian if you need to euthanize your other dog. Helping your healthy dog be present during the other dog's passing allows your dog to see and understand that the other dog is not coming back.
Keep Routine. During times of loss, normalcy can be key. Changes in your behavior and routines after the death of another pet can lead to stress in your surviving dog. Work on keeping wake up times and bedtimes the same, use the same daily walks, and make sure that mealtime is consistent. It is also helpful to maintain the same activities you and your dog used to do together and to give your furry friend plenty of attention with cuddles and games. Sticking to a routine can help ensure that your surviving dog is happy and healthy.
Don't Get a New Dog Just Yet. While you may worry about your dog being lonely, many dogs are perfectly happy living on with just their humans. Make sure that you focus your attention on your dog and observe their behavior and feelings. Remember that grief takes time. It doesn't hurt to make it a little bit easier, just be wary of your dog's needs and feelings.
By Olivia Gerth
Published: 06/10/2018, edited: 04/06/2020