There's no denying dogs are emotionally aware and intelligent beings who love their families. Studies show that interacting with your fur-baby increases your oxytocin levels as well as your dog's. In both dogs and humans, oxytocin plays a key role in social bonding. Positive interactions strengthen the social bond, so it makes sense that dogs would grieve the absence of their pet parent or a close family member.
But do dogs really grieve? Experts are divided. Some canine behaviorists believe a dog's grief is more closely related to a change in routine or their environment than the absence of a "pack" member. Some skeptics think that grieving dogs are actually experiencing severe separation anxiety while waiting for their loved one to return. Meanwhile, others believe dogs truly do grieve the loss of their human and animal companions.
It's not like we can just ask our dogs how they feel. And we're still not sure if dogs can comprehend death as a permanent absence. Scientifically, it's impossible to say for certain that dogs experience "true" grief. Anecdotally, however, we're inclined to agree that dogs do mourn the loss of their loved ones. But for how long? Let's see what science has to say.
The duration of a dog's grief varies depending on a range of factors, like their temperament and the nature of their bond with their loved one.
One study found that behavioral changes following the loss of another family pet lasted between 2 and 6 months. More than 40% of dogs experienced changes in eating habits, like eating less food at a slower pace, for up to 2 months. More than 30% became more affectionate, while 60% displayed territorial behaviors.
While fewer studies have investigated dogs grieving the death of a pet parent, you'll find tons of anecdotal evidence and viral posts online. Like the story of Hachiko, an Akita living in Japan who walked to the train station every day to meet his human, who'd passed away nearly 10 years prior.
So how long do dogs grieve? Ultimately, it depends. Every dog is different. Some dogs may overcome their grief within 2 months, while others may take 10 years or more. Some dogs even need medication or behavioral training to combat symptoms of grief and depression.
The important thing is to love them through it, no matter how long it takes. Every person (and pup) grieves in their own way and in their own time, so don't rush the process.
Here are some more resources to help you better understand grief in dogs and how you can help:
- How to help a grieving dog
- How to introduce a new pet to a grieving dog
- Can dogs tell if when another dog is dying?
Need expert advice on grief in dogs? Chat with a vet now and get an answer within 24 hours.