How Dogs Grieve

Have you ever wondered if dogs grieve? I believe they do and therefore think it is important that we try and understand, as best as humanly possible, what it is they are going through, in order to help them cope with this dramatic change in their life.

Think about this: As people, we have friends and family who comfort and support us during our time of need. They help us through our loneliness by spending time visiting with us; they bring over food and help care for us; they invite us out so we are not left alone with just our thoughts, and so on. But what about our pets? When they lose a loved one, what support do they receive?

Signs of a Grieving Dog

Although our dogs may not be able to talk to us and explain what is they are feeling, their behavior demonstrates they are truly grieving. Whether mourning the loss of an owner or even the loss of another dog, dogs grieve.

  • Loss of appetite
  • Becomes restless at night
  • Sleeps more during the day
  • Howls or whimpers during certain times of the day
  • Becomes lethargic
  • No longer engages or seems to have lost interest
  • Loses weight
  • Seems depressed and mopes

After a loss of a loved one, it's probably a good idea to allow a dog some time to mourn. But after a few days, you need to begin addressing the dog's emotional well-being before any of the behaviors listed above manifest into severe depression which could then lead to unwanted, bad behaviors or even affect the dog's health making him physically sick.

The type of loss (ie. who died), will determine the severity of the dog's bereavement and how to help the dog cope. In other words, is the loss over another companion dog? Or is it a family member? If it is a family member, is the dog able to stay in his current environment with the rest of his family? Or is the dog mourning the loss of his owner and will also have to be re-homed at this time?

Dogs in Mourning

grieving dog hachiko waits, dog mourns

Famous stories like that of Greyfriars Bobby, the Skye Terrier who spent 14 years guarding his owner's grave, until his own death, is a remarkable tale of loyalty and devotion to the very end. Why would a dog stay vigil if he felt no sense of loss?

And then there's the story of Hachiko, the Akita who's daily routine included accompanying his owner Ueno, a professor at the University of Tokyo, to and from the train station. While at work one day, Ueno suffers a stroke and dies. When he did not return home, Hachiko continued to go to the station every day for the next nine years to wait for him. Why would he do this, if he wasn't longing for his owner?

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Ways to Help a Dog in Mourning

When dogs grieve over the loss of a companion, they suffer with a type of separation anxiety. Some dogs may search room by room or wait by the door for their owner's return. But whatever the case, the dog will no doubt be aware of his companion's absence. And because dogs can pick up on our feelings, the dog will undoubtedly feel your sadness as well.

  • Provide healthy food - Be sure to feed the dog on his regular schedule. Although he may not eat as much right away, providing him with yummy meals or a few extra treats will help him get his appetite back.
  • Exercise - Go for brisk walks daily and and make sure you set some additional time for play. Exercise helps calm a dog and will provide an outlet to release anxiety.
  • Build a new bond - Spend some quality time with the dog and begin building a strong or stronger bond between the two of you.
  • Dog Massage - This has been proven to help soothe away dog's fears and help ease their anxieties.
  • Playmate - Consider adopting another dog or have a friend bring their dog over for some doggy play time. This is more important for dogs mourning the loss of a companion dog.
  • Witness the deceased - It might help the dog cope to see that their loved one is no longer with us. Talk to an animal behaviorist or your Veterinarian about allowing one dog to visit their companion dog that just passed away. Or in the case of the owner passing, speak with the funeral home and see if you can set up a special time to take the dog in to view for himself.

There is good news:

Dogs are highly adaptable and will adjust without their beloved companion in due time. They will make new bonds with those who are caring for them and meeting their current needs.

So continue loving and caring for the dog left in your care. Build new life experiences with him and in due time he will learn to live life to fullest once again.

A Loyal Dog

Hawkeye, the faithful Labrador Retriever of fallen hero Jon Tumilson, remained by his owner's casket throughout his funeral service. Thirty-five year old Tumilson died in Afghanistan on August 6, 2011 when his helicopter was shot down during a mission to help fellow troops who had come under fire.

My final conclusion: Yes, dogs grieve.

Dogs  Grieve

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