Grief can take many different forms in human individuals and across species, which makes it difficult to describe. In a recent study, Domestic Dogs Grieve Over the Loss of a Conspecific, researchers from Italy aimed to identify what grief may look like in dogs. They used six different questionnaires validated for things like owner beliefs, dog’s perceived emotional state, attachment, and more! The results suggest that grief in dogs depends on the quality but not the length of your dogs’ relationship. If your dogs were close, your surviving dog is more likely to express grief-related behaviors.
“I believe that the grieving behavior of dogs is more likely related to their ability to form an emotional bond.”
Dr. Federica Pirrone (NBC News, 2022)
Dr. Mary Burch, a certified applied animal behaviorist, shared with the American Kennel Club, “The signs of grieving for both dogs and people can be the same....In general, grieving dogs who have recently lost a close buddy may lose their 'spark' and suddenly seem less perky, attentive, and active." As with the study findings, Dr. Burch has found that the quality of the relationship matters. “As a matter of fact, in a case where the dogs just coexisted and really did not interact much, if the owner began lavishing attention and activities on the remaining dog, the dog might actually seem happier.”
One of our Instagram followers who provides sitting and walking services mentioned the attachment the dogs in her care seem to have with her aging dog. It is a good idea to be aware of our dog's relationships with other pets, such as cats, or with dogs outside their home, such as caretaker's.
Our dogs may not know that their companion has passed away but will understand they are no longer there. The response may be minimal to significant, but usually, most severe behaviors fade away within three to six months.
So, what does grief look like in dogs?
Owners may also feel sad when their dog passes, which may inadvertently influence their surviving dog’s behavior. The Italian study found that owners who were particularly sad over the death of one of their dogs may report decreased eating and increased fear in their surviving dog.
What can you do to help you and your dog cope?
Being careful not to transfer our feelings of loss to our surviving dog, we can be aware of their potential grief and care for them and ourselves. If your dog appears lonely without their companion and it is feasible, you may also consider adopting a new dog friend when the time is right. Or, increase the amount of social time they have with other dogs.
It is never easy to lose a dog companion and it may add to our pain to see our other dog grieving. Seeing them not have any significant reaction might be hard as well. Reach out for help and support if you are struggling!
Uccheddu, S., Ronconi, L., Albertini, M., Coren, S., Da Graça Pereira, G., De Cataldo, L., ... & Pirrone, F. (2022). Domestic dogs (Canis familiaris) grieve over the loss of a conspecific. Scientific reports, 12 (1), 1-9.