Do dogs grieve for other dogs?

Sadly, companion Floss, who would lie patiently at my feet while I wrote articles for Holidays4Holidays, had to be put to sleep a few days ago.  It’s a very sad and upsetting time when a person loses a much loved family pet – but while we go through grief, is it true that any remaining family dogs also grieve for their lost pals?

In short, yes – many different species of animals indeed grieve in their own ways, including dolphins, elephants, apes and horses.  I definitely noticed a change in my Peggy, who after 24 hours of losing Floss became agitated, unable to settle and whined frequently, (something she would never normally do). She was also much more vigilant than usual and hyper sensitive to any noise going on outside.  I began to realise just how much Peggy had depended on Floss, even though outwardly they didn’t seem to be that well suited and most certainly they weren’t what you would call, the best of friends.

Although animals may not actually truly understand the concept of death, especially if they have not seen the other animal die; they do know that the other dog has disappeared and that his or her routine has changed.  The dynamics involved may mean that a bereaved dog goes through behavioural changes and may demonstrate signs of stress or other changes in their demeanour.

In this Holidays4Dogs article we will explain what signs to look out for which shows your dog may be suffering with grief and what you could do to make him feel better after the loss of a pal.

Much of the time dogs living with one or more canine friends will constantly take cues from one another and all of this will impact on their day to day behaviour.  They will get used to the constant companionship of other dogs within the household, so if they are suddenly left alone, it can be hard for them to make sense of what is going on.  Not all dogs will show signs of grief of course; some may continue to act just as they always have, but others will show subtle, or more obvious signs that the loss of a pal has affected them.

  • Some dogs may become clingier, following their owners around constantly.

  • Searching, sniffing or looking around the house and garden is another common sign a dog is missing his mate.

  • Lack of appetite – many grieving dogs will lose their appetite and refuse to eat treats.

  • Whining – this may be accompanied by pacing or other behaviour which suggest the dog is unsettled; he may not know where to sleep, or whether he wants to go out or come in.  Many dogs will have relied on another dog as to what to do and when.

  • Anxiety, nervousness, or even aggression can sometimes occur when a dog is suddenly left alone.

  • Separation anxiety – another common occurrence in dogs that have been left alone after the death of another dog.

So, how can we help our dogs when they are showing signs of grief?  The main thing to do is, spend as much time as you can with your dog, but allow him to be alone if he seems to want it.  Exercise is also a good mood enhancer for dogs, just as it is for people, so perhaps think about an extra walk a day; it may also be helpful to avoid walking in areas where the two of them went together – if only for a few days.

Consider making sure doors and gates are kept shut so that your dog cannot escape in search of their mate.  I have seen Peggy sniffing earnestly and frantically under the gate this week; (again, unusual behaviour) and had it been open – and given her existing nervous temperament – I am sure she would have bolted if she had been able.

Try distracting your dog with games, or a new chew toy.  If they are not off their food, split their meals into several servings, so he has something positive to focus on more times throughout the day.

Some people advocate getting another dog and sometimes this can help if your dog is really struggling.  However, you need to give both yourself, and your dog, time to get over the loss – taking on another dog is still a big commitment and needs to be done when you feel able to think clearly.  Rushing to acquire a new dog or puppy too quickly could mean you make the wrong decision and if you are still upset by the loss of your other dog, it could make bonding with a new one much harder.

Grief is a difficult emotion to deal with and often only the passing of time will help ease the pain – but it will do – and eventually you will be able to look back fondly on your lost companion, while taking solace in your remaining dog who will likewise take comfort in you.