Can dogs feel grief?

It’s human nature to experience grief when a loved one passes away, but have you ever wondered if Fido feels the same? Most animal behaviourists believe that canines feel the same emotions that humans do, and that includes grief.
By Claudia Chia
Published on Thursday, 27 October 2016

About a year ago, a video posted by YouTube user, Sarah and the Wolves, went viral. It showed Wiley, a wolfdog hybrid, crying over the loss of a beloved family member. Many were touched, and it prompted people to believe that canines can indeed experience grief the same way humans can.

The amount of time it takes to cope with the loss of a loved one can vary from canine to canine. When Fido loses someone he loves—be it another pet or a human family member—he may suffer from sadness and depression the same way humans do, and the severity of it usually depends on how close he was to the deceased. Felines too show signs such as lethargy, depression, clinginess, giving up food, meowing agitatedly, or staring at the door in anticipation of their loved one returning.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) conducted a Companion Animal Mourning Project in 1996, and the study found that 36 percent of canines ate less than usual after the death of another canine companion and about 11 percent actually stopped eating completely. About 63 percent of dogs either became more vocal or quieter. Study respondents also indicated that the surviving dogs changed their sleeping patterns (they were either sleeping more or less, and/or had shifted from their usual sleeping spots). More than half of the surviving pets became more affectionate and clingy to their paw-rents. Overall, the study revealed that 66 percent of dogs showed four or more behavioural changes after losing a pet companion.

What can I do to help?
Pets that refuse to eat when grieving the loss of a loved one should be coaxed into eating and should be taken to the vet if they refuse to do so as health issues can arise if they go hungry for too long. To encourage your pet to eat, you can start by offering choices such as a good quality wet food or even boiled meat—anything to whet their appetites. You may even try hand- or spoon-feeding your pet if he refuses to eat on his own. Putting a dab of peanut butter or wet food on your pet's nose or tongue forces them to give the food a try; once they’ve tasted it, they might realise that it’s worth eating after all.

When dealing with a pet that’s going through a period of sorrow, always remember to be kind and patient. Try thinking of activities such as a play date at the park, lots of cuddle time or even signing up for a new sports/agility class to help take his mind off his loss.