How do we help grieving dogs understand their loss? Just as grief is a natural and normal emotional processor for humans, so is it for dogs.
Do dogs grieve the death of their owners?
Russell Hartstein, a Los Angeles based certified dog behaviourist, says, “When an owner passes away, it can be a confusing, sad and difficult period, even if arrangements have been made for the dog to be taken care of by someone else.”
Until now, it’s never been certain whether a grieving dog experiences the same sense of loss as we humans do. But thanks to recent brain imaging studies, we can be sure because the scans show similar areas of a dog’s brain lighting up when they’re feeling emotions parallel to human grief.
While it can be challenging to know precisely how a grieving dog is processing its loss, there’s no denying the sadness expressed through its behavioural changes.
Is your dog grieving?
As any dog owner knows, our furry friends are big part of the family. They provide us with companionship, unconditional love, and a lifetime of memories. So, when a dog’s owner passes away, it’s only natural for the dog to experience grief. Just like humans, dogs can exhibit a range of behaviours when they’re feeling anxious or stressed. For instance, they may become more clingy and demand more attention, or they may become withdrawn and lose interest in their usual activities. Some dogs may even start to exhibit out of character behaviours, such as chewing on furniture or excessive barking. If you’re caretaking a dog who is grieving, it’s important to be mindful of these behaviours and provide plenty of love and reassurance.
The most common signs of canine anxiety to look out for include:
- loss of appetite
- weight loss
- lack of energy
- listlessness or clinginess
- loss of interest in physical activity
Support for grieving dogs
Dogs are incredible animals, and their intelligence often surprises us. They are intuitive creatures that pick up on subtle cues that we might not even be aware of. When a dog’s owner dies, the dog will usually sense that something is wrong. They might not understand the concept of death, but they will certainly know that their owner is no longer around. Indicators such as the sudden change to their routine, the absence of their owner’s presence (sight, sound, and smell), or the increased people activity and emotional distress in their home all convey to the dog that something is very wrong. As a result, dogs often become extremely distraught when their owners die. It is important to be mindful of this and to provide them with support and care.
You can help ease anxiety and create a lasting bond to see your furry companion through this challenging time by following these tips:
- Stick to the same exercise and feeding time routines.
- Provide additional comfort by spending more time together.
- Give extra affection because touch increases your bond.
- Play the dog’s favourite games or introduce new toys.
- Increase exercise.
Canine grief busting toys
Looking for a way to help a dog process the loss of its human companion?
There’s nothing like a new toy to lift their spirits and stimulate their interest in exercise again.
How long do grieving dogs mourn the loss of their owner?
Like us, dogs go through a mourning period. How long depends on the individual dog.
Sally Morgan, a holistic physical therapist for animals and humans, says, “I do not doubt that dogs miss us as much as we miss them, and like us, they need time to heal from a deep emotional loss.”
With time, most dogs recover emotionally from their loss. But it’s important to make sure your furry friend is healthy both physically and emotionally. At the first sign of decline in physical or emotional health, consult a veterinarian to ensure the symptoms of grief aren’t masking those of another illness.
Photo 73567505 © Sergey Kovalev | Dreamstime.com
Share your grieving canine companion story
If you’re caring for a dog whose owner has recently passed, we hope our tips help you reduce their anxiety and stress. After all, dogs are incredibly intuitive animals and can sense when something is wrong. By being patient and providing plenty of love and support, you can help your furry friend process the loss of their beloved human.
Let us know if you’ve had to care for a dog that lost its owner. Share your story in the comments below.
Canine grief companion gear
Are you new to being a canine grief companion?
If so, these items will get you started off on the right foot. With lots of walks, treats and pats your furry friend will make a healthy canine grief recovery.