Do dogs mourn the loss of a friend? Do they feel grief the way humans do?
Yes, dogs can get depressed when a loved one dies. The symptoms are similar to a dog suffering from chronic pain or an underlying medical condition, such as loss of appetite and lethargy.
According to Dr. Leslie Sinn manager of Behavior Solutions, certified professional dog trainer, and a Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists (ACVB), “Depression, in animals anyway, is something that we tend to associate with a specific event. It could be the loss of an owner, the loss of a buddy that they have grown up with, or a huge lifestyle change — a big move or the addition or subtraction of key members of their social group.”
Depression in dogs can range from mild to severe. Aside from decreased appetite and lethargy, some dogs may exhibit clingy and needy behavior, along with the desire to be closer to their owner. Others may display symptoms that are the exact opposite — withdrawing completely from social interaction.
This is the kind of problem that an owner related to PetHelpful’s Ask-A-Vet section. The Original Poster, named Anita, wrote, “My female was about five years old when I introduced a male puppy; they were fine. A third dog was introduced, and chaos ensued for the next four years. Then he died of cancer. The dogs changed, which resulted in constant fighting. It was incredibly stressful. Recently, my female passed away at age 17 from a cancerous brain tumor. The male did see her have seizures before we took her to the ER (where she was put down). When we came back without her, my male’s behavior changed again. He howls at night any time we leave him alone, and it’s relentless. This has been going on since my female died. I’m thinking of letting him sleep with my husband and me at night. He just seems very nervous. What can I do?”
Dr. Mark dos Anjos said the following about dogs possibly grieving the loss of close companions: “Depression can become a serious problem in some dogs. Dogs are social animals, and it is probably a lot more common than most of us think for them to mourn the loss of a close companion. Dogs in grief may become aggressive, anorexic, or may just sleep more than normal.”
He mentioned other causes of depression in dogs, such as chronic pain or illness, isolation, and boredom.
According to Dr. Anjos, it’s important to take your dog to the vet for a physical exam to rule out pain as a trigger to its depression. If the result is normal and your dog has no underlying medical condition, the cause is psychological, which can be treated with mood-altering drugs.
But before resorting to medication, there are things you can do first to help your dog to be happy again:
- Go for more dog walks. Early morning walks in the sunshine will help in boosting your dog’s mood.
- Devote more time to cheering up your dog. You can take him to a dog park and let him run without a leash.
- Enjoy new adventures and new places together. There are many things you can experience with your dog, like hiking, camping, and going to the beach. Even a walk around a pet-friendly mall will perk your dog’s spirit.
- Get a new dog to be his friend. But you should be careful in selecting a new dog to make sure that the two of them will be right for each other. A puppy is not suitable for a senior dog since it’s too active and noisy. Adopt a dog from an animal shelter that shares the same temperament as your dog.
- If these things fail to help your dog overcome its grief, you can opt for medical therapy through mood-altering drugs.