As human caregivers to our fur babies, it’s natural for us to be devastated when we must say goodbye.
What about the dogs left behind? Do they grieve, or do they not even notice?
Dog grief is a topic that isn’t talked about often, but understanding your dog’s experience during this difficult time is essential in helping them through it.
Let’s look at the grieving process for dogs, how it can differ from pet to pet, and how you can help comfort your dog.
Last Updated: Sept 30, 2023
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Do Dogs Feel Grief?
Studies seem to suggest the answer is yes.
The most common behavior witnessed (in 60% of dogs) was constantly checking the places where the other animal used to rest.
We saw this behavior in my girl when our older pup passed several years ago.
She woke up every morning and paced to where her companion had previously slept, only to find the space empty.
At that moment, I could see a wave of emotion, a pain in her eyes. That’s when I knew it was true.
Other signs identified in the study included increased vocalization (whimpering and whining), loss of appetite, and sleeping more.
Common Signs of Grief in Dogs
There is no “one” way. Just as people navigate the stages of grief differently, so too do our dogs.
The stages of grief can be full of challenges for some dogs, while others appear to navigate through it more easily and move on with their lives.
How do dogs show grief? Here are some behaviors you may notice:
- Increased barking, whining, or whimpering
- Changes in sleeping habits
- Looking for the dog that passed
- Quiet or withdrawn
- Loss of appetite
- Confusion due to a change in routine
- Anxious when left alone
- More confident and friendly
However, for some dogs, there are no apparent signs. This doesn’t mean your dog is not trying to navigate the experience.
You may see these behaviors shift and evolve.
A dog that started out being very vocal in their grief may, in time, become quiet and more withdrawn.
Recognizing that it isn’t a linear journey will help you stay aware of any continued behavior changes in the coming days, weeks, and months.
How to Help a Dog with Grief
We can’t be sure what will help our dogs through the mourning process. Like with many things, it will likely be a case of trial and error.
But here are some tips that may help:
Bring Your Dog to Say Goodbye
I find this such an interesting point and not one I had ever thought of before I started writing this article.
Let me backtrack for a moment. I know someone who always has a vet come to their house when it’s time, and all the other animals are present.
But I never gave it much thought, assuming that was obvious since they all lived there.
When I started asking people if they had any tips for how to help the remaining dog, a few said they bring their dog with them when it’s time to say goodbye.
There is no definitive proof that this is the right approach.
It should be noted, however, that our dogs don’t respond to death the same way we do in the moment.
Your dog may completely ignore their companion’s body, showing no interest, which can be hard to see when feeling overwhelmed by emotion yourself.
But if it feels “right” for you and your family, there is nothing harmed by including your other dog.
Stick to the Same Routine
Dogs like the familiar. They like to know what’s happening and when.
If your dog’s mealtimes and walk times suddenly change after the passing of their companion, this can add stress and anxiety to an already challenging time.
The best approach is to maintain the same schedule you had before the loss.
Be sure your dog is eating, drinking, peeing, and pooping as usual.
There is no set timeline for grief in dogs. Your remaining dog(s) may show signs of grief for several days, weeks, or even months.
But if you feel things aren’t improving and you’re worried about their health, particularly if they are depressed and not eating, I recommend you speak to your vet.
If that hasn’t helped, find an animal behaviorist or professional experienced with pet grief.
Pay More Attention/Keep Them Busy
There are many ways you can keep your dog busy in the days following a loss, distracting them from any feelings of grief they may be struggling with.
Some options include:
- An extra walk
- A nice brushing session
- Playing a game
- Teaching them a new trick
- Taking them on an outing to a pet supply store
- A day trip with the family
Be Careful Not to Reward Depression
When training your dog, do you remember the advice about ignoring behaviors you don’t want to see and rewarding those you do?
Instead of always going over to pet your dog while lying on their bed depressed, distract them with a walk, a playdate, or an organized indoor doggie fun class, for example.
Changes in Group Dynamics
Each animal in a multi-pet household has a different relationship with each other.
When one dies, it’s normal to see some instability in the group until they can work out a new dynamic among the remaining pets.
While they’re figuring things out, there can be conflict, so keep an eye on their behavior.
If it’s troubling, especially if it doesn’t seem to be subsiding, a visit to your vet or animal behaviorist is recommended.
If you’re concerned about how well, or should I say not well, your dog is coping, you may wish to investigate some natural or alternative options.
Here are a few things you may want to try (I recommend trying one thing at a time):
- CBD oil
- Adaptil plug-in pheromone diffuser
- Valerian or Valerian with Skullcap
- Rescue Remedy
- Diffuse Lavender Essential Oil
- Through a Dog’s Ear (calming music)
Getting Another Dog
Getting a dog on impulse is never good, no matter the situation. Adopting one because you see your dog is feeling depressed is no different.
Of course, it’s tempting, and there are many instances where it was the right thing to do.
But sadly, there are also many situations where it wasn’t.
A rash decision about such a life-changing event often ends in heartbreak and a dog being surrendered.
It’s important to realize not every dog, and certainly not every old dog, will find it easy to cope with losing a friend.
Expecting them to adjust to an interloper in the house may be too much for them to handle.
It’s also entirely possible your dog may relish the solitude.
After all, caring for a sick older dog takes up so much of our time, so our resident dog(s) may not be getting as much attention as they should.
Here are a few factors to consider before getting another dog:
Is Your Dog Ready to Accept a New Dog?
Just because your dogs were inseparable, it does not mean that will be the case with a new dog in the house.
Before jumping into another lifelong commitment, take your dog to the dog park more often or visit with a friend’s dog to see how they interact with other dogs.
If you notice your dog only enjoys the company for short periods before wanting their space, puppy play dates may be all the doggie companionship they need… at least for now.
Are You Ready?
You’re convinced your dog is ready, but are you? Recovering from such a loss takes time, and you may not be ready.
Perhaps you’re enjoying the quieter household, or your circumstances have changed and you aren’t able to deal with a new furry member right now.
Looking beyond just yourself, what about the other members of your family?
This is a decision that needs to be made with every member of the household on board for it to work out.
Let Your Dog Choose Their New Companion
If you’re sure welcoming a new dog into the family is the right thing for everyone, make sure your dog is involved in the selection process.
Many shelters and rescue groups expect to do a “meet and greet” with you and your dog to ensure they’ll get along.
This is important for seeing how they interact and finding a “good fit” for your family.
Can a Dog Die from Grief?
While dog grief is a very real experience, one that your dog may need help to navigate and move on from, there is no scientific evidence that a dog can die from a broken heart.
So, as far as the experts are concerned, no, a dog cannot die from grief.
What Some People I Know Did to Help a Grieving Dog
The above tips and tricks have been collected from many sources, including conversations with my veterinarian and my own experiences.
But what about the other dog lovers in my life, like friends and family?
When asked what they did when trying to navigate dog grief and help their best friend, here are a few answers I received:
- Let their other dogs smell the ashes
- One woman brought her dog home in a blanket and let the other animals sniff and gently paw the dog. She did this because she put an animal down a few years earlier but didn’t bring him back home. Her dog cried and wouldn’t eat for days because he didn’t understand what was going on
- The resident dog was taken to the vet so she could sniff her friend after he was gone. She felt it would help him understand what was happening
- Lots of attention and cuddles
- One woman’s dog was so depressed she felt that she had to get another one for company
- Put the dog’s collar around the remaining dog
- Invited dogs over for play dates
- Kept the remaining dog busy
Did your dog get depressed after the loss, or did they seem unaffected? If your dog did mourn, what behaviors did they exhibit, and what did you do to help? Sharing helps others, so please leave your comment in the section below.