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Pet dogs really do grieve the deaths of other dogs they live with

Nearly all dogs that lose a “companion” dog from the same household show behaviours like going off their food and seeking more human attention

Life 24 February 2022

a bored french bulldog lying down and resting on sofa looking outside

Dogs show grief-like behaviour when another dog from their home dies

Edwin Tan/Getty Images

Pet owners may have long suspected it, but now a study has found that nearly 90 per cent of dogs that experienced the death of a “companion” canine in the same household showed negative behaviours in the following months. This included becoming less playful, eating less, being more fearful and seeking more attention.

“It could be indicative of suffering,” says Federica Pirrone at the University of Milan, Italy.

While grief-like behaviour has been seen in wild animals such as elephants, orcas and chimpanzees, it hasn’t been studied in pet dogs, despite many reports of the phenomenon from their owners.

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Pirrone’s team surveyed 426 people who had at least two dogs, one of which had died, and asked about any changes to the behaviour of the surviving pets.

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These dogs were more likely to “mourn” their former companion if the two had had a friendly relationship, especially if they used to share food.

But they were also more likely to be badly affected if their owner also felt more grief, suggesting they could be reacting to the owner’s changed behaviour as well. “Dogs have become extremely sensitive to human communicative gestures and facial expressions,” says Pirrone. “A caregiver and a dog develop an emotional connection.”

The dogs’ reactions were unaffected by how long the two dogs had known each other, but nearly all had lived together for more than a year.

In some ways, a dog’s mind is similar to that of a human child of about the age of 2, says Pirrone. “Separation from a companion could be expected to cause behavioural changes, which certainly overlap those behaviours that we normally interpret as being grief and mourning.”

Journal reference: Scientific Reports, DOI: 10.1038/s41598-022-05669-y

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