What Happens to Bonded Dogs When One Dies? 6 Ways to Help a Grieving Dog in a Stage of Bereavement

Losing a dog is hard on every family member, other pets included. And because canines derive safety and comfort from the pack’s stability, it can be even more challenging for the surviving ones. Hence the pertinent question, “What happens to bonded dogs when one dies?”

Bonded dogs show grief-related behaviors and personalities when one of them dies. They may develop seeking tendencies, destructive behaviors, increased vocalization, and decreased appetite. A dog can benefit from extra human attention and support when grieving.

In this article, I’ll deeply dive into canine bereavement. Keep reading to learn what happens to bonded dogs when one dies, the signs of grief to look out for, and how to support them during this process. 

Do Dogs Grieve When a Bonded Pair Dies?

What happens to bonded dogs when one dies

Dogs grieve when a bonded pair dies. Like humans, canines form emotional relationships with people and fellow dogs. Hence, they show grief-related behaviors when they lose a companion.

Dogs feel things deeply. And even though they can’t verbalize their emotions, humans can interpret them based on their behavior. 

In that respect, dogs can be happy, nervous, angry, and fearful. They can also get sad and, indeed, mourn.

A mourning dog acts differently; they exhibit behavioral changes following the loss of a fellow pup, such as:

  • Social withdrawal
  • Increased vocalization
  • Being too clingy or aggressive
  • Sleeping more than usual, etc.

Barbara. J. King, a professor emerita of anthropology, revealed this in a Scientific American article. She also examines the same subject in her ‘How Animals Grieve‘ book, stating that:

We can’t understand how an animal understands or thinks about death. We can only evaluate what we can see, and when someone in a dog’s life dies, dogs will react with behavioral changes. After a dog dies, another dog in the household may show social withdrawal. He may fail to eat or drink, he may search for his lost companion, or exhibit vocalizations that show he is stressed.”

How Animals Grieve.

However, the depth of grief in dogs varies depending on how close they interacted with the deceased. Dogs bond differently with each fur sibling, as we do with our family members. A strongly connected dog may show depression after a furry companion dies.

These signs include the following:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Sleeping more than usual
  • Increased vocalization
  • Defecating inappropriately
  • Hiding
  • Increased destructive behavior

Similarly, some dogs may not exhibit any signs of grieving, especially if they coexisted and didn’t bond with the deceased as much. There’s nothing malicious about that. As humans, each dog processes loss differently. 

Find Out: Why Do Dogs Lick Blankets? 6 Reasons and How to Stop It 

6 Signs of Grief in Dogs

Here are the common signs of a grieving dog:

1. Seeking Behavior

Most grieving pets are usually observed repeatedly looking for their missing friend. 

Your dog may frequently roam the homestead, treading familiar paths or constantly returning to their friend’s favorite spots. This seeking behavior may be accompanied by loud vocalization.

2. Increased Vocalization

This is the most common sign of grieving dogs. Your canine may not necessarily bark but whimper, whine, and howl more than usual after losing a furry companion.

Most pet parents report increased frequency and volume of their pup’s vocalizations, especially at odd night hours when they sleep alone. 

As mentioned, dogs may also call out more often during the day when searching for their missing playmate.

3. Decreased Appetite

Like humans, many canines eat less when grieving. This mostly happens when the late dog is the pack “leader.” 

In most dog families, the alpha controls mealtimes by initiating feeding. The meal routine is altered without them, and the remaining dog may become stressed and unwilling to eat. 

You may notice your furry friend avoiding food or gazing at the bowl, maybe waiting for the leader to appear and initiate eating.

If your dog refuses food for two or more days, consult a vet to prevent health issues.

Also Read: Dachshund Pitbull Mix: The Ultimate Guide

4. Lethargy and Depression

Most grieving pets also show a decrease in energy levels and general activity. 

A lethargic or depressed pup will exhibit the following symptoms:

  • Napping more than usual
  • Hiding away from people and other pets
  • Decreased interest in toys, walks, and playtime

5. Behavior Issues

Sometimes grief may manifest in behavioral problems such as unusual aggressiveness. 

Your dog may also start defecating in the house or chewing destructively because of separation anxiety. 

6. Personality Changes

After losing a pack member, some dogs can become too clingy and affectionate to their owners. 

Your pet may want to follow you often, cuddle, play, and sleep with you. 

Conversely, a once friendly and loving dog may become hostile or shy, withdrawing from humans and other pets.

Do Dogs Know When One Dies?

Grieving dog

Dogs know when one dies. Even though dogs grieve the loss of loved ones, they may not fully understand the concept of death as we humans do. But they know that an individual is absent and react to the changes.

Some skeptics, however, believe that dogs don’t understand death or loss. And that routine changes due to the absence of the integral figure cause behavioral shifts, not the actual loss. 

In short, because dogs are creatures of routine, they get upset when their schedule is off, hence the behavioral change.

Similarly, other people believe that a surviving dog’s behavior is influenced by how their humans respond to the demise of the other pet. In other words, dogs take up on our emotional and behavioral changes during grief.

Skepticism aside, a survey published in the Scientific Reports journal highlights that canines comprehend loss and emotional despair. The study shows that most dogs exhibit grief-associated patterns after losing a housemate. 

The researchers assessed various behavior patterns and found that:

  • About 90% of dogs showed behavior change following the death of a companion, while 66% showed at least four
  • 46% showed a decline in general activity, while 57% of the dogs played less
  • 35% of the dogs became more fearful
  • 32% experienced loss of appetite, while 11% refused to eat
  • 30% increased vocalization
  • 35% slept more than usual
  • 67% of the dogs showed an increase in attention-seeking behavior

Wrapping up, the researchers suggested that owners help their pets cope with the loss. The following segment discusses that in depth. 

How to Help a Grieving Dog

Now that you know what happens to bonded dogs when one dies, your fur baby will need your comfort and support during this challenging time. Here are some ways to help your grieving dog:

Maintain a Consistent Routine

As mentioned, dogs are habitual animals. So, keeping their routine consistent will help prevent the stress of disruption. It will also give them a sense of continuity while adjusting to losing a loved one.

Keep meal times, walks, and bedtimes as usual, but prepare to readjust if your pup isn’t in the mood for the activity. It’s normal for them to refuse food and walks when mourning. 

Spend More Quality Time With Your Dog

Spending more time bonding with your furry friend during this time is essential. Show attention and affection by petting, grooming, cuddling, and talking to them. 

Moreover, consider engaging in activities they enjoy, such as long walks or playing fetch. 

This will help redirect their attention and speed up the healing process. 

Keep Your Dog Busy

Your dog may often face boredom after losing a playmate. You’ll, therefore, want to keep their mind busy to avoid being depressed or destructive. 

Taking your fur baby to the dog park occasionally is a great way to provide companionship without rushing into getting a new dog. 

Moreover, physical activity releases feel-good hormones that prevent depression.

Finally, enrichment activities and obedient training will give your dog the mental stimulation they require to deal with grief. Therefore, leave your dog with various toys and puzzles to preoccupy them while you’re away.

Encourage Feeding

If your dog’s appetite has decreased, encouraging them to eat is vital to prevent health issues. 

You can encourage the dog to eat in the following ways:

  • Warm wet dog food in the microwave or add warm water to enhance the smell
  • Add a tasty dressing or mix a small portion of human food, like fish, chicken, or beef broth, to improve flavor
  • Rotate through various alternative dog food to find one that entices your dog more. Ensure to do this gradually not to upset your dog’s digestive system.
  • You can incorporate puzzle feeders to motivate your dog to find and eat its food

Also, consider hand-feeding them as it may comfort and encourage them.

Give Your Dog Some Closure

Getting closure while grieving is critical for healing, but unfortunately, this never happens for most animals. 

Some animal experts recommend allowing your dog to view the deceased remains

Doing this may help them understand the situation and erase feelings of abandonment. Just ensure that there’s no risk of disease transmission. 

Seek Medical Assistance

Consider getting your dog checked by a vet if they still exhibit grieving symptoms several weeks after the loss. 

Your vet might prescribe antidepressants to help them cope with their emotions. 

Final Words

Dogs see housemates—humans and other pets, as a pack and rely on them for a sense of well-being. Therefore, losing a member will disrupt the stability causing distress to the remaining dogs. 

If you observe any of the discussed signs of grieving in your dog, understand that it’s normal and avoid punishing them. Instead, comfort them with love and affection and gently discourage or divert destructive behavior.

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