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Dogs mourn the loss of other pets, study finds

Hundreds of dog owners report grieving behaviors in their dogs when another dog dies.

Jessica Peterson

The loss of a pet can be devastating to an owner, but a new study suggests that dogs also mourn the deaths of other household dogs.

An international team of animal behaviorists interviewed 426 dog owners in Italy, all of whom owned at least two dogs, one of which died while the other was still alive.

Nearly 90% reported a change in behavior in the surviving dog, according to research published last week in the journal Scientific Reports.

Lead author Stefania Uccheddu, a veterinarian at San Marco Veterinary Clinic in Veggiano, Italy, told CNET that the most common behaviors reported were increased attention-seeking and less interest in food and play. In some cases, the change lasted a few months. In others, it went on for years.

When asked if owners may be projecting their own grief onto their pets, Ucceddu said his team includes psychologists who work to separate the owner’s feelings from their dog’s behavior change.

Dogs mourn the loss of other pets, study finds

After the death of another puppy, surviving dogs often lose their appetite and interest in play.

Oscar Wang

“We were able to separate the emotional response from the behavioral response,” she said, adding that the proximity between the owners and the surviving or deceased dog didn’t seem to affect the results.

According to Ucceddu, the main factor influencing a surviving animal’s grief was “the quality of the bond between the two dogs”.

“We’ve seen the change whether the relationship is parent and child or just a close bond,” she said.

The pets’ human companion influenced their response in one respect, Ucceddu said: If their owner showed more anger, depression or trauma, the surviving dog acted with more fear. “Dogs are social animals,” she said. “Every time they run out of pack members, their whole routine changes.”

To help them deal with the loss, dog owners “must ensure there is predictability in their days and continue to share activities with them.”

Because their study was based on self-reported data, Ucceddu and his colleagues hope to add new research that can address practical and ethical concerns. Grief reactions have been reported in a variety of animals, including whales, elephants, birds, and other animals. Primates, for example, are known to carry their deceased young for weeks.

“If viewing the corpse is part of the death ritual,” the authors write, “since domestic dogs have no or only brief access to the corpse, then only the reaction to separation from the bound individual could be assessed”.


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